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 BBC on-demand programmes via the iPlayer, then the law requires you to have a TV licence and we encourage you to buy one.

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Sunday 15 May 2011

What Happens When You Don't Buy A TV Licence?

This post was originally written on the I Hate The Jeremy Vine Show blog, who have kindly agreed to us republishing it here:

We discuss today what happens when you don't buy a TV licence.

I am deliberately going to avoid the "is it a fee or a tax?" question, and whether the licence fee is justifiable, etc.

My research may be missing some elements, and so there are a lot of questions here. You will need to do some research into this topic.

The official and much-publicised line on not having a licence is that the TV Licensing Authority (aka TV Licensing, TVL, Capita) will take you to court and prosecute, but they have to do a lot of work to achieve this, and I wonder just at what point the case is filed under "too difficult" and conveniently forgotten.

Retailers of equipment that are capable of receiving television broadcasts are required BY LAW to provide TVL with personal information in the form of your name and address. However, there is no law that says that anybody paying with cash is required to give a correct address, and they cannot be traced through credit card details. Addresses with no TV licence are targeted and investigated by TVL, but how often do they actually do this?

TVL enforces the BBC's statutory obligation to ensure that every address where a television licence is required is correctly licensed, but its agents have no special rights and, like any other member of the public, rely on an implied right of access to reach the front door. The occupants of a visited property may deny an agent entry to the premises without cause and are under no obligation to answer any questions or enter into any conversation. If an agent has evidence that television is being watched or recorded illegally but is denied entry by the occupants so that (s)he cannot verify the suspicion without trespassing, then TV Licensing may apply to a magistrate for a search warrant, but the use of such warrants is rare. The BBC states that a search warrant would never be applied for solely on the basis of non-cooperation with TV Licensing and that in the event of being denied access to unlicensed property will use detection equipment rather than a search warrant. The assumption by TVL is always "guilty until proved innocent" and in 2008 the BBC Trust launched an enquiry in to intimidating behaviour by TVL.

According to Wikipedia (yes, I know) the law allows a fine of up to £1,000 be imposed on those successfully prosecuted and this figure is frequently publicised by TV Licensing to maximise deterrence. In reality, magistrates rarely impose the maximum fines allowed to them by law. During the year 2005-6, the average fine including costs was approximately £153, so only slightly more than the cost of a licence.

Moving further down the process... let's assume that TVL reckon that you have a working television in your home and one day there is a knock on the door. You open the door and the man from TVL introduces himself. Now, if you were to engage in conversation with him and/or invite him in to your home then they have succeeded in their task and they would attempt to sell you a licence and they may try a prosecution if you refused. However, what happens if you tell him to get off your property and close the door in his face? At that point he becomes no more important and has no more authority than a double-glazing salesman or peddler of religious virtues. If he leaves quietly then fair enough, but another visit will probably occur. If he does not leave and bangs on the door, shouts through the letterbox, etc., then he is then guilty of aggravated trespass. From what I can find a person is guilty of aggravated trespass if he trespasses on another's land and carries out any act with the intention of disrupting a lawful activity being carried out on or adjacent to that land. That, to me, describes the banging on the door situation exactly.

So, what happens next? The research I have done suggests: Not Much.

The visits may continue, but by not responding to such visits there is not a lot TVL can do. Warning (almost threatening) letters will also be sent, but they can be ignored.

There is a suggestion that only watching TV broadcasts that are not live (by using iPlayer on a computer, for example) does not require the viewer to hold a TV licence. The same is also said for broadcasts that originate wholly from a non-UK broadcaster and received by means of non-Sky satellite equipment. Has anybody tested this on court? If so, what was the outcome? [TV Licensing Blog Comment: This last sentence is incorrect. A television licence is required to watch/record live broadcast TV signals regardless of where in the world they originate]

I would LOVE to know what the conclusion to all this is, especially as I have read of people who have not bought a licence for 10 years or more.

If you go with this I promise I will listen. However, it will need you to:
 - put your "BBC is sacrosanct" attitude to one side.
 - do some research.
 - report the truth.
 - back it up with real facts.


Edit (25/6/13): The law requiring TV dealers to notify TV Licensing of the sale/lease of TV receiving equipment has now been repealed. For further information see this post.


