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Licence not required

TV Licensing know how to maximise their revenue, through fear and intimidation

How's it going to end

The background

I haven't watched TV at home for nearly 20 years. I haven't owned a TV for nearly 15 years. There was a time when we used to watch videos using a television but we have long since moved to using DVDs and large computer monitors.

My house is situated in a location where it cannot receive a terrestial TV signal and there is no line of sight southwards so satellite reception isn't possible. We are too far from the local telephone exchange to receive ADSL and we are unlikely to get a fibre connection due to remoteness and population sparsity. As a consequence our internet connection isn't fast enough to support live streaming and we don't have enough monthly data allowance for catch up services like iPlayer.

In short even if I wanted to watch television, which I don't, it wouldn't be possible without spending vast sums of money to overcome the problems listed above. I did on several occasions try explaining this to TV Licensing but to no avail. I was dealing with an automated system that assumes that everyone is watching TV and therefore requires a licence. I decided to just ignore the TV Licence letters as I didn't see the point in wasting my time to inform them yet again that my situation hadn't changed.

The intimidation

After I ignored the first couple of letters it didn't take long for TV Licensing to start their intimidation. The letter dated November 2014 threatened:

"You did not respond to our last letter within the 10 days we gave you. This means we have had no option but to start an investigation of your address."

I didn't respond to the November letter nor any of the others in the following months.

All the letters I received recently have been scanned and can be viewed by clicking on the thumbnails below. The pixelated sections on the scanned images are redacted address details and reference numbers.

 

The next month, December 2014, I received another letter this time it stated:

"An Officer has been scheduled to visit [my postcode redacted] to find out if a TV is being watched or recorded illegally."

I never received any visits.

As regular as clockwork, or a computer program, I received another letter the next month, January 2015, which included the statement:

"Official warning: we have opened an investigation."

TV Licensing had already told me about the investigation starting in November 2014 so this letter is just in case I had forgotten about the previous intimidation. Another chance for them to try and collect the desired £145.50 BBC tax.

February 2015 and TV Licensing up the ante:

"You have not responded to our previous letters. We want to ensure you have the information you may need before a hearing is set at your local court."

The letter goes on to explain how I can "avoid a court summons". I didn't reply and I never received a court summons.

The letter I received in March 2015 uses the same phrase as that used in December 2014:

"An Officer has been scheduled to visit [my postcode redacted] to find out if a TV is being watched or recorded illegally."

As usual the letter is signed by Gordon Smith but this time he is the Dundee Enforcement Manager rather than Falkirk as in all the previous letters. Has Gordon had a promotion? Strangely some future letters have a Darlington address on them almost as if offices in Falkirk and Dundee don't exist. I don't live anywhere near Falkirk or Dundee and I suspect neither does Gordon.

I felt really put out as I didn't hear from Gordon in April, May or June and when I did get a letter in July 2015 it was back to the same old text about opening an investigation. However, I did notice that Gordon is now the Regional Enforcement Manager so maybe he was too busy to write with the added responsibility of yet another promotion.

The conclusions

I suspect I will never receive a visit from an inspector and nor will I ever receive a court summons. Visits by inspectors may happen in urban areas where they are more cost effective but not in rural areas. The letters are specifically designed to intimidate those who don't have a licence to buy one. Everything about TV Licensing is designed to create an aura of authority and instill fear in those "evading" the TV tax. In the 1970s and 80s TV Licensing used to make much of the Detector Vans but a recent Freedom of Information request disclosed that detection evidence has never been used in court. Even the name TV Licensing sounds more official plus it allows the organisation behind it to protect the valuable BBC brand from being sullied by nasty tax collection.

I suspect I will continue to receive the intimadatory letters as they only cost around 21p each and the potential return will be much more. The BBC contracts out the work of administering the TV Licensing system to Capita a business which specialises in outsourced government projects.

