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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, 30 November 2014

Reader Letter: Foreign Student Duped Into False TV Licensing Confession

In today's post we respond to an email received from one of our readers.

Our reader writes:

Dear TV Licensing Blog,

Just this evening (29th November 2014) at 6 pm, my household was visited by an officer from TV Licensing Authority. We are a household of foreign students studying in the UK for the first time. He claimed that we were watching live TV (between 1 week and 2 days ago) and needed to pay for a licence immediately. We refused because we had not been watching any TV in the UK and did not even have a TV installed within the premises. He then gave us a deadline to pay by Monday.

He wanted to inspect our property, which we refused because his attitude was bad and he seemed very shady.

Finally, he ended up threatening us with a document which we now know as the notorious TVL178 form. He asked many questions and filled in the form. My housemate signed the form, thinking that it was a survey, just to get him out of the premises. Looking back at the form, it contains incorrect information. The TV Licensing man did not tell us he was interviewing us under caution or that the form could later be used in court.

Attached is a picture of the form.

The problem is there is no eye witness and unlike your other cases, the accusation here is hard to disprove (or prove). Another flatmate overhead the conversation (but minimally). We really need advice and help.

Side note: Your website is amazing. I wish we had met in better circumstances.


TV Licensing Blog replies:

Dear Sera,

Thanks for your email and kind words about our blog.

As you know already, a TV licence is needed for any property where equipment is used to receive TV programme services (e.g. TV programmes available to other members of the public at the same time).

It is unfortunate that your flatmate signed the TVL178 Record of Interview form, which incorrectly states their admission to watching live programmes without a TV licence. TV Licensing has no automatic right of entry to a property and I always recommend refusing them entry for this very reason - they cannot always be trusted to report the outcome of enquiries honestly.

Regrettably, your flatmate is at a disadvantage. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it is unlikely a court would believe your flatmate signed such an admission without reading it first. I think their only way of escaping prosecution is by contacting TV Licensing and explaining that they are foreign, didn't fully understand the process and were coerced into signing the form by the irate goon. It is also worth mentioning, as you have done to me, that the goon made no attempt to conduct the interview under caution.

If the worst comes to the worst, you and your flatmate should be prepared to go to court and tell them exactly what you've told me - that no-one in your property receives TV programmes, the TV Licensing goon recorded inaccurate information and your flatmate was scared into signing them in the hope it would get him to leave. TV Licensing quite often drop a case before it gets to court, because they do not want their dishonest tactics to come under public scrutiny.

Please stay tuned to the comments below, as our readers may be able to offer more advice on this matter. I'd also appreciate if you'd keep me informed of developments in this case.

The very best of luck to you and your flatmate.


If you have any questions you would like answered on the TV Licensing Blog, please email us with the words "Reader Letter" in the subject line. Our email address is in the sidebar. As mentioned on the About page, we can't guarantee to respond to every email but will try our best.

Edit (3/1/15): We have just received an update from Sera. TV Licensing has decided not to prosecute her flatmate.


Maryon Jeane said...

Under UK law a confession is not considered admissible evidence if it has been obtained under duress, and these include the "exercise of power in a burdensome, harsh or wrongful manner" - which would seem to be the case here.

Added to this is the fact that the people concerned in this situation are foreign and so are at a disadvantage in a situation of this sort, which is peculiar to the UK.

So if you are willing to go to court and defend yourselves you should have a reasonable chance of proving your innocence, despite the signed confession. (Plus, of course, there is the historic unwillingness of Capita/TV Licensing to continue with cases they know are going to be defended, as has already been noted here).

The best of luck!

Anonymous said...

You could always move without leaving a forwarding address.

Fred Bear said...

One thing that might be worth considering in this case is buying a licence (if the people didn't buy one on the day the 'officer' called. The reason is that TVL does not usually prosecute people that they consider to be first time evaders. So if the person who signed the form has not come to their attention before, they should not prosecute if TVL follows its procedures. Of course this is not guaranteed.

Generally what happens is that TVL waits around 20 weeks from the time of the supposed offence and then they check their records to see if a TV Licence has been bought. If not they can then contact the courts and apply for the summons.

Although it seems unfair this might be worth considering as a way out.

TheKnightsShield said...

"One thing that might be worth considering in this case is buying a licence (if the people didn't buy one on the day the 'officer' called."

I hate to say it, but I really don't like suggestions like that. What your are saying amounts to paying for protection, of which is basically illegal. If these people didn't need a licence when TVL came knocking, then they have no use paying £145.50 for something they don't need. The foreign students are victims in this case, even though they signed the paperwork. What TVL did was take advantage of these people. At least that is how I see it anyway.

Fred Bear said...

Although I would tend to agree with your sentiments, TheKnightsShield, the question is what is the best course of action for the students. If they do nothing, a court summons will land on their mat in about 5 months time.

If it goes to court, TVL could win the case and the person on the summons would be hit with a fine and costs. It might be easier for the students to club together and buy a licence. They would need to maintain the licence for at least 6 months to make sure that TVL can't prosecute over the alleged offence.

At least they have had a learning experience and probably will handle things differently in the future.

Anonymous said...

I work with a magistrate who said he throws out about 96% of cases on the day, as the "offender" pays the licence just before the hearing. So the TVL have to pay the court costs and fees.

admin said...

I'm sorry, but I would say your Magistrate friend is exaggerating. We attend a lot of these hearings and probably only 10% of cases are dropped on the day. The vast majority go ahead in the absence of the defendant, who is invariably found guilty when they offer no defence.

Fred Bear said...

One thing the student could do if they want to dispute it is send in an official complaint: firstly to TVL (which will presumably be handled by Capita) and then subsequently directly to the BBC and then finally to the BBC Trust. Get the local MP involved if possible. Contact Government Minister Sajid Javid's office (he's the culture secretary probing BBC enforcement methods) or the Culture, Media and Sport Committee at Parliament(chairman John Whittingdale MP)
The person could also ask his college or university authorities to contact the BBC on his behalf.

At the moment the BBC is likely to be very sensitive to criticism as thee licence fee and enforcement methods are under scrutiny.