Lee said...

What happens when you do have a licence?

You receive a letter saying that you don't have a licence and are threatened with legal action...and ultimately imprisonment.

What did I do when I got this letter?

Blackmailed the bastards and forced them to pay up.

Admin said...

I think you've mentioned something like that previously Lee.
Can you tell us anymore about how you got the better of them? Avoid using the word blackmail because we don't want to stoop to their criminal level.

Ron Tocknell said...

This may be of interest as I used to be plagued with these aggressive letters from TV Licensing, despite not having a TV. I had written to them on a number of occasions, objecting to the assumption of guilt that these letters convey. On one occasion, I sent them a demand for illustration fees, explaining that, as a freelance illustrator, my income depends on the copyright license fees from companies using any of my images. I stated that my records show that I have not received any payments from TV Licensing and would, therefore, be sending an "enforcement agent" to look through all of their corporate literature to ensure that none of my images have been used. I actually got a reply, assuring me that none of my images are being used and that it is not their policy or practice to use copyright images without authorisation. It went on to explain that, under no circumstances, would an "enforcement agent" acting on my behalf would be admitted to the premises.

However, I continued to get the "threatening letters". Finally I sent them an analysis of the wording on the letters: At no point does the letter inform the recipient of his or her rights. Nowhere does it clearly state the circumstances under which a license is not required. Nowhere does it acknowledge the possibility that the reason for nor purchasing a license may be that the recipient does not own a TV. The only reason for not being licensed that the letter acknowledges is that the recipient may have recently moved and forgotten to renew the license. The only advice offered is to pay or expect a £1000 fine. Nowhere does it state the limitations of the "enforcement officer's" powers.

Because the contents of the letter are exclusively either demanding money or issuing threats, it is effectively attempted extortion.

I have now drawn the TV Licensing company's attention to this factor and the TV Licensing company have now been informed that I do not own a TV. Any further letters from them of this nature will be regarded as an attempt to extort money from me under threat and the police will be notified and appropriate legal action will be demanded under existing law.

That was about four years ago and I have never heard from them since.

There are a lot more issues relating to my various conflicts with this criminal organisation. Contact me if you are interested.

Ron Tocknell said...

Technically, the TV Licensing Authority have no more authority to search my premises for evidence that I am not watching TV without a license than I have to search their premises for evidence that they are not using any of my images without my authority. The onus would be on me to prove that they ARE. The same is true in reverse. The onus is on the TV Licensing Authority to prove that you ARE receiving broadcasts without a license.

No other company would be permitted to send bills to random addresses on the off-chance that the recipient might actually OWE he amount demanded. Certainly, they would not be able to issue threats of fines and legal action without good reason to believe that the recipient owes the money. There is a reason why they would not be allowed to do this: IT IS ILLEGAL.

There is no specific legal power that enables them to do this but, traditionally, the way in which they conduct their business is ignored by both the government and the police. They continue on the strength of the public's assumption that they have the powers and legal immunity to do this and the government and police traditionally turning a blind eye to the law.

I don't object to the principle of paying for the services the BBC provides through a licensing system but I do object to the methods of policing and demanding payments.

Albert Doolittle said...

Retailers of equipment that are capable of receiving television broadcasts are required BY LAW to provide TVL with personal information in the form of your name and address. However, there is no law that says that anybody paying with cash is required to give a correct address, and they cannot be traced through credit card details.
I think the assumption that they cannot use credit card details may be wrong.
I recently(August 2012)purchased a DVD PLAYER from Dixons via the internet.
I chose to have the item delivered to my son's home (he has a licence)as having missed several parcels through being out at work and his wife being at home during the day seemed a good idea.
I only watch dvd's and refuse to pay the TV TAX. However, two weeks on I have received a threatening letter from Bristol with my home address on it.
The only way BBC licencing could have known my address is through my credit card details!

Anonymous said...