The future

In George Osborne's latest budget (July 8th 2015) it was confirmed that a TV licence would be required for those watching television programmes via iPlayer regardless of whether it was viewed live or afterwards (catch up). I haven't seen a technical discussion of how the BBC could check if people using iPlayer have a TV licence. TV licences currently are for properties and not individuals but the internet is something people take with them everywhere.

The last Labour government, at Westminster, introduced their plans for a national ID card system, which was later scrapped by the following Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, but could the BBC be introducing something similar by the back door? As well as licensing every TV at home every laptop, tablet and smartphone would have to identify itself if accessing iPlayer. As a side effect the BBC and Capita would know what people are watching. It will be interesting to see how the BBC approach this difficult technical and ethical problem. I'm just glad I won't be part of it.

However, for the time being it would seem that there are no plans to introduce a system similar to that in Germany where the broadcasters are funded through taxation regardless of whether or not you use television.

I will update this blog should there be any further developments.


 

Update August 12th 2015 - another "what to expect in court" letter arrives.

Update September 9th 2015 - another "you have left us with no alternative but to proceed with the final stages of our investigation" letter arrives. It would appear I have now received the full gamut of threatening letters as several have been duplicates. However, there doesn't seem to be a pattern nor a logical progression i.e. increasing threat level. Instead they seem to be in a random order.

Update November 5th 2016 - new style letter received which mentions iPlayer. The letter also comes in an envelope with two windows: one for the address and the other for a calendar with your "visit" date circled in red. The Postie now gets to know you don't have a TV licence.

Update November 24th 2016 - except for April, May & June 2015 I have received a letter from TV Licensing  ever single month. I am only listing letters, in the table of thumbnails above, if they have new content.

Update February 24th 2017 - Woo hoo! A new style letter arrives which has an envelope with two windows: one to display your address and another to display the date when an inspector is going to visit you. I'll need to make sure I am at home on March 6th. This new letter is also noteworthy due to the fake "visit approved" stamp on the letter. To make the gimmick even more cheap the stamp has a fake signature. Keep it classy, TV Licensing.

Update April 22nd 2017 - Another new style letter with a cut-out section in the envelope to display the date that the letter was "issued". Letter starts with two sentences in a large, emboldened font stating: "You know. We Know". TV Licensing now hinting at 1984 style Big Brother powers.

Oliver
Oliver says:
2015-11-23 11:38

Brilliant someone in the same situation! I found this while searching for Mr Smith's phone number, would like to give him a piece of my mind!

Tom
Tom says:
2016-04-26 16:20

Looks like Gordon Smith's had another promotion - he's now (April 2016) the Enforcement Manager for Edinburgh. I'm now at the exciting "what to expect in court" stage, although they skipped the "scheduled visit" stage for me. I live very centrally so it seems they don't bother following through on threats, even in urban areas.

james
james says:
2016-05-20 16:51

same letters here.... except gordon is enforcement manager, glasgow division

John
John says:
2016-06-01 21:41

Just moved into a new build flat, have no TV, internet switched on 5 days ago and I'm already at the "final stages of our investigation" letter.

Continuing the game of Happy Families, who's got Phil Carvill, Enforcement Manager, London North?

Gordon Smith
Gordon Smith says:
2016-06-11 11:41

It seems that Gordon Smith probably works part time in various locations in Scotland. I wonder if he has time to watch TV... probably he does not need TV license...

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2016-08-14 23:13

Hey, just noticed... it was nice of you to pop round and leave a comment Gordon. How are all the jobs/promotions going?

David
David says:
2016-10-22 11:32

I got a newer variant in the post today. "We visit 10,743 addresses a day. Is yours next?". Gordon Smith is still the enforcement officer, but now the printed letter has a faux rubber-stamp "Enforcement Officer - Visit Approved" and 'signed' by a J Hales, in faux handwriting, though the effect is spoiled if you look closely enough to see it's printed as part of the letter, like everything else. This latest missive takes pains to point out all the ways that you could need a license if you use iPlayer or whatever.

