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TV Licensing: Dealing with TV Licensing, aka the television licensing authority.

An FAQ—or rather questions you might ask me.

Caveat: I am not a lawyer. If anything here proves to be legally accurate it is purely by coincidence. These are simply MY thoughts and opinions. Please use what follows as "food for thought" and be sure to confirm the accuracy of anything I might say with your own sources before acting on it!

Contents

What are you trying to achieve with these web pages?

How do you think TV Licensing™ should behave towards people who do not have television?

Are you against watching television?

Who is TV Licensing™ (a.k.a. the "television licensing authority" or TVLA)? Are they a government body?

Can you help me with my problem with TV Licensing?

Do you have any hints for others in the same position as yourself when dealing with TV Licensing™? (updated 08/04/07)

I've heard TV Licensing™ make telephone enquiries?

I've heard that TV Licensing™ sometimes send letters by "recorded delivery"?

I do not have any sort of television receiver (that includes a TV tuner-card in my computer) would TV Licensing™ still be concerned that I should have a TV Licence?

If I buy a television or video recorder the dealer is under legal obligation to provide my details to TV Licensing™. Is this true of anything else?

I would like to make contact with other people who do not have television and are similarly persecuted by TV Licensing™. Can you help me?

I have similar correspondence as you have shown here. Would you like to publish it on this web site?

I would like to make a donation to the work you are doing with these pages, is this possible? (updated 21/10/12)

Why do TV Licensing™ not believe those who state they do not have television?

Is it possible to take out a Court Injunction against TV Licensing™'s harassment?

What about removing "implied right of access"? (updated 31/03/07)

There is a TV aerial on the roof of my house. Should I have it removed?

Can you provide me with information on de-tuned TV sets for use with video, DVDs, games etc, etc . . . ?

Why is this web site so ugly?

How much does it cost to collect the TV licence?

Does the TV licence fund the BBC World Service?

What do you think the future holds for the non-viewer and the problems they currently suffer from TV Licensing?


. . . What are you trying to achieve with these web pages?

I am trying to raise awareness of the plight of those who do not have television. I believe one should be able to refuse an entertainment medium without suspicion of dishonesty. I want to be able to choose to live in peace, without a television, and not be threatened, harassed or assumed to be dishonest because of that. I do not want to live with the fear of what feels like some sort of "secret police" knocking on my door and expecting to search my home.

I set up these web pages in late 2001 and I have been updating them regularly ever since.

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. . . How do you think TV Licensing™ should behave towards people who do not have television?

The onus should be on TV Licensing™ to detect licence-dodgers without disturbing non-viewers (with whom they have no business). I see no reason why this should not be possible. Envision Licensing Ltd claimed "We can detect a TV in use from 30 metres away" and "will we be able to see where the television is and what's being watched on it". Unless this claim is false why should they disturb non-viewers at all? [The answer to the rhetorical question is of course: it's cheaper to send nasty letters].

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. . . Are you against watching television?

I was not initially, but am now tending to become more anti-television. I did have television in the distant past and I can appreciate many people may enjoy it. In recent years I find I have less and less need (and time) for this medium. I simply don't like it, don't want it and thus don't have it.

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. . . Who is TV Licensing™ (a.k.a. the "television licensing authority" or TVLA)? Are they a government body?

TV Licensing™ is a commercial company. In the past this work was given to Envision Licensing Ltd (Consignia, or the Post Office - by another name). It is now in the hands of Capita Business Services Limited. They are contracted by the BBC who have powers, in statute, to raise revenue for the BBC. Thus, in effect . . .

The BBC is TV Licensing™  and  TV Licensing™ is the BBC

. . . this is a rather clever move on the part of the BBC. Through this tactic "dear old Auntie BBC" can still appear "one of the most loved and trusted UK institutions", far removed the apparently-separate, sinister and threatening organisation that is: TV Licensing™.

Note: though commonly known as the "Television Licensing Authority", they cannot call themselves that as they are agents of the BBC—NOT agents of the government.