I draw your attention again [since it seems relevant to a specific question asked in the text] to a comment from the Telegraph on the consequences of citing non-use of live broadcasts to excuse the absence of a licence. Trawling for 'block' convictions of 50 at a time, not to mention Magistrates Training Courses endorsed by the BBC, leave very little room for optimism in my opinion:

What's that you say? You don't have a TV? Ah but you have broadband right? So therefore you MUST be watching News 24 online! What's that you say? You don't watch News 24? Well you watch iplayer don't you? What's that you say? You don't watch live TV on iplayer? Ah, but iplayer now has live TV - so if you use iplayer you MUST be using it to watch live TV! What's that you say? You have no broadband or PC? But you have a mobile phone don't you? So you MUST be using it to watch live TV. TAKE HIM DOWN ----TO THE CELLS UNTIL THE FEE IS PAID.
Here's the deal. The law says that you don't need a licence if you do not watch TV as it is being broadcast. That is to give the false impression that you have some sort of choice. The law COULD just say "if you don't have a TV you don't pay". But then the licence fee could be avoided easily. Half the country would get rid of their TVs and just get their news from websites like the DT. So the law in couched in terms of doing something (receiving TV as it is being broadcast) rather than having a TV. Now what happens in practice? If you have any sort of device whatsoever - even a pay-as-you-go mobile phone - the law will ASSUME that you are using it to watch TV as it is being broadcast. So we have a bogus impression that we live in a free country - but in practice EVERYBODY HAS TO PAY the licence fee. This raises 3 or 4 billion for the BBC which is the state socialist propaganda department and the propaganda wing of the the Labour Party. But regardless of your opinions, you are forced to fund the socialist propaganda. No choice. There could even be an encrypted service for BBC TV, but no, that would give you a choice. Much easier to put iplayer on every platform and then the socialist judges in the socialist courts will just ASSUME you are watching live TV."

11 November 2012 23:24

Unknown said...

So all said and done they have not rights what so ever and the chances of getting a big fine is slim. I'm on ESA and unable to work and paying for a t.v licence is impossible for me as cost of food ect comes first

Dave: Knight said...

I'm afraid there is a lot misinformation in the comments section of this blog. It easy to check the legal situation here:


With today’s technology, you can watch TV on more devices than ever, whenever it suits you best. This means a TV Licence doesn’t just cover you to watch TV at home on a TV set. You can also watch or record television programmes as they're being shown on TV, through all of these devices:
Computers, including laptops and tablets
Mobile phones
Games consoles
Digital boxes, e.g. Freeview, Sky, Virgin, BT Vision
DVD/VHS/Blu-ray recorders.

As long as the address where you live is licensed, you’re also covered to watch TV outside your home using any device powered solely by its own internal batteries. This includes your mobile phone, laptop and tablet.

Exception: If you only watch catch-up services online, then you don’t need a licence. For example, you don’t need one to use BBC iPlayer, or ITV player, to catch up on programmes after they have been shown on TV

Admin said...

Thanks for your comment Dave.

I note you question the accuracy of comments instead of our articles. We are very clear about the legalities of the TV licence, and I do not imagine you will find any inaccurate legal advice in any of our articles. Our commentators may not have such an appreciation of the law, but we still value their contributions. That's why we publish virtually all the comments submitted here.

Anyone who wants to check the law surrounding the TV licence can visit the appropriate statutes on the Parliament website. The current primary legislation on the matter is the Communications Act 2003.

TV Licensing is a BBC "puppet show" tasked with making as much money as possible. Their website is written with that goal in mind, just like all their legally baseless reminder letters are.

Anonymous said...

Nobody on this Planet Earth can be forced to pay for something they don't want or wish to pay for something they don't want. Only in the UK are we aggressively force to pay for something we don't want, for some people. Just because we own a television doesn’t mean we should be forced to pay a large amount of money for a service we may not require or wish to have. The BBC should have system via a smart box to pay for the service as you go or a pay an additional fee via your satellite or cable operators. If you don't want to watch any BBC then you should have the human right not to pay for something you don't require. This would also in turn stop the BBC wasting money, overpaying some top staff and produce more quality and original programmes to generate income.

Anonymous said...

i previously had a licence for the property i live in however due to some serious financial problems i declared myself bankcrupt closed my bank accounts and therefore stopped all direct debits,i have since recieved email and letters from tv licensing to remind me that i need a new tv license as it has been 3 months since i cancelled my previous one, howere they wont let me pay quarterly and are asking for payment in full which i carnt afford,do they have to prove i am using my tv before they can prosecute? i live in an upstairs flat and never answer door to anyone other than friends or family who phone me when they are at the door anyway

Admin said...

