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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, 23 November 2014

TV Licensing Fact or Fiction: 20 Common 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.

It is a worrying fact that a significant proportion of the UK population believe that TV Licensing is justified in the way it terrorises non-viewers. They are seemingly oblivious to the fact that TV Licensing is the BBC's militant revenue generation arm, which has to meet stiff performance targets by selling as many TV licences as it can. They don't understand that TV Licensing "visiting officers" are actually commission-driven salespeople, who can double their paltry basic salary by hard-selling TV licences.

Here are some of the myths we have to set straight on a depressingly regular basis:
  • Myth 1: TV Licensing is an official Government "agency".
Fact: No it isn't. 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: No you don't. 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: TV Licensing employees work for the Government.
Fact: No they don't. As previously mentioned, the BBC contracts the majority of its TV licence functions to several private companies. The private company holding the operations contract is called Capita Business Services Ltd. TV Licensing "visiting officers" are employed by Capita. They work on a commission basis, which means they have a financial incentive to hard-sell TV licences and gather evidence of TV licence evasion. Their performance targets are very steep and we consider they are virtually unachievable for a TV Licensing employee playing by the rules.
  • Myth 4: You must inform TV Licensing if you don't need a TV licence.
Fact: No you don't. Would you inform Tesco if you suddenly decided to do your shopping at Asda? Would you think Tesco had the legal right to enquire why you didn't use their service? Anyone who doesn't need a TV licence, has no legal business whatsoever with TV Licensing. We strongly discourage non-viewers from providing TV Licensing with any assistance at all. Even if a non-viewer told TV Licensing they didn't require a TV licence, they would not be believed.

If you are cancelling an existing TV licence the situation is slightly different and we suggest you read our post all about it.
  • Myth 5: If you don't watch BBC programmes, you 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.
  • Myth 6: 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 the Government is currently exploring measures to decriminalise TV licence evasion. How could this be if it wasn't a criminal offence in the first place?
  • Myth 7: Only the police can caution someone under PACE 1984. TV Licensing can't.
Fact: TV Licensing employees should always caution the occupier of a property where they suspect TV licence evasion is taking place. The caution reminds the occupier of their right to remain silent, which we suggest they exercise at all times when dealing with TV Licensing.
  • Myth 8: 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 9: You can't film or audio record TV Licensing employees who call at your property.
Fact: Yes you can. It is perfectly legal to film or audio record TV Licensing employees who call at your property. The occupier does not need inform the TV Licensing employee that they are being recorded and the TV Licensing employee does not need to give their permission. The only way a TV Licensing employee can opt out of being recorded is if they physically withdraw from the property.

We encourage readers to record all TV Licensing visits to their property for their own protection. TV Licensing employees are known to tell lies in an effort to inflate their commission earnings. A recording of the encounter reduces the chances of disagreement or foul play later on.

TV Licensing employees are not legally allowed to record on private property without the occupier's permission.
  • Myth 10: Your landlord, neighbour or broadband/cable provider could give information to TV Licensing.
Fact: They certainly shouldn't. TV Licensing rules are quite explicit that their employees should never attempt to gather information/evidence from third-parties unrelated to the property in question. The landlord or broadband/cable provider would almost certainly be committing an offence under the Data Protection Act 1998 if they provided any of your personal information to TV Licensing. Similarly a landlord should never be allowing TV Licensing, or anyone else for that matter, access to a tenant's property without their express permission.

We often hear from students concerned that their university might allow TV Licensing access to their hall of residence room. That should never happen and the universities are fully aware of that. If it did happen the student would have cause to complain in the strongest possible terms and could take legal action against the university.
  • Myth 11: 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. The TV Licensing Blog has now obtained official confirmation of how rare the use of TV detection really is (see here).
  • Myth 12: The TV licence is not your responsibility, so you can't be prosecuted for TV licence evasion.
Fact: TV Licensing will attempt to gather prosecution evidence from any adult occupier of the property at the time TV licence evasion takes place. That person, irrespective of whether or not they are responsible for paying the TV licence fee, can be prosecuted for TV licence evasion.

