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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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Sunday, 22 December 2013

Ten Common TV Licensing Myths Debunked

If there's one thing that drives us absolutely mad here at the TV Licensing Blog it's the fact that we spend half our time correcting the same few misconceptions.

Here are some of the myths we have to debunk on a regular basis:
  • Myth 1: TV Licensing is an official government "agency".
Fact: The BBC is the statutory Television Licensing Authority (see s. 180 of The Broadcasting Act 1990) responsible for all matters relating to TV licence administration and enforcement. The BBC contracts several private companies to undertake the majority of its TV licence functions (see TV Licensing website). These companies collectively operate under the name of TV Licensing. TV Licensing is a BBC trademark. The BBC retains overall legal responsibility for the administration and enforcement of the licence fee.
  • Myth 2: You need a TV licence if you own a TV.
Fact: The legislation (see s. 363(1) of The Communications Act 2003) is that a television receiver must not be installed or used unless the property is covered by a valid TV licence. Mere ownership of a television receiver (or any other equipment) is not covered by the legislation. It is the act of installing and using a television receiver that is licensable.
  • Myth 3: I don't watch BBC programmes, so I don't need a TV licence.
Fact: This is incorrect for the reasons mentioned in response to myth 2. A TV licence is required for the reception of any television programme service, regardless of the channel or where in the world the broadcast originates from.
  • Myth 4: TV licence evasion is a civil offence.
Fact: This statement is very popular with FMOTL types (and the generally ill-informed) but totally incorrect. The legislation (see s. 363(2) of The Communications Act 2003) states that anyone who installs or uses a television receiver without a valid TV licence is guilty of "an offence". It does not say "a civil offence", as civil legislation conventionally does. The fact that the offence is tried summarily before a Magistrates' Court should also give an indication of its criminal status, but that distinction also seems lost on some people. The final proof, if any more were needed, is that a Bill (see BBC Licence Fee (Civil Debt) Bill 2013-14) is currently before Parliament seeking to decriminalise TV licence evasion. How could this be if it wasn't a criminal offence in the first place?
  • Myth 5: TV Licensing employees have the right to enter private property.
Fact: Under normal circumstances TV Licensing employees have no automatic right to enter private property. TV Licensing rules state that their employees must always leave immediately when asked to do so by the occupier.

The only exception is the very rare situation when TV Licensing employees present a search warrant, in which case the occupier must allow them immediate unhindered entry.
  • Myth 6: TV detection equipment doesn't exist.
Fact: It's a controversial one this, not least because a fair few of our like-minded friends agree with the above statement. We consider that TV detection equipment does exist, but its use is not nearly as widespread as the BBC and TV Licensing would have people believe. TV Licensing has an army of PR harlots who exaggerate the effectiveness of detection for deterrent purposes.

The use of detection is strictly governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (BBC) Order 2001. Contrary to what TV Licensing would have people believe, they can't just hop in their magic detector van whenever they feel like it. Each use of detection has to be personally reviewed and authorised by a senior BBC manager. Under the Freedom of Information Act the BBC has previously told us that there are only two people who can grant authorisations, although we believe this has recently increased to three.

The BBC confirms that TV detection evidence has never been presented for scrutiny in open court. They are no doubt fearful about the effectiveness of their detection equipment being challenged in public.
  • Myth 7: TV Licensing can't touch you if you issue WOIRA.
This dangerous falsehood has been mentioned a lot over recent months. In theory if you tell TV Licensing they aren't welcome at your property - known as withdrawal of implied rights of access (WOIRA) - they should keep away.

In practice it doesn't always work that way, with TV Licensing often ignoring perfectly valid WOIRA instructions and then pleading ignorance when challenged about it. TV Licensing normally acknowledge WOIRA instructions by sending the occupier a letter, but such an acknowledgement does not guarantee an end to their visits or harassment. Issuing a WOIRA instruction to TV Licensing also makes it more likely the occupier will be hit with a search warrant, as one of the conditions for obtaining a warrant is that TV Licensing cannot gain access to the property with the occupier's consent. That said, search warrants are still exceptionally rare and anyone without need for a TV licence should not be overly concerned by them.

Even if TV Licensing comply with a WOIRA instruction they could still obtain evidence from outside the boundary of the property, either by detection or by peering through windows etc. If the quality of evidence is good enough (or even if it isn't) TV Licensing might be able to persuade a Magistrate to grant a search warrant.

By issuing WOIRA the occupier is providing TV Licensing with confirmation of residency, so our advice would by to adopt the non-contact approach instead.
  • Myth 8: If you have internet access you need a TV licence.
Fact: See our response to myth 2. It's an unfortunate fact that technology is evolving much faster than legislation, so it is now possible for anyone with web-enabled computer to receive TV programmes within a few mouse clicks.

As previously mentioned, a computer can only be classed as a television receiver if it is actually installed or used for that purpose. People do not, as a general rule, install a computer with the intention of receiving TV programmes across the web. The fact they can receive TV programmes across the web is entirely coincidental. A licence is only required if a person actually does receive TV programme services across the web (e.g. intentionally navigates to live streaming of any TV channel).
  • Myth 9: You can only be convicted of TV licence evasion if you admit to the offence.
Fact: This is total nonsense. If it was true then nobody would ever be convicted of TV licence evasion, because they'd simply keep quiet and admit to nothing. Contrary to the drivel spouted in certain quarters of the web, there are certain unfortunate situations where the evidence of unlicensed TV reception is so overwhelming that it doesn't matter whether the occupier admits the offence or not. In these situations the occupier can still be convicted even if they refuse to sign the TVL178 Record of Interview form.