Thanks for your comment Anon.
In your situation we would have approached things slightly differently by informing TVL that we didn't need a licence before cancelling.

Yes, they need evidence that you were watching/recording TV programmes without a licence in order to prosecute you. The fact you don't have a licence when you previously did is not sufficient evidence, although they will try to scare you into compliance.

Anonymous said...

I am afraid I have more important things to worry anout in life. This means that even though my situation has changed and I don't now need a license , I continue to pay the direct debit. This is because, in the past I have been hassled by inspectors and letters and demands to come round and "check" that I feel it is easier just to continue paying!! I felt under suspicion before, and I don't need inspectors prowling around my flat looking for hidden TVs computers BBC apps etc... Oh well, I hope they are using my money to find good programmes..

Admin said...

That's a damning indictment of the way TV Licensing operates: You don't need a licence, but pay anyway to avoid being hassled.

Very sad.

Anonymous said...

Hi I have a similar blog about bailiff's and parking tickets.....would you like a link back?


Admin said...

Good luck with your blog, but unfortunately I'll not be linking as it is not closely enough related.

Anonymous said...

I haven't watched tv in around 14 years and haven't had a license for that time. I recently removed the tv licensing IROA, it took two calls as the first they sent me a letter stating 'thank you for letting u know that you no longer need a licence however we may still visit blah blah blah' I had to call back and explain once again that I had removed the IROA. This time I was put through to a chap who realised the apparent 'mistake' and told me I would hear nothing for two years although I plan to challenge this when it happens legally.
I am to upgrade by computer monitor next week so look forward to seeing what will happen, especially as the statutory law has been repealed.

ndmaque said...

I Love playing the game of TV licensing.

I don't have a TV so I can be confident.

They called and asked if they could come in.
I told them it was inconvienant as i was abut to have sex with a brazzilian transvestite and asked if he could pop back later.

They eventually came back but this time i turned him down on the grounds he looked like a paedo and i would need to see his certificate.

It went quiet for two years apart from the barrage of threats by post of course.

Last week i had a red card saying they had called but i totally ignored it.
Now i have a letter saying i am *possibly* going to court and lots of advice on what do.

They are just so funny you can't help but tease them.

When they next come I will play BBC News on my tablet in the background as i explain i don't have a TV.

Anonymous said...

I just had a visit ...someboby from Tv licence knock on the door. I didn't know, and I opened the door. After he start writing in his file I had understand what about it is.The problem it is that I am not the householder, I am paying rent with all inclusive...bills...etc.And I don't want to sign that declaration , I idin't allow him to came inside to see my tele...he ask that... and when I told him no! , he became a little bit agitated. I just broked in two that file...and told him to go..He gone and told me that he will send me to the law court,because it is an ofence to do that. Please, it can be possible, I am worried.

Admin said...

Normally the person who rents a property is responsible for paying the TV licence if they need one. "All inclusive" normally just means utility bills (phone, electricity, gas).

If you broke his file, as you said, then of course you can get into trouble for that. That would be criminal damage and/or assault.

If they call again the best option is just to say nothing and close the door.

Anonymous said...

Hi i live abroad with my family and have for many years. I never bother watching tv and dont have one as on my visit to the UK are only for a few weeks max 8 weeks per yr. I have virgin soley for the internet for skype as pay as you go is very expensive. However i am constantly getting letters from tv liciencing as there is always a pile on my return to Uk . The last one was a threat to take me to court can they do this.

Anonymous said...

does anybody know if its a legal requirement to notify if you don't need a license? we recently moved into a new property and we are barely home and the tv is only used for netflix or to play xbox. we had a few letters so far but they don't have our names or anything, jus the address. i don't really think that i have the need to say i don't need one unless im legally required to do so.

thanks in advance

Admin said...

There is no legal requirement to notify TV Licensing that you do not require its services or product.
Would you have to tell DVLA that you didn't need a driving licence? Or the Environment Agency that you didn't need a rod licence?
The best option is to ignore TV Licensing completely as it cannot be trusted. Please see our free book for further information.