Unless a tenancy agreement specifically states that the landlord is responsible for paying the TV licence fee, it is the tenant's responsibility to do so.
  • Myth 13: TV Licensing can't touch you if you issue WOIRA.
Fact: 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 complies 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 14: 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 15: You can't be caught watching TV programmes online without a TV licence.
Fact: Unfortunately you can, but it's not easy for TV Licensing to do that. Unlike GCHQ, TV Licensing does not have technology allowing it to snoop on peoples' web browsing habits. Even if it did, the use of such equipment would be very strictly controlled and totally unjustified in the pursuit of TV licence evaders.
The only way TV Licensing can catch an online viewer evading the TV licence, is if they admit to doing it or a goon catches them in the act. We're sure you'll agree that neither of those situations is very likely.
  • Myth 16: 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 17: TV licence evaders face a criminal record and £1,000 fine.
Fact: Those convicted of TV licence evasion do technically receive a criminal record, but it is a non-recordable offence and their conviction won't appear on the Police National Computer or any Disclosure and Barring Service check. That said, TV Licensing do love to name and shame TV licence dodgers in the local newspapers, so it would be foolish for anyone to keep their conviction a secret from potential employers etc.

Technically speaking, the maximum penalty for TV licence evasion in England, Wales, Scotland and the Isle of Man is a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale, which currently stands at £1,000. This value is oft-mooted by TV Licensing for its deterrent effect. In reality fines are rarely in excess of £200 for individuals or £500 for businesses. The average fine for individuals is probably around the £100 mark. Having observed the outcome of hundreds of TV licence evasion cases, the TV Licensing Blog has never seen a fine in excess of £500.

On Jersey the maximum fine is £500 and on Guernsey it is £2,000.
  • Myth 18: You can go to prison for TV licence evasion.
Fact: No you can't. As mentioned earlier, the theoretical maximum penalty for an individual is a fine of £1,000. Occasionally the courts will imprison someone who defaults on payment of their fines, but that is a separate offence. Imprisonment for non-payment of fines is exceptionally rare. In our experience, the court will always endeavour to make fine payment terms as convenient and manageable as possible.
  • Myth 19: 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.
  • Myth 20: As a legitimate non-viewer, you just have to accept TV Licensing harassment and intimidation.
Fact: No you certainly do not. TV Licensing is currently under more intense public scrutiny than ever. People are realising that TV Licensing bullies, acting on behalf of the BBC, deceive and intimidate tens of thousands of people, when it is legally unjustified in doing so.

Anyone on the receiving end of TV Licensing threats and intimidation should complain in the strongest possible terms, demanding compensation and taking legal action as appropriate.

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TheKnightsShield said...

Another excellent entry, as always.

Myths 1 and 3 are interesting as people are almost right about those. Capita have numerous contracts with the government, but that doesn't mean that they are an arm of the government.

Chris said...

"It is the act of installing and using a television receiver that is licensable."

I don't think that's right, it should be this:

"It is the act of installing and using a television receiver for the purpose of receiving live broadcasts that is licensable."

Else using a television receiver to receive radio broadcasts, which does not require a license, would be compromised.

admin said...

The definition of a television receiver, in the legal sense, is important here Chris. A device is only a television receiver if it is installed or used for the purposes of watching or recording a television programme service. A TV set used only for catch-up, DVDs or gaming falls outside the description of a television receiver.

Fred Bear said...

Yes, there's an important distinction in the law between a TV set and TV receiver. A TV set may or may not be a TV receiver - it depends on what the operator of the set plans to do with it or does with it. Likewise, a computer may or may not be a TV receiver.

The law defines TV set in the regulations only because it once imposed a duty on TV dealers to inform the BBC/Capita if someone bought one from them.

Jimmy said...

I just want to be clear about something as I've recently received yet another letter from these thugs (the one that gives advice about what to expect "when you appear in court", despite them having not even searched my flat, let alone set a court date).
You say "...a television receiver must not be installed or used unless the property is covered by a valid TV licence."
To count as 'installed', I assume it has to be plugged into an aerial? Technically, my TV is 'installed', and it has a receiver in it, but it's only plugged into a couple of gaming consoles. I don't think there's even a wire in the room that goes to an aerial.

admin said...

A device only counts as a television receiver if it is actually installed or used to receive television programme services (e.g. "live" programmes). If it's not used for that purpose, aerial plugged in or not, then it is not a television receiver.

Jimmy said...

Thanks a million. Been reading through your archives too, and I'm tons more confident in my plans to stay licence free.
Keep up the good work!