From the BBC's own stats, in 2014/2015, there were 26.9 million licensable properties, compared with 25.6 licenses. Do the arithmetic, and that means they should be visiting each unlicensed property about once every 125 days. Even allowing for working days, us refuseniks should be expecting at least a visit a year. As it is, the annual review suggested they visited 3.5 million properties, which suggests that they're regularly visiting homes with a license, for some reason. Go figure.

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2016-10-22 13:42

Aw, shucks. I haven't received one of these new style letters and the faux rubber stamp is the icing on the cake. I wonder if all of the template letters will be updated to include the new information on iPlayer. I will update this page if I receive a new style letter.

I hardly ever see comments online from people who have had a visit from TV Licensing. If TVL were doing as many visits as described I would have thought discussion of encounters would be much more common.

Thanks for the info, David.

Dave
Dave says:
2016-10-31 07:05

Gordon is still at it, but he is now "Enforcement Officer, Edinburgh". I have moved into a flat for work, during the week, and I have a paid licence at my house where I do watch TV. This is clearly to complicated for them to understand. I cannot, and will not, watch TV in my flat - no TV aerial, and no land phone line for downloading, and only a weak mobile contact for brief internet Skypes to my family.

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2016-10-31 13:11

Just stick with it, Dave. If you don't watch TV broadcasts and don't use iPlayer to watch live TV there is no requirement to have a TV licence. TV licenses, in most cases, apply per household. If you have multiple TV enabled devices in one household they will all be covered by the one household licence. If you have another property where you watch TV then you need another licence for that abode.

I don't think TV Licensing cope with complicated situations; from their perspective there are properties with a license and those without, that's it. In the past you could write to TV Licensing and inform them you didn't require a TV and they wouldn't bother you for a while. I don't know if it still works that way. I just got fed up having to contact them on a regular basis when my situation hadn't changed in 20 years and never will change.

Mr man
Mr man says:
2016-11-17 20:40

Colin bright newcastle manager. Oct 2016. (Another) Enforcement letter starts with 3 questions -
"no tv licence?"
"Prosecution?"
"Up to £1,000 fine?"
Bla,blah,blah.
"So this is an official warning as there is no record of a licence at your address..
Im curious to the "Scottish law applies" smallprint at the bottom, as i live in Northumberland. .

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2016-11-17 22:11

@ Mr Man
When I saw your comment my first thought was: "Newcastle Manager" isn't that Rafael Benítez?
After some Internet searches I discovered that "Colin Bright" is the Gordon Smith for the North of England, allegedly covering: Newcastle, Sheffield, Leeds, Hull and probably lots of other places too.

I'm curious about the "Scottish Law Applies" small print too. Are TV Licensing under the misapprehension that everything north of Hadrian's Wall is in Scotland? If so, that would be remarkable. Companies sometimes explicitly state the jurisdiction to be used for disputes in their terms & conditions but that wouldn't seem to be appropriate for TV Licensing. It seems very odd to me.

If you don't watch TV broadcasts or don't require a TV Licence, for other reasons, just ignore the letter.

Nick
Nick says:
2016-11-23 17:17

I was wondering, is it actually legal to send this letters with blatent lies on? I mean, if the people mentioned on the letters don't actually exist (I'm looking at you Mr Smith), and the content is fictitious, isn't that illegal?!

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2016-11-23 17:57

@Nick
Erm, I'm not sure if it is illegal to invent people. I suppose companies could argue that they aren't trying to deceive but only doing it for administrative purposes. Furthermore, I can't think of any law that makes it an offence to invent someone unless it is done, for example, for the purposes of fraud. Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer.

I do find it odd however that Mr. Smith, and Mr Blight, have such wide remits.

As for the content of the letters I think TV Licensing purposely make their proposed actions indefinite by prefixing with "may" or "might". Some people receiving the letters however will look past the qualifiers and act on the supposed threat. That said, I have read online of some households being visited by inspectors so that threat isn't entirely bogus.

Phil Carvill
Phil Carvill says:
2016-11-24 17:22

Chaps, I've just moved West! Kept the title of Enforcement Manager though ;)

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2016-11-24 20:38

@Phil
Come off it, Phil, we don't believe you exist. Only Gordon Smith exists (Agent Smith?). In fact, Gordon is the only employee of TV Licensing.

James
James says:
2016-11-26 13:05

Just got your letter yesterday Phil, Mr enforcement manager London East... It seems you've opened an investigation because I don't watch telly, I'm looking forward to your visit because I'll abuse and harass your man the same as you've done to me for the last 10 years. I'll film it this time because the last visit 5 years ago was hilarious, hiding to try and catch me then running away when I confronted him. Jokers.

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2016-11-26 13:52

@James
Please don't harass and abuse the TV Inspector, they are just doing a job and aren't resposible for the crass letters sent out by TV Licensing. By all means be firm and get your point across that you don't watch TV and don't require a licence. If you want to get back at TV Licensing it would be much better to write to a local or national newspaper to complain about being threatened. Threatening letters probably work because people aren't aware that thet are just churned out by computer. Shine a light on the practice and suddenly they become a lot less successful.

You might also want to check the situation regarding filming your encounter as it might, for instance, infringe the Data Protection Act. Try asking for advice on a photography forum, someone there might be familiar with the legal situation.

I don't mean to be negative but forewarned is forearmed.

Colin B
Colin B says:
2017-01-29 06:58

I don't have a firearms certificate.( I don't need one because I don't actually own a firearm). However, I don't seem to be harassed by fictional people on a monthly basis demanding that I buy a firearms certificate. No-one to my knowledge has opened up an investigation or threatened to take me to court because I don't have a firearms certificate.

Wouldn't it be ludicrous if someone arrived at the door without a search warrant asking if they could come into my house to look for evidence that I have a shotgun? The reason they want to come into my house to find this firearm is because I told them I don't have one---in other words they are accusing me of lying.

Imagine they keep up this harassment, writing monthly threatening letters from someone who clearly does not exist. Even if I did relent and let this inspector invade my privacy to look for this fictitious gun that I don't own, I'd have to endure this humiliating search every two years until I finally break down and buy a firearms certificate for a gun I don't have. Only THEN, would they leave me alone. I question the legality of this approach, they ( firearms certificate investigators) would be breaking the law. Fraud, extortion and harassment used to extract money from someone who isn't breaking the law.

RIDICULOUS HUH? THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME. I HAVEN'T HAD A TELEVISION FOR OVER TEN YEARS. NO INTEREST IN IT.YOU COULD OFFER ME A FREE PLASMA SCREEN TV, FREE SATELLITE PACKAGE AND I STILL WOULDN'T BE INTERESTED. THERE IS LIFE BEYOND TV!!

Own a TV, buy a licence. I get that, I agree, it's the law. Don't own a TV and you are treated like a criminal. Is this supposed to be a free country?

The only way I will let an inspector into my house is if Gordon Smith turns up himself with a search warrant. In the meantime, I shall continue ignoring these idle threats, happy in the knowledge that it is costing the BBC more that the licence fee in man hours and resource etc to pursue this pointless crusade of theirs.

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2017-02-08 16:09

@Colin
The assumption is that every household owns a TV, which will be close to the truth. It is annoying for us "non-conformists" who receive regular letters from TV Licencing even though we have no intention of using a television. As large scale business post is very much cheaper than buying a second class stamp it must be cost affective for TV Licencing to churn them out.

I have to admit it would be cool if Gordon turned up at my door, I'd even invite him in.