Anonymous said...

I haven't had a license for years and I really want to get one, however it's a bit like breaking cover. Will I be fined if I apply for a new one?

Admin said...

Fining someone who buys a TV licence? That would be a new low, even for TV Licensing.
If they ever asked you - and they almost certainly won't - then you just say that you have only just started watching TV programmes and never needed a licence until now.

Anonymous said...

Thanks TV Licensing Admin for reiterating that there is no legal requirement for non-consumers of live tv broadcasts to have any communication with the BBC's TV Licencing enforcement staff.

Today I received a letter from them with 'helpful' information on "What to expect in court" etc.

The crucial facts are that I do not have a television and haven't had since shortly after I had a stroke 12 years ago. Neither do I watch live tv broadcasts via any medium. I am absolutely clear, honest and scrupulous about this.

Yet I am increasingly terrified by these letters. They make me feel battered and threatened and somehow 'grubby'.

As it is, I am very anxious about unexpected callers knocking on my door as (as a victim of stalking/persistent disability hate crime who lives alone). Now I am extremely anxious about some tough guy battering my door and accusing me, with no facts and certainly no evidence, of being an 'evader'.My life as a disabled person is difficult enough without these threats.

On the other hand, I am 100% certain that, legally and lawfully, I do not need a tv licence - because I am not receiving, and will never receive, any live tv broadcasts.I thoroughly object to these BBC staff harassing me (or anyone who is similarly legally not in need of their licensing service/product). So I have taken the advice here of not responding at all to any of their frightening and harassing letters.

I feel strongly that I (as well as others who are equally law abiding) should not have to be subjected to:

a) this very high level of harassment - these letters are very definitely putting me in fear for my safety, security and damage to my already precarious health.

b) a specious and probably unlawful onus to prove my innocence under threat at my own doorstep on my own property.

Today I nearly cracked - I was so terrified by this letter that I nearly rang these people to ask them to stop harassing me. But, going by all the reports I've read here and elsewhere, I know that this would only incite them to impose a completely unwarranted 'enforcement visit'.

So, really, I'm in need of some support ....help! Please...

Anonymous said...

Just got rid of sky TV, sky box taken out, freeview detuned and aerial plug removed, and cable cut, no Iplayer app installed on any device, only Amazon Fire TV with Netflix and a blu ray player connected to TV. TV license due to expire what is best option for TVL? They have threatened to send to debt collector if bot renewed.

Admin said...

See our guide on cancellation: http://tv-licensing.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/cancelling-your-tv-licence.html
The key thing is that you must inform TV Licensing that you will be cancelling because you no longer legally need a TV licence. Do not just cancel at the bank.

Terminator said...

What if you want a very large screen to use as a PC monitor say 50" plus and you see one on offer at an online store like Amazon at, let's say £299, you are never going to get a monitor screen in a 50" screen size below several thousand pounds, that's if PC monitors are that big yet, the biggest I have seen is 34" costing about £1000. They are going to inform you have just bought a TV from them and it will set off alarm bells simply for the fact you have bought something that is capable of receiving a live broadcast and nothing else!

Anonymous said...

After the disgraceful attitude shown to me after my late mother's passing, i have decided to demonstrate the same back to tvl.

I have bought a property that i am currently renovating, but not living in and i have ignored all correspondence from tvl. I am currently at the stage of treats from court. I just wish i could be around to meet the enforcement officer, so that i could watch iplayer on my phone whilst politely telling him/her to do one (i own a license for the property i currently live in).

It amuses me that they are threatening to take me to court when they don't even know my name.... i didn't think you could have this much fun for free!

Unknown said...

Your blog says that 'Detection equipment' can be used?
To the best of my knowledge such equipment does not exist ( all TV detector vans were fake)
but possibly you know better?

Admin said...

Thanks for your comment Edward.
In our opinion detection equipment is real and does exist, but its use is no nearly as widespread or effective as the BBC and TV Licensing wan't people to believe. See these posts for more information:
- http://tv-licensing.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/lifting-lid-on-tv-licensings-pandoras.html
- http://tv-licensing.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/tv-licensing-on-bbc-tees-truth-about.html