In the course of its routine enquiries TV Licensing has no more right to access a property than any other cold-caller.
For historical reasons there is an implied right of access that allows delivery people and suchlike to visit a property as they go about their legitimate business. This right of access can be removed by the occupier in a process known as Withdrawal of Implied Right of Access (WOIRA).
It didn't take too long for members of the legally-licence-free community to recognise the potential benefits of the WOIRA process. In theory, according to the BBC's own policy document, TV Licensing should respect any WOIRA instruction and stay away from the property. As an added bonus WOIRA properties are removed from TV Licensing's monthly threatogram list, as these letters imply that an "officer" may call at the property.
If TV Licensing were to breach a valid WOIRA instruction, then it would be committing trespass and the occupier could pursue a civil action. That was the theory anyway, but it never quite worked that way in practise.
For a couple of years the WOIRA process seemed to work quite well. Frustrated householders would dutifully post their WOIRA letters to TV Licensing, which would confirm receipt and warn that it reserved the right to take "alternative measures" to verify the licensable status of their properties.
Since January 2008, when records first began, the number of WOIRA properties had risen to around 16,000, which the BBC undoubtedly views as a revenue loss of £2.3m per annum.
A lot of people viewed WOIRA as a magic bullet; a one-size-fits-all method of keeping TV Licensing pariahs at bay. Sadly for them, it wasn't to be. It didn't take too long before TV Licensing started to ignore WOIRA letters and visited the properties anyway.
TV Licensing could never openly admit that to ignoring lawful WOIRA instructions, but given the number of breaches we've seen on YouTube there appears little doubt. Ignoring WOIRA is undoubtedly one of the many "dirty little secrets" TV Licensing goons are expected to deny if challenged.
With the benefit of hindsight, we now view WOIRA as a potentially risky strategy. It should only be used if the occupier is ready and willing for direct confrontation with TV Licensing, because that is the probable outcome.
WOIRA is risky for the following reasons:
- By issuing a WOIRA instruction, the occupier is confirming their presence at the property and opposition to TV Licensing. Experience shows that TV Licensing is far more likely to escalate its enquiries when dealing with an opponent.
- By issuing a WOIRA instruction, the occupier is making it clear to TV Licensing that it will never gain access on a consensual basis. That increases TV Licensing's chances of successfully applying for a search warrant later on.
Thanks to colleagues at the Active Resistance to the TV Licence Facebook group, we now know that TV Licensing has a new policy of disregarding WOIRA instructions in Scotland, as the law of trespass is different to the rest of the UK.
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