As regular readers will know, I frequently browse the internet looking for TV Licensing related articles and trivia. Every day someone has a new take on what the TV licence fee is, what it's for and how it's enforced.
A lot of the articles out there, particularly those in the local and national press, have actually been planted there by TV Licensing's PR agency Fishburn Hedges. As history has shown these agencies aren't particularly bothered about the accuracy of their press releases, because most idle journalists just print them without question.
You can check this yourself when the next tranche of TV Licensing press releases hit the papers. Quite often TV Licensing regurgitate the same articles over and over again, often with such arrogance they don't even bother to change the figures in them.
Take this example:
1. TV Licensing, via the Newcastle Journal, report that 210 people were caught licence dodging in the sleepy market town of Morpeth in 2010.
2. Coincidentally, via the Morpeth Herald, TV Licensing also report that 210 people were caught licence dodging in Morpeth in 2009.
The chances of exactly the same number of people being caught in consecutive years are pretty slim, I'm sure you'll agree.
Surfing cyberspace I'm guaranteed to see the same questions over and over again. In today's article I'm going to set the record straight on some of the most commonly asked TVL related questions.
1. Who administers the TV licensing fee?
Ans: The fee is set by the Government's Department for Culture Media and Sport. Administration, collection and enforcement of the fee is delegated to the Licensing Authority, which happens to be the BBC. The BBC sub-contract a lot of their licence fee work to private companies, operating under the umbrella of TV Licensing. TV Licensing is a BBC trademark. Capita Business Services Limited are the biggest private company undertaking TV Licensing work. They are responsible for the collection and enforcement of the fee. It is their representatives that harrass and intimidate genuine non-TV users on their doorsteps.
2. What is the fee used for?
Ans: The fee funds most public service broadcasting within the UK. The BBC claim their services are "uniquely funded" by the licence fee payer. That is another lie, because some licence fee revenue goes towards Welsh language broadcaster S4C. Channel 4, despite being a public service broadcaster, generates revenue via advertising. Channel 4 does not receive licence fee funding.
3. When do I need a TV licence?
Ans: The law requires that a licence is obtained for any device that is "installed or used" for "receiving or recording a television programme at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public". In practice it is the property that needs to be licensed and not the device.
4. So I can own a TV legally without a licence?
Ans: Absolutely correct.
This is where TV Licensing fact and fiction often become blurred. Because the BBC gets its money from licence fees, they have a vested interest in selling as many TV licences as possible. Akin to selling ice to eskimos, they're not bothered whether you need a licence or not. Furthermore, TV Licensing's employees receive bonuses for every licence they sell so it's hardly surprising that they sometimes "big up" the importance of having a licence.
In reality it is perfectly legal to own a TV without a licence as long as it is not installed and used to receive/record broadcast TV signals.
5. How can I use my TV legally without a licence?
Ans: You can use it for any purpose that isn't receiving/recording a live broadcast TV signal.
That would include as a monitor for a games console, CCTV or even to view non-live catch up TV services from the internet.
The BBC has also said that using a TV set to listen to digital radio services does not need a licence, although I would strongly suggest avoiding this.
6. Do I need a licence to watch/record foreign TV channels?
Ans: If you're watching/recording in realtime then unfortunately, yes you do.
7. Do I have to communicate with TV Licensing?
You are under no legal obligation whatsoever to respond to their intimidatory mailings, telephone calls or visits. We strongly suggest ignoring all approaches by TV Licensing. Keep quiet, put the phone down or close the door on them.
If TV Licensing do visit your property they will often pretend to have more powers than they actually do. They do this because they really want that commission for selling you a licence you probably don't need. If they sense their commission slipping from grasp they often threaten to fetch the law. It's all bluster, designed to reinforce their imaginary sense of officialness. Don't fall for it and send them on their way.
8. But couldn't they get a search warrant?
Ans: You should only be concerned about this if you are committing an offence.
If they suspect you're watching/recording TV without a licence then they could obtain a warrant, but if they do things by the book (which they don't always) then there are certain legal hoops they need to jump through first.
A Magistrate would only grant a warrant if you had previously refused TV Licensing access voluntarily and they had significant evidence your were committing an offence.
If you don't watch/record TV then you can't possibly be committing an offence, so have nothing at all to worry about.
9. Have TV Licensing ever been caught breaking the rules?
Ans: Oh yes.
David Clark, who used to work for TV Licensing, thumped wheelchair bound Ron Sinclair on his doorstep as he was making enquiries. TV Licensing's Richard Llewellyn was convicted of falsifying visit records to fraudulently obtain commission payments.
Thanks to the marvels of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 we can also confirm that nine more TV Licensing employees were convicted of "on the job" theft/fraud offences between 2005 and 2011. The BBC subsequently told us that a TV Licensing call centre employee was convicted of "on the job" credit card fraud in September 2011.
On 31st August 2011 the Northern Echo ran a story about Gary Catterick, a now convicted rapist who was employed by TV Licensing at the time he committed his offence against a pregnant young woman. The article stated quite clearly that Catterick "was invited into a house in Grangetown, Middlesbrough, when he could not get his car to start during inspections". According to the BBC this is incorrect and he wasn't actually on his TV Licensing rounds at the time he raped his victim. That's just the word of the BBC of course, which doesn't mean a lot.
10. Do detector vans exist?
Ans: The BBC say they do, although they refuse to confirm that TV detector evidence has ever been presented in court. The BBC also say they provide impartial news programming and represent good value for money. Draw your own conclusions.