S Wells
S Wells says:
2017-02-07 21:21

Delighted to see that the Scottish end of the business are equal opportunity harassers. We got a "signed" letter from Alison Roberts, starting "We understand you may be busy...". Well yes, which is why we don't have a chuffing TV. Have phoned them or completed the form online 9 times now to say we don't have a TV, will never have one and only spend about 10 weeks a year at the little holiday cottage they are writing to, which only just has electricity, no TV signal and no TV of any kind. We still get threatening letters. I literally can't be arsed now, so will ignore all the letters. Looking forward to the next letter - I'm hoping I can collect the full set!

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2017-02-08 16:02

@S Wells
Alison Roberts will need to be added to the rogues gallery along with: Gordon, Phil, Colin and J Hales.

"We understand you may be busy...", dang, I don't think I've received that one. You're right collecting the full set could be the new hobby sweeping the country.

Alan Hodge
Alan Hodge says:
2017-02-28 21:21

Does anyone else find that the BBC kicking Capita is a bit rich. given they creat and compose all.the letters refered to. and Pippa Doubtfire of the BBC oversees Capita and her mate Alison Roberts. They must have loads of offices Capita as mine came from Preston Enforcement. Also all the letters come from TV Licensing, which the BBC says is only a Trademark and not a Legal Entity, has anyone found any information on the latters to say its either Capita or the BBC, and the FOI at the BBC is dragging its feet in explaining why they and Capita dont have to comply with normal business law. Thanks for the interesting posts. N.B I note the Daily Mail is now believing the guff from Tony Hall about how outraged the the BBC is by Capitas actions, when we all know theyve known and condoned it for years

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2017-02-28 22:57

@Alan
Thanks for bringing up the Daily Mail investigation of TV Licensing business practises. In particular, the investigation highlighted the payment of incentives to the TV inspectors. For anyone else wanting to read the article here is an archived copy of it:

http://archive.is/PmvPS

Whatever the truth of the situation between Capita & the BBC, I'm sure the latter were quite happy with the extra few hundred million pounds that was collected.

Alan Hodge
Alan Hodge says:
2017-03-01 09:34

A pal of mine was a retired Merseyside Bobby,he went to do the Capita Course with a view to doing that job. He walked out in disgust as they were using phrases like 'nick' and 'collar' offenders. This was years ago. He challenged them saying they clearly thought they were police of some sort. If you look at early day motions in parliament, the BBC have been aware and condone the methods used and this makes Hall's comments more annoying than ever.

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2017-03-01 10:46

@Alan
Aye, they'll be giving the licence inspectors uniforms next!

I didn't see the early day motion, do you have a link? Something in Hansard or Parliament TV would be really good. Handy for the readers and me.

Alan Hodge
Alan Hodge says:
2017-03-01 12:55

Pleasure, early day motions, 1289,2429,1188 there are others.

Alan Hodge
Alan Hodge says:
2017-03-02 10:28

Hello, tried the link I gave and it comes up wrong. got website and on edm search put
2010 to 2012. motion 2429.
then 2006 to 2007 motion 1188,
and 2006 to 2007 1289

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2017-03-03 10:30

@Alan
Thanks for further info. I had tried the EDM section of website and couldn't find the ones you had mentioned. I hadn't gone back as far as 2012 and earlier. I will go and look now. Parliament website lists the EDMs by ID number but the counter is reset to zero every year so there is a 1188 for 2016 and 2015 and 2014 etc. They should prefix with a year code.

Alan Hodge
Alan Hodge says:
2017-03-03 13:36

Andrew Brigden MP, does not like the BBC either,
I have asked the BBC under the FOI for infirmation as to why the BBC and Capita are able to send out miss leading letters from a Company that dies not exist (TV Licensing) and why they are exempt from Revealing thier Company information which is normaly required under Kaw. They took the 20 days allowed,extended it to 40days and tiday we are on 61 Days, clearly im going to get a load of guff if a reply ever comes.