An example would be if the goon turned up on a search warrant visit at exactly 1 pm and saw the opening titles to the One O'Clock news on a TV screen inside the property. A bit of common sense should tell people that if it was as easy as not signing the TVL178 then nobody in the country would ever be convicted of TV licence evasion. Sadly, to our increasing frustration, there's a lot of people that lack common sense and believe anything they read on social media sites.
  • Myth 10: Paying the licence fee is against people's human rights and funds BBC corruption.
Fact: That may well be true, but unfortunately TV licence evasion is an absolute offence. This means the offence is not open to interpretation - the occupier either received TV programmes without a licence or they didn't. The courts do not accept the argument that paying the licence fee deprives people of their fundamental human right to free information. Similarly, the courts do not accept the argument that paying the licence fee is illegal/immoral because it funds BBC corruption, maladministration and historical instances of paedophilia.

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Chris said...

Is anyone up for the challenge of defining "installed"? Every time I see this term it bugs me because after several years I have yet to see a clear, factual definition of what it means in this context.

Example: I have a TV with a built-in Freeview receiver. I use it to watch catchup, netflix, streaming films from a USB stick. These do not require a license.

I also have an aerial attached and use it to listen to Freeview digital radio. This also does not require a license.

However since the TV is connected and configured in exactly the same state as it would be for me to watch live TV, do I need a license or not?

I *don't* watch live TV on it but I cannot help that the configuration is the same as if I did. TVL have previously admitted that it is NOT necessary to modify a TV (detune it, etc) to avoid the need for a license.

So if TVL pitches up with a warrant would they argue that I do need a license because the TV "is installed" to watch or record live TV? Would this be a valid argument?

It should be very straightforward this, yet somehow this notion of "installed" always comes down to individual opinion and not the actual state of fact, whatever that may be.

Do you or any reader have a definitive answer to this? Can I listen to Freeview radio on my TV and remain LLF or am I breaking the law by having an TV "installed" able watch live TV?

Anonymous said...

"Installed" basically means "plugged in to the mains" and/or connected to an external aerial, which is why students are advised they are covered by their home licence if they watch programmes that are "on air" using battery-powered devices. See:


If your computer's on battery power it's not installed. If it's on charge (plugged in to the mains), it is.

However, the offence is installing FOR THE PURPOSE of watching/recording TV programme service. So you can have a TV plugged in and connected to an aerial without needing a licence if the PURPOSE is something other than watching "live" TV e.g. listening to satellite radio, as a computer monitor etc.

Being "able" to watch live TV doesn't come in to it, like being "able" to break the speed limit is irrelevant. The law is broken only if the offence is actually committed.

Chris said...

Thanks Watchkeeper, but all that does it describe what we already know. Would a Capita trained court, presented with TVL saying that they pressed 1 and BBC 1 appeared, see my TV, all tuned in and ready to display live TV, as anything but a device installed to do just that?

The bottom line here appears to be that while the law says I am okay to use a Freeview enabled TV to listen to the radio, the circumstantial evidence says I'm a license evading criminal with a TV clearly installed for watching live broadcasts.

That leaves aside complications such as the TV always powering on to channel 1 and needing to be switched to radio. I receive BBC 1 for a few seconds but the TV is still not installed for the purpose of watching live TV.

I suspect it would be impossible to defend against such an accusation against TVL, so with regret I have removed my aerial and cleared all channels to avoid any confusion should I find myself on the receiving end of the Capita stormtroopers one fine day.

Anonymous said...

Can I have some clarification on mobile phones/wi-fi devices?

Are these classified as "installed" or TV receivers?

Does that mean I can watch iPlayer live on a tablet without a licence?

Dave said...

Hi, in essence I agree with what you have written here. I think people who argue the civil-matter/statute/Act argument while technically right are P'ing in the wind.

Magistrates are not going to accept these arguments, and to pursue this course would need tenacity and a deep understanding of the Law.

However, to obtain a warrant what evidence would TVL need?

admin said...

Thanks for your comments guys.

@Anon: You need to be covered by a valid TV licence however you choose to watch TV programmes. That includes watching them on an unplugged device like a tablet, although the user's normal home TV licence would cover them in those circumstances. Suppose they didn't have a home TV licence then, in theory, they would need to obtain a licence just to view on their unplugged device. In practice TV Licensing has virtually no way of detecting/prosecuting anyone using an unplugged device without a TV licence, although we'd still always encourage compliance with the law.

@Dave: We have written, at some length, about the conditions TV Licensing need to fulfill in order to obtain a search warrant. In theory TV Licensing can only obtain a warrant if it is necessary and proportionate step in order to secure evidence of unlicensed TV reception.

It is only necessary if TV Licensing has no reasonable prospect of entering the property by invitation (say WOIRA has been issued, the occupier never answers the door, or the occupier has been abusive); it is only proportionate if there is reasonable grounds to suspect an offence is being committed inside the property. The onus is on the Magistrate to grant the warrant only if fully satisfied the "necessary and proportionate" conditions are met.

In practice the Magistrate has sole discretion whether to authorise the search or not, and it would appear TV Licensing has chosen some particularly feeble-minded Magistrates who sign their name without asking too many questions. Those Magistrates are doing the public a disservice.

Over recent months we have seen TV Licensing search warrants granted on the following evidence:
- A TV Licensing goon claims to have heard TV audio playing the the background during a visit.
- A TV Licensing goon claims to have looked through the window and seen a TV set mounted on the living room wall.
- A TV Licensing goon claims to have seen "sports programmes" on a TV screen, which the occupier said were non-licensable content from YouTube.

In our opinion all of these are pretty tenuous evidence and not proper grounds for granting a warrant.