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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.

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Friday, 23 August 2013

TV Licensing Welsh Search Warrant Update: The Hidden Dangers of WOIRA

Earlier this month we published the story of Chris, who was the unfortunate victim of a rarer than hen's teeth TV Licensing search warrant execution.

As we commented at the time, the attempted search was a rather unusual affair in that the two TV Licensing goons, employed by Capita Business Services Ltd, didn't really attempt to search anything. On the evening of 5th August 2013 they barged their way into Chris's home causing damage and startling his young family in the process. Once in the hallway, despite the reassuring presence of two police officers, they remained anchored to the spot and made no attempt whatsoever to conduct their search. They didn't so much as sway in a manner suggestive of wanting to look around the property. We suggest the goons' lacklustre attempts to "search" may come back to haunt them should Capita decide to pursue any fanciful obstruction charges.

Again, as in so many of these cases, we are in no doubt at all that Chris does not legally require a TV licence. We were therefore very interested in the evidence Capita had presented to Magistrates in order to obtain the warrant in question. On our advice Chris contacted the Gwent and South Wales Magistrates' Court and requested a copy of the Deposition, which is the sworn statement Capita made in application for the warrant. The information, shown below, was laid on oath on 10th July 2013 by Capita's Yvonne Mitchell.

Readers of TV Licensing Laid Bare will already know that a search warrant should only be granted, in theory, when the Magistrate considers it a necessary and proportionate step in order to secure evidence. It is only necessary if TV Licensing has previously failed to obtain voluntary access to the property; it is only proportionate if there are reasonable grounds to suspect evidence will be found at the property. 

By having previously issued a WOIRA instruction Chris had unwittingly allowed Capita to tick the first of those two boxes - namely he confirmed they would never obtain voluntary access to the property. The only hurdle remaining was to convince the Magistrate that there were reasonable grounds to suspect evidence of an offence would be found there. This is where things begin to get interesting.

The BBC has previously confirmed that non co-operation with TV Licensing or the presence of a TV aerial/satellite dish affixed to the outside of a property is not sufficient grounds for the application of a search warrant. It would therefore appear, having read the Deposition, that the warrant has been granted mainly on the basis that goon Anthony Elliott "could hear what he believed to be a television set in use" on a previous visit.

Given this previous visit took place at 12:43 pm on 22nd April 2013, when presumably a lot of TV programmes were part-way through transmission (e.g. likely to be speech-based audio, instead of any recognisable theme tune etc), that's quite a sweeping observation to make. In Elliott's shoes we doubt we'd know exactly which programmes were being broadcast on every channel at that precise time, let alone what their audio would be like. We also doubt we'd be able to distinguish between the audio from a radio, YouTube video, pre-recorded DVD, TV set or whatever, but apparently bearded goon Elliott has some magical ability to do so. Maybe there's some sort of detection chip lodged in his brain, which allows him to filter TV audio from all other ambient noise in the locality?

The top and bottom of it is that this evidence is woefully inadequate and the Magistrate that rubber-stamped the application should be embarrassed at their apparent lack of diligence. A family's personal space has been invaded on the uncorroborated word of a goon with an hourly target of achieving at least one Code 8.

In conclusion, let us highlight once again that this case reinforces some of the possible ramifications of an occupier issuing a WOIRA instruction. They are potentially playing into TV Licensing's hands, by making it easier for them to obtain a search warrant later down the line. Sometimes WOIRA really does cause more problems than it fixes, despite what you might be hearing from other commentators.

Edit (6/7/16): We have now written a more recent post, where we give the official number of TV Licensing search warrant applications in 2014-15. You can read it here.


TGR Worzel said...

Good point about WOIRA backfiring.

Chris said...

I concur with this. I don't watch television as it's being broadcast and so do not require a license. TVL contacted me about a previous occupier's license expiring. Now I could have ignored this and was of course under no obligation to have any dealings with TVL at all. However I know from widely reported examples that I would receive a barrage of postal harassment.

Therefore I sent TVL a letter to advise that a license was not required. As expected they replied to say that I would receive no more letters but that an EO would need to call as "we find that 1 in 5 people who say they don't need a license actually do".

It is at this stage that many people would reply and withdraw IRA, but I've seen how WOIRAs are ignored, and in any case one can only claim for damage incurred by the trespass, which in all cases I've seen is nothing at all. But as you say setting a WOIRA is a tick in the box for a warrant since Capita can now state that they have no way to check anything with the occupier.

In my case I replied and advised that whatever 1 in 5 people are doing is none of my concern, that I've made it clear that I understand when a license is and is not required and that I clearly do not require one.

I advised that EOs are NOT welcome to call and that repeated contact will be deemed harassment and action taken. I assured them that if I ever need a license I will buy one without needing any prompting from TVL.

I also made it clear that I was under no obligation to communicate with TVL but I choose to do so, so that they cannot later claim to have had no reply from the address.

I also advised them that there is a television at the property which is used for on-demand, catchup, etc, and that again while I am under no obligation to tell them this, I choose to do so, so they cannot later claim they were unaware of a television being used legitimately without a license at the address.

TVL replied and agreed with everything I'd written and confirmed that if an EO was to call I am under no obligation to communicate with them at all (I will need to dig out the letter to get the exact wording).

Since then, around a year now I have no letters and no EOs knocking. I suspect that if I had gone down the WOIRA route I would have had some dealings with them by now. WOIRA does have a "feel good factor", sticking it the man and all that but ultimately it's counter productive, especially if you're in an area which happens to high rates of evasion, because you have no recourse if and when it's flouted, and it simply marks you up as much higher risk of evasion.

I would advise people to try the approach I've used, spell out your situation in a letter, make it clear you're under no obligation to deal with them but you choose to do so given their record of LLF harassment, and make it clear you expect no contact. If an EO does call simply refer them to the letter on record and close the door. If it persists then you have grounds to take action for harassment as per your written warnings.

Bedsit Bob said...

According to the TVL Visiting Procedures manual:-

"All personal data could potentially be disclosed to the data subject due to the right of subject access and the disclosure requirements of the criminal law. All comments should therefore be accurate, fair and polite.

Yet, in the deposition, it states the person who answered the door "was wearing long distressed looking shorts".

So much for "polite".

Anonymous said...

aj said,i just moved into a property few weeks ago,two days ago i got a letter of summon on someone else name probably the old tenant.the hearing is on 13th febuary.what will happen and what do i do?

Admin said...

Contact TV Licensing's prosecution team at Darwen and explain the situation. It would probably also be prudent to contact the court and explain things too. Submit a not guilty plea and explain clearly on the plea form the reasons why you are not guilty. If you can prove you weren't the occupier at the time of the offence, then you're in the clear.