Alan Hodge
Alan Hodge says:
2017-03-03 13:38

Sorry about the big fingers and small keypad

IrishAido
IrishAido says:
2017-03-16 10:49

I had an unexpected buzz on my flat an hour ago. Thinking it was an Amazon delivery, I picked up the door phone.

TV Licence Sales Rep "Is this X flat?"
Me "Um.....yes"
TV Licence Sales Rep "This is the TV licence authority. Can you let me in"

At which point somebody else came on the line. In our apartment block you can hear other tenants pick up and answer to the gate if the person at the gate has buzzed numerous flats. I told him that it was for me and I would deal with it

So we continues

TV Licence Sales Rep "Yes, I am from the TV licensing authority. Can you please let me in. We need to speak to you
Me "Oh ok, I can let you in, but I don't live here. I am cat sitting
TV Licence Sales Rep "I am sorry.....can you repeat that please
Me "I'm cat sitting. I don't own this flat. The occupants work shift work. I think they might home tonight at 8 or so
TV Licence Sales Rep "8pm you say?
Me "I think so. I don't really know them. I just mind the cats
TV Licence Sales Rep "Oooh...ok. Can you let me in so I can leave a letter in their letter box
Me "Sure. Is there a message I can pass on
TV Licence Sales Rep "No I will leave a letter in their box"
Me "Ok"

No letter was left in the box

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2017-03-16 16:40

@IrishAido
It doesn't surprise me. If you read the article I linked to above (comment on 2017-02-28) you will see that the inspectors only have about 15 minutes allocated to each household they visit. If they spend more time than this they won't achieve their "sales" target. Talking to the catsitter probably wasted 10 minutes of his allocation. The inspector probably moved on and frightened some poor granny somewhere.

Alan Hodge
Alan Hodge says:
2017-04-10 12:28

Hi, me again. To help qith an ongoing Court Case.
Would anyone out there agree with the BBC 's Defence that thier letters are enquiry based.
Thanks

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2017-04-10 23:30

@Alan
I would be happy to help out but I'm not sure I understand what information you require. I have seen the BBC use the term "enquiry letters" in several responses quoted online, for example:
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/374081/response/911325/attach/html/3/RFI20162257%20Response.pdf.html

I would consider the letters sent to non-licence payers to be threatening and intimadating, with the sole purpose of maximising licence fee collection.

S Wells
S Wells says:
2017-05-24 11:02

Hello again, delighted to see that the TV licensing people are still hard at work. Does anyone know the address for the superstar ENFORCER Gordon Smith? I want to send him a love letter (no really - I've tried every other kind of letter and now I'm going to ask him why he won't leave his wife for me and whether the lure of her over 75 free license can really be so much more than what he and I shared). Thanks in advance! :)

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2017-05-24 13:43

@ S Wells :-)
Good point about the address. Very few of the letters have any kind of reply address and when they do it is a bit brief: Darlington DL98 1TL. So, Gordon Smith the sometimes Falkirk Enforcement Officer and at other times the Dundee Enforcement Officer is "based" in Darlington.

I wonder if Gordon, and the other TV Licensing Enforcers, ever get cited in divorce proceedings. After all it is a convenient excuse when you need to explain away the presence of lots of strange men/women appearing at your door, day and night.

CandySu
CandySu says:
2017-06-15 00:05

Not usually one to brag but the latest letter from our friends came today in a pretty red envelope. Oddly enough it still went in the bin as easy as the others

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2017-06-15 08:19

@CandySu
Does that make it a *red letter* day?

I feel that I am turning into a collector or completist; I must have one of these red letters for my collection.

BillyJean
BillyJean says:
2017-08-06 12:35

I just thought you might like to know that Jane Jeffers is now also sending out letters, she's the Enforcement Manager from Preston apparently

Fitheach
Fitheach says:
2017-08-17 08:57

@Billy
I wonder if the names that go on the enforcement letters are real people or a figment of someone's imagination. If Ms. Jeffers exists she is probably based at Darlington just like her colleague Gordon Smith.

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