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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 20 February 2015

TV Licensing on BBC Tees


If ever there were a town with roads paved in gold, then this is definitely not it. To its credit a lot of regeneration is taking place in the centre of Middlesbrough, but with unemployment standing at almost 15% it is still a town down on its fortunes.

The Index of Multiple Deprivation - an official Government measure of social and economic hardship - lists Middlesbrough as the eighth most deprived local authority area in England.

Little wonder then that TV Licensing, like opportunistic vultures, are circling to pick over the humble morsels of a generally impoverished town.

Aiding them in that effort is PR harlot Matt Thompson, who featured on BBC Tees' Mike Parr Show this morning. Thompson, you may recall, is employed by Leeds-based PR agency Finn Communications, who are currently a year into a four year contract to dispense TV Licensing propaganda across the north of England.

In the lead up to this morning's 9 o'clock news Parr described Thompson, who despite appearances is no relation to Aviator Bob, as an "expert" on the subject of TV Licensing. With a build up like that, we were transfixed to the radio and hanging on every word.

The show led on the subject of TV Licensing, starting at about 9:05 am.

A transcript of the segment appears below:

Mike Parr (MP): We're going to start with this this morning. Have you got any questions about the TV licence? Who needs one and how it's collected? People can come up with all kinds of excuses for not buying a television licence.

If you want to talk to our man from TV Licensing, now is the time to pick up the phone and give us a call - 01642 225511.

If you want to text in your question you can - it's 81333 and start your message with the word "Tees".

[Song - The Tide is High - Blondie]

MP: Yep, so we've been doing a bit of painting since the early hours of this morning. Not painting the building - creating works of art. Some of them are Teesside-based. If you want to take a look at those then go to the BBC Tees Facebook page, or if you follow us on Twitter they're on the BBC Tees Twitter feed as well. See what you think. Members of the team have been doing these works of art - and I use the term loosely - and we'll get those judged later on today.

Now we're going to start with this. We're going to be talking about the television licence for the next half hour or so. People come up with all sorts of excuses for not buying a television licence. For example - and this is a genuine excuse given to TV Licensing - "I lost a lot of weight, so all my money went on buying new clothes". That is an example of the sort of thing people come out with.

Now the way people watch TV is changing. Some people don't watch live television and they don't watch it on a television. They might download Coronation Street onto a tablet and then watch it at a time to suit them. So do they need a television licence?

This morning Matt Thompson from TV Licensing is here to answer your questions. Matt, good morning to you.

Matt Thompson (MT): Good morning Mike. Thanks for having me.

MP: You're welcome. This isn't a phone in about how the money is spent by the way - it's specifically on the licence fee and how it is collected. So this is the number - and there are lots of questions this morning - if you've got one it's 01642 225511. You can text me - 81333 (and) start your message with the word "Tees".

Let's start with the basics then Matt. How is the licence fee set?

MT: So the Government's responsible for setting the licence fee and it currently stands at £145.50 for a colour one and £49 for a black & white licence. We still do sell (MP: Do you?!) black & white licences. They are still popular. Less so than they were, but there's still certainly demand for them.

MP: How many people have got a black & white set then?

MT: I think it's in the thousands rather than the millions, so it is reducing all the time. But there are still those who are quite content with a black & white licence.

MP: And what does that £145.50 pay for?

MT: So that £145.50 (MP: For the colour) pays ... yes, for the colour... pays for a TV licence, which means that you are legally allowed to watch live television. So you can watch live television, regardless of the device, regardless of how you receive it - whether that be cable, satellite. It means that you're in compliance with the law.

MP: But the key word is "live" then, isn't it?

MT: It is, absolutely.

MP: So it doesn't matter what you're watching live television on, if you're watching it live you need a TV licence.

MT: That's the pivotal thing really. So yes. The most important thing, it comes down to live. If you're watching live television, or recording live television, regardless of the device - whether that be on a television, whether that be on an iPad, a mobile phone, a laptop - regardless of how you receive it - whether that be cable, terrestrial, satellite - if you're watching live television, or recording live television, then you will require a licence.

MP: So what about people who will say "I never watch the BBC"?

MT: It doesn't matter. If you're watching live television - whether that be satellite, whether that be terrestrial, whether that be channels 1, 2, 3, 4 - then you do require a licence. 

It all comes down to if it's live. And that's not just a live football match. Live is described as anything that is going out at that particular time. So for example, Match of the Day, 10:30 pm, on BBC One - that's going out as live. So if you're watching that live, then you do require a licence. If you're watching it on catch-up three days later, then you don't require a licence. It all comes down to live.

MP: Right, we'll talk about that in a bit more detail a bit later on. A lot of people don't always make the connection between the television licence and BBC Tees. They don't realise that it pays for radio as well, and all the websites that the BBC produces.