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. . . Can you help me with my problem with TV Licensing™?

If you don't have a television (at all) and are planning some action against TV Licensing™ please send me an email message, and I might be able to help you with sources of information and contacts. That said, just about everything I have to say, that I think is worth saying, on the subject is on this site, or is linked to from this site — don't expect a lot more.

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. . . Do you have any hints for others in the same position as yourself when dealing with TV Licensing™? (updated 08/04/07)

Yes:

* Write to TV Licensing™. Under their code of practice they are obliged to reply, and replying to your letter costs them time and money. TV Licensing™ are also obliged to respond with within a 20 working days under the conditions of the Freedom of Information Act, providing your letter is not considered vexatious. In any case your letter should be polite and pose reasoned and clearly argued questions. As with any sort of letter, you are not likely to be taken seriously if you rant or are irrational.

* Keep copies of all correspondence with TV Licensing™. It is always useful to have a record of what was said. For this reason also, trying to deal with them over the phone isn't a great idea.

* If your are interested to know what information TV Licensing™ hold on you, you can ask them to send it to you under the terms of the Data Protection Act. They must do this but can charge a fee of up to £10.00. More information on the this can be found on Erik Oostveen's site: Data Protection FAQ.

* Talk to the newspapers. The press are always looking for "human-interest" stories.

* Write to your MP, your MEP . . .

* Set up a web-site!

* Don't be a "soft target". Evidence suggests that TV Licensing™ are more likely to trouble you if you don't make their life difficult. If they know you will complain to the media etc and embarrass them by publicly highlighting their behavior – they'll think twice.

* If you do get a visit, I would suggest the following. Insist on seeing identification documents. You might also insist on seeing some confirming form of identification of known format that is less likely to have been forged like a driving licence. It is also useful to take photographs of anyone claiming to be from TV Licensing™—if you can. Note their name, car registration. Do all of this before you begin any conversation or let them into your home—you must be absolutely certain who you are (even considering) letting into your home. It's wise to exercise caution for your own general safety and security. "Enquiry officers" are not the Police (though they might try to lead you into thinking they have Police powers), they are simply employees of a company; and I don't know whether they are subjected to a criminal-record check before they are employed. Without suitable caution, you don't know who you might be letting in to your home.

A warning from the Home Office about bogus callers:

"Most people who call at your home will be genuine. But sometimes, people turn up unannounced, with the intention of tricking their way into people's homes.They are known as 'distraction burglars' or 'bogus callers', whose only aim is to get into homes to distract people and steal their money or valuables. You should always be aware when someone you don't know calls at your door. By using the advice in this leaflet, you can protect yourself and vulnerable members of your family. Bogus callers may be smartly dressed and claim to be from the council, the police, health organisations or gas, water or electricity companies. They can be convincing and persuasive. They use 'props' like an identity card or wear overalls with a company logo. If you are expecting the caller, remember to check their identification very carefully against the letter you have been sent or the password you have agreed before you let them in. And, if you are in any doubt, don't let them in. These official visitors should always arrange an appointment with you beforehand. If you are not expecting them and are alone, ask them to call back when you have someone with you." (From the Home Office leaflet "How to Beat the Bogus Caller" available here.)

* You may choose not to speak to TV Licensing enforcement officers (at all) and not allow them into your home. Without a warrant they have no power to insist; but may then make a nuisance of themselves until they have established that they will not get their prosecution-bounty [I understand - they do get paid per prosecution] as you don't have television. For legal advice in dealing with the visits from TV Licensing™'s enforcement officers look at this document from Erik Oostveen's site. Also, on Vicky Larmour's site N. Jewell suggests:

"In my experience, it is of no benefit to you to co-operate with the enquiry officer, even if you believe that you are not committing any offence; you will just be helping him to gather information to use against you in ways that may surprise you!" . . . "Refusal to co-operate should not be held against you in court, since there is no statutory duty for you to do so, and without your co-operation or a confession the matter might not even come to court. (Of course, if absolutely no one co-operated in any way, TV Licensing's job would be all but impossible, perhaps hastening the demise of TV licences altogether ...)"

