Licence not required

Getting threatened for doing nothing wrong.

Posted by fitheach on Tue 21 July 2015

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.

Screenshot from the movie "The Truman Show", showing a zoomed-in-shot of the button badge which states "How's it going to end".

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.

Scans of the unique letters I have received, can be viewed in the gallery shown 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."

Opening section of a sample letter.

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.

TV Licensing asking for a date?

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.


Notes:

  1. Update: August 12th 2015 - another "what to expect in court" letter arrives.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Update: January 25th 2018 - One of the typical letters arrived today but the red envelope was a new development. Added an image to the TV Licensing gallery.
  8. Update: February 24th 2018 - TVL seem to be limiting their innovation to the envelopes (latest one added to the gallery), the letter content remains the same.
  9. Update: April 21st 2018 - Another new style envelope, and also a letter with new content. Letter boasts that TVL have a database containing details on the UK's 32 million addresses. Letter begins with the sinister: "You know. We know." Letter and envelope added to the gallery.
  10. Update: November 30th 2018 - Similar letter, but with new style rear FAQ page added to the gallery.
  11. Update: February 25th 2019 - "Local investigation active..." letter added to the gallery.
  12. Update: February 24th 2020 - After exactly a year, a new style letter makes its appearance. "Your IN01O0A4" A new approach by TVL; an invented, and mysterious, code to make their threats even more intimidating. Letter added to the gallery.

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Gallery: