Why we're here:
This blog is to highlight the unjust persecution of legitimate non-TV users at the hands of TV Licensing. These people do not require a licence and are entitled to live without the unnecessary stress and inconvenience caused by TV Licensing's correspondence and employees.

If you use equipment to receive live broadcast TV programmes, or to watch or download on-demand programmes via the BBC iPlayer, then the law requires you to have a licence and we encourage you to buy one.

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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

TV Licensing - Extorting the Non-TV Viewing Public

Those who have read the welcome page will know that I've considered TV Licensing an utterly odious organisation since my student days.

Back then I didn't possess a TV. Taking my first tentative steps into the big wide world I wasn't knowledgeable about TVL's despicable modus operandi, so I made the mistake of declaring my TV-free status to them. It got me nowhere. The incessant stream of red-daubed envelopes and intimidation continued. I, like many others, had been hoodwinked into believing TV Licensing had some authority and legal standing over me - even as someone who never used a TV.

Step forward more than a decade and little has changed in that respect. The arrogance of TV Licensing is still such that they consider it acceptable to smear and terrorise law abiding individuals in their own homes.

A reader of mine has sent me his thoughts on how TV Licensing's actions border on the brink of illegality:

A letter that demands money that you owe is called a "Final Demand". Such a letter may outline the consequences of not paying the debt and, as threatening as it may seem, it is perfectly within the law to do so.

A letter that demands money you do not owe is, at best, an error. If it is not an error and is sent on the assumption that you will feel sufficiently intimidated to pay even if you owe nothing, it is called "extortion" if successful and "attempted extortion" if unsuccessful. Either way, it is a crime.

The letters from TV Licensing do not clearly state the circumstances under which a licence is not required. The letters never acknowledge the possibility, for example, that you may not possess a TV. It acknowledges that (a) you may have paid within the last few days or (b) you may have forgotten to pay or (c) you may have moved and forgotten to notify them of your new address. The limited options presented in the letters are pay up or face the consequences and a £1000 fine.

1. The threats:

Visit from an "Enforcement Officer":
You are threatened with a visit from an "enforcement officer". The only official role of enforcement officer is held by the police. The TV Licensing "enforcement officer" has no powers of enforcement whatsoever. The letter never states the limitations of the "enforcement officer's" powers, largely because they have no power other than that of an ordinary citizen. They cannot demand right of entry into your property to establish whether or not you own a TV, they cannot demand money from you and they cannot issue any threats of any kind unless they have evidence that you are using a TV. It is not your responsibility to provide evidence that you do not own a TV. It is their responsibility to provide evidence that you do. If they attempt to enter your property or misinform you that you are obliged to grant them access, they have committed a crime. If they threaten you with a fine if you fail to provide evidence that you do not own a TV, they have committed a crime. If they demand any kind of payment, they have committed a crime.

£1000 fine:
The letter may imply that you could become liable for a £1000 fine simply for not purchasing a TV licence (regardless of whether or not you own a TV). You can only be fined if you are watching TV without a licence and, as already stated, you are under no obligation to provide evidence that you do not own a TV. You are not even legally obliged to inform them that you do not own a TV. The onus is 100% on TV Licensing to (a) establish whether or not you are watching TV without a licence and (b) to provide evidence that you are watching TV without a licence.

Criminal record:
You will be told that you will not only incur a fine but you will also have a criminal record. This is only the case if you have actually committed a crime.

2. The demands:

The letters do not state your legal rights, do not clearly state the circumstances under which a licence is not required and do not even acknowledge any circumstances under which a licence is not required. The letter simply demands that you purchase a licence. This is attempted extortion and should be challenged through the courts.

Neither you nor I could legally send demands for money to random addresses on the off-chance that they may owe you money. If you do so... particularly if you also issue threats... without sufficient evidence or reason to believe that the recipient actually does owe you money, you are breaking the law. TV Licensing are not above the law and they must be challenged on this bullying scam through the courts.

This could conceivably be done by one person but it would be more effective, and would attract more embarrassing press interest if it were done by a large group of people. I successfully put a stop to the threatening letters by stating that I would regard any further letters of this nature as attempted extortion and would be challenging it through the courts. Although TV Licensing state that, if you can satisfy them that you do not own a TV, you will be exempt from receiving these letters for two years, I have not heard from them for over four years and do not expect to hear from them again. Clearly, they are aware of the legal fragility of their position. However, personally, I don't have a case because they don't send me the letters anymore.

So, if a challenge were to be pursued, it must be done by those who (a) do not own a TV and (b) are receiving regular threats from TV Licensing.

There are other circumstances such as people who continue to receive demands after they have already purchased a licence but these are the grey areas in which TV Licensing can claim "administrative error". To have a clear case of attempted extortion, it would be necessary to show that the plaintiffs are being targeted without any evidence or justifiable reason to believe that they own a TV and are able to show that they do not own a TV and that TV Licensing has no justifiable reason to suspect that they do own a TV.

There are almost bound to be a number of people who do not own a TV but have been sufficiently intimidated by the letters that they have purchased a licence they do not require. This would be particularly applicable to recent immigrants who do not fully understand the law. The letters state that "This address is not licensed" and that statement alone implies that anyone who has an address must be licensed. The letters imply that it is a criminal offense if your address is not licensed by TV Licensing. It would be an understandable error and certainly one that I might make if I were in a strange country.

I know for a fact that a great number of people in certain care homes purchase unnecessary licences. Many care homes provide residential units which are official addresses of the residents. Care home also usually have a communal area where a TV is situated. That TV is covered by the care home's licence. Only residents who have a TV in their own rooms need a separate licence and many don't bother because there is one in the communal area they can watch whenever they want.

Residents who do not have their own TV are sent these letters and, because they watch the communal TV, believe they are obliged to purchase a licence. Although they are told by care staff that they need not worry and can safely ignore the letter, many reason that they have a letter from an official authority stating that they are breaking the law and may face a £1000 fine, while they are being told by someone with no official authority whatsoever that they can ignore it. Many purchase a licence to be on the safe side. I know this to be the case because I have worked in such care homes.

Such people have a case for actual extortion.

A large court case would force the BBC to revise the way that licence fees are collected.

As long as we continue to confine ourselves to complaining but take no action, nothing will change. We can force change by taking action and forcing the law to work in our favour.

Let's either put a stop to it or put up with it but let's stop whining, shall we?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have just had an interesting conversation with someone who is a magistrate. It appears that the guidance they are given means that they are directed to find people guilty of license evasion even if the person up in front of them in court is simply in POSSESSION of a TV, although there is no evidence of the person WATCHING TV without a license. The magistrate understood that simple possession of a TV was against the law, and was having none of it when I tried to explain it was the act of watching the TV that required a license. People need to be aware of this type of ignorance of magistrates (and goodness only knows in what other areas of the law they are mis-guided). Non-TV owners, or people who might have a TV stashed somewhere but never watch it, need to be aware of the guidance web-sites such as this offer in case an "enforcement officer" calls.