On the BBC Resistance forum, Jonathan Miller writes (following a conversation with a former TV Licensing enforcement officer):

"He informed me that TVLA officers are instructed to terminate an interview immediately if the person being interviewed utters four magic words. These words are: 'I demand a lawyer.' These words can be uttered at any time during the interview. Indeed, they are the only words you need to say. Repeat as necessary but if the officer follows his procedures, he should terminate the interview immediately and leave the scene. This is an example of using the Police and Criminal Evidence Act against them. I believe the act states that persons being interviewed under caution are entitled to a lawyer." . . . "The former officer also told me that for health and safety reasons, officers will walk away from any interview where the interviewee produces a camera (or camera phone)." (The full text of the posting can be found here.)

. . . I've heard TV Licensing™ make telephone enquiries?

I believe they do, though I have not answered any such call. They may have called me but I do not answer calls from any caller who withholds their number (and I assume this is the sort of questionable tactic TV Licensing™ would use). I've adopted that policy and stuck to it rigidly for several years (as long as 'phones with caller-display have been available). It is my opinion that withholding one's number is a rude and suspicious practice for which there is no need (technical or otherwise).

If you do feel obliged to answer every call you receive you might respond to callers you don't recognise in the following way. When asked by that caller "Is that X?" you respond by pretending you misheard and answer "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name?". This generally wrong-foots the caller and they will instinctively identify themselves. You can then respond appropriately, or hang up. I would always expect a strange caller with good manners to identify themselves in their opening sentence.

. . . I've heard that TV Licensing™ sometimes send letters by "recorded delivery"?

There are increasing reports of this practice. I'm told these contain the usual sort of rude and offensive standard letter and can sometimes be spotted as they are addressed to "The Present Occupier" (or similar). You can, of course, refuse to accept such a letter.

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. . . I do not have any sort of television receiver (that includes a TV tuner-card in my computer) would TV Licensing™ still be concerned that I should have a TV Licence?

In earlier editions of this FAQ I had said:

Yes. This is one of the more ridiculous things that I have heard. If you watch BBC live broadcasts over the Internet via streaming media with RealPlayer etc in the UK you are committing an offence if you do not have a television licence. That means, a person in the UK watching the news from the BBC with RealPlayer over the Internet (with no form of television receiver, just a computer and some sort of network connection) who does not have a television licence is liable to a fine of up to £1,000. Strangely, if you are outside the UK, you don't need a licence.

I've since heard [December 2002] that PC vendors in the UK, like Dixons and PC World, are now obliged to inform TV Licensing™ if they sell a PC with broadband capability. This TV Licensing™ claim is within the definition of receiving of receiving equipment under the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1949. The fact that there was no such thing as a personal computer or broadband in 1949 does not seem to trouble them in the least.

But now it has got even worse:

Up until the 31st March 2004, the use of television receiving equipment within the UK to receive television broadcasts originating from outside of the UK did not need a television licence. It was not a requirement to pay the licence fee to receive any such broadcast. Now, that's all changed. Reception of a TV broadcast originating outside the UK does require a licence.

Considering this change in the law one can only assume that this will, as before, be considered to apply also to streaming-media. So in the UK, not only can you now NOT watch the BBC broadcasts over the Internet without a licence but you can't legally watch a streaming-media broadcast from anywhere else either (unless you have a UK TV licence). Of course, if you are outside the UK you can enjoy all of these services – even those funded by the UK licence payer – free, gratis and for nothing. And, of course, I'm talking about UK domestic services made available to the world via the Internet and NOT those made available by the BBC World Service. The World Service is funded separately – NOT by the licence fee (see below).

At this point, stop and consider what this means. Unlike broadcasts over the air, Internet transmissions have a cost to the sender (BBC) for each viewer/listener using that service. In the case of Internet radio it is about 23p/hour for each user – I don't have a figure for Internet TV. So, this isn't just allowing others to use what's there anyway – it is actively giving away licence-payer funded resources to people abroad. Clearly this double-standard is very wrong and yet no one seems to notice and, even worse when the point is raised, no one seems to care.

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. . . If I buy a television or video recorder the dealer is under legal obligation to provide my details to TV Licensing™. Is this true of anything else?

Yes. I have heard this is true (for some retailers at least) in the case of DVD players even if the DVD player does not incorporate a tuner. If you play DVDs on a dedicated player TV Licensing™, presumably, reason you must be using a television set to display them and are thus a potential source of revenue. This is a hopeful assumption on TV Licensing™'s part as it is my understanding that a licence is only required to RECEIVE broadcasts. Possession of a television set, or even the use of a detuned television set to view recorded material does not require a licence.

I'm receiving an increasing number of reports that electrical and computer suppliers are sending name and address information to TV Licensing™ on the purchase of almost anything. Here is an example.

As the BBC becomes more involved in providing services over the Internet (for example their proposed Internet offering "FreeBand" for broadband users) one can expect them to increase their, already, agressive revenue-raising activities. The reporting of the purchase of a wider variety of computer equipment to TV Licensing™ is likely to become increasingly common.

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. . . I would like to make contact with other people who do not have television and are similarly persecuted by TV Licensing™. Can you help me?

It is slightly off-topic but you might consider joining Erik Oostveen's BBC Resistance discussion group BBC Resistance Discussion Group (requires free registration to post) or the other fora mentioned on the main page.

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. . . I have similar correspondence as you have shown here. Would you like to publish it on this web site?

I might. Please contact me by email (my email address is at the top and bottom of each of these pages).

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. . . I would like to make a donation to the work you are doing with these pages, is this possible?

No. I do not solicit or accept donations; however, if you feel these pages have helped you, you may consider making a donation to one of the following:

Beth Shalom Reform Synagogue

PKD Charity (Polycystic Kidney Disease)

Alzheimer's Research UK

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. . . Why do TV Licensing™ not believe those who state they do not have television? TV Licensing™ or rather Capita is a profit-driven business. For that reason it is much more cost-effective for them to send letters rather than to have detector vans doing the work; and on the grounds of the findings of the detector vans, only approaching genuine licence-dodgers.

TV Licensing™ argue "our experience over the last financial year has shown that almost half of all people who claimed not to have a television were found to be using one". They claim this is found on "Enquiry Officer" inspections. One can concede that that is a logical construction.

However one can also speculate using other, equally valid or equally flawed, logical constructions; for, example it is (presumably) a fact that a significant number of properties are burgled following visits of TV Licensing™ "Enquiry Officers". Might one conclude from that, that some of TV Licensing™'s "Enquiry Officers" may also be "casing the joint" as well as searching for un-licensed television receivers?

Both arguments are equally plausible.

That said the initial quote is open to more than one interpretation too. It was pointed out by the East Anglian journalist Duncan Brodie that the statement – "our experience over the last financial year has shown that almost half of all people who claimed not to have a television were found to be using one". Could also be re-written as "most of the people who claimed not to have a TV were telling the truth".

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. . . Is it possible to take out a Court Injunction against TV Licensing™'s harassment?

Some years ago, before I took an interest in this, I recall hearing on BBC Radio 4's "Feedback" programme of a family without a television that were so persecuted by TV Licensing™ that they succeeded in getting an Injunction at Court that allowed them to live in peace.

A supporter of this site, to whom I owe special thanks, has forwarded me a scan of an article published in The Times of 17th February 1993. The text of this article may be seen here.

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. . . There is a TV aerial on the roof of my house. Should I have it removed?

You don't need a licence for an unattached TV aerial. Having it removed would seem to be a waste of money. However, it would NOT surprise me if TV Licensing™ try to use the fact that you have a TV aerial against you in some way.

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. . . Can you provide me with information on de-tuned TV sets for use with video, DVDs, games etc, etc . . . ?

No.   I do not have a television and I am not familiar with this technology.

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. . . What about removing "implied right of access"? (updated 31/03/07)

I understand there is an implied right of access granted to all who call at one's property. For example, this grants permission to the postal services to deliver mail, any member of the general public to enter on the property and knock on the door etc.

What seems to be less well known is that the implied right of access can be withdrawn. This appears to have been successfully used to prevent TV Licensing™ from sending their enforcement officers to make harassing visits.

For example, discussion on the BBC Resistance bulletin board suggests that a letter addressed to TV Licensing™ containing the wording:

"I will not tolerate any visit by a TV Licensing Enforcement Officer at my address. Therefore, I withdraw from TV Licensing, its employees and its agents the implied right of access to my property at [ADDRESS]. Henceforth, no employee or agent of TV Licensing qualifies as an invitee to my property. Any such person who ventures onto my property at [ADDRESS] will be trespassing on my land, and I shall not hesitate to seek legal redress for the offence caused."

. . . received a reply from TV Licensing™ saying:

"My reply acknowledges receipt of your withdrawal to the right for a visit from any TV Licensing Officers. However, we reserve the right to use other methods available for the detection of television receiving apparatus."

This seems like an ideal solution for the harassed non-viewer; however, I am confounded as to why this simple action is not more widely-known.

Useful information, supplied by Philip Dean, may be found here.

Another supporter of this site has told me of his success in withdrawing Implied Right of Access and suggests the following course of action. His complete message can also be found on the BBC Resistance bulletin board here.

"I would suggest writing directly to the BBC in the first instance to withdraw right of access." . . . "You also make them more work as the BBC must communicate your instructions to TVL and presumably TVL must acknowledge that said instructions have been received. What's more, the BBC will have a better idea of how many are withdrawing the right of access: information which TVL might seek to conceal from its masters." . . . "The address for your letter is: The Manager, TV Licensing Management Team, BBC, MC5 A3 Media Centre, 201 Wood Lane, London. W12 7TQ. Tel. 020 8008 1400, Fax 020 8008 2488"

I am particularly interested to hear from others who use, or have used, this tactic.

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. . . Why are these web pages so ugly?

These pages are plain and text-based. They are intended for those, without TV, who generally have no difficulties with the written word. Being text-based these pages have the additional advantage that every part of them is indexed by robots, search-engines and web-crawlers. Because these pages are written in very basic mark-up language, anyone with any browser will be able to read them.

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. . . How much does it cost to collect the TV licence?

From the BBC's annual report for 2005/2006:

For 2005-2006 it cost: 153.4 million — and no, you did not mis-read that, it was really ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY THREE MILLION, FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS — just for the fee collection — just for ONE YEAR. (updated 12/08/06)

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. . . Does the TV licence fund the BBC World Service?

From the BBC World Service web-page FAQ:

"BBC World Service is funded by a Parliamentary grant-in-aid, administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British government." . . . [In other words: it is funded out of general taxation.] . . . "The BBC's UK radio and TV services are financed by the television Licence Fee (all owners of television sets in the UK are required to buy an annual licence). The BBC also earns extra income through the sale of programmes overseas and of books, videos, tapes and other products linked to BBC programmes. BBC World Service does not receive any funding from the UK Licence Fee."

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. . . What do you think the future holds for the non-viewer and the problems they currently suffer from TV Licensing™?

It is not clear at present what's going to happen. I had high hopes for the expiry of the BBC's Royal Charter and that the unfairness of the current system would be realised and the Charter would only be renewed on the condition that funding is raised by a fairer system. That, of course, did not happened.

However, one thing that is becoming apparent is that the current licensing system seems to be creaking under the strain of the BBC trying to apply it to emerging technologies (the Internet, mobile phones etc). That, along with the BBC's reach dropping to 84.1% – I think there are interesting times ahead.

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