MT: Absolutely, yes it's all encompassing. TV Licensing is responsible for collecting the licence fee as efficiently as possible and informing people of the need to be correctly licensed through community relations, advertising, direct mailings. But the money that we collect as efficiently as possible will then go to the BBC Trust and they decide how it's spend. So it's not us that has any say in terms of TV output - and I know you'll probably get questions that come in around that - obviously we have no influence there. We're just responsible for collecting that money as efficiently as possible and making sure, quite frankly, that people do know when they require a TV licence.

MP: So you don't work for the BBC, you work for TV Licensing?

MT: Absolutely, yes.

MP: And who are TV Licensing responsible to?

MT: So TV Licensing falls under the BBC. It's a trademark and it's a consortium of different companies tasked, employed, with collecting the licence fee and informing people of when they need a licence.

MP: Alright. Let's see what comes in on the questions then. We've got some lines free at the moment. We've got Matt Thompson here from TV Licensing. Any question at all - don't think that your question might be a daft one, because it won't be - and times are changing and all the technology is changing. So if you've got a question about who needs a television licence give us a call - 01642 225511. If you'd rather text - 81333 (and) start your message with the word "Tees".

[Traffic and Travel Report]

MP: 01642 225511. Now, a question in here from Liz - morning to you Liz - who says that she knows somebody who got caught in her village and got fined £1,000. Is that how much the fine is if you get caught without one?

MT: You can risk a prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000, absolutely. That's the message that we're very keen to get across. So if you are actively evading the licence fee then you do risk prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000 and you would still need to pay for a TV licence on top of that as well.

MP: So how do you know then whether I'm watching live television with a licence or not?

MT: Okay, so there's around 25 million licences in place. The vast majority of people are correctly licensed. A small minority aren't and are actively evading - we think around 5-6% of the population, so it is a very small minority. We owe it to the honest majority to make sure that we are enforcing UK legislation, and that is that if you're watching live television, or recording live television, then you do require a TV licence.

We use a variety of different methods to monitor those people who are actively evading, so the primary tool we use is a database of 30 plus million plus addresses, which tells us at the click of a button exactly who is currently unlicensed. We would then contact them through a mixture of written communication and also perhaps pay them a visit through an enquiry officer, to determine if they do require a TV licence. 

We're very keen to work with people - not against people. That's a key thing to say. We want to help people to understand when they require a licence, which is why I do lots of these things where I come on air and talk to people and let them know exactly what the situation is.

MP: But if you're watching live telly at an unlicensed address you're going to come down on them like a ton of bricks, aren't you?

MT: If they're actively evading then yes.

MP: So do you have to catch them in the act of watching live telly at an unlicensed address?

MT: There's lots of ways that we can catch evaders. So we used detector vans...

MP: Oh, so you've still got those?

MT: We do, yes. It isn't a myth. We have a fleet of detection vans running up and down the UK. We also have enquiry officers who have handheld devices and they are no bigger than the size of a torch and again they are really effective at identifying if someone is watching live television. And it's really important to stress that it doesn't matter if that's on a TV, or if that's on a laptop, or an iPad - we can catch people watching online as well. There's no issue there.

MP: So you can sit in the van outside, or you could use one of these kind of hairdryer devices, and you could point it at a block of flats Matt, and you know whether somebody in one of those flats is watching live television?

MT: We are really, really effective at catching evaders. We catch around 1,000 evaders each and every day and successfully prosecute around 180,000 people (each year).

MP: So how do you know if I am watching BBC One on my iPad?

MT: [Haha] You see, I can't give too much information away on that, because clearly that would help those people who actively want to evade. But I would say that obviously our technology is very, very good and we use a mixture of technologies to identify exactly when somebody is watching live television who doesn't have a licence. And as I say, it doesn't matter if it's on their TV, if it's on their iPad, laptop - it really doesn't matter. We are effective at catching evaders.

MP: We're talking to Matt Thompson. You can too. Matt is from TV Licensing. We've got some lines free at the moment if you want to get through to Matt - 01642 225511. 

Of course TV Licensing just collect the money. They don't have any say in how much you have to pay - that's all down to politicians - and the whole process of how it is set is also a political issue. Members of Parliament of all parties have been discussing ideas for reform of the system. In particular the question whether failing to pay the licence fee should be a criminal offence punishable with a jail sentence.

Well our reporter Luke Walton joins us now. Morning Luke.

Luke Walton (LW): Hello Mike.

MP: So why are these questions being raised about whether non-payment of the licence fee should be decriminalised?

LW: Well Mike, one of those calling for a change in the law is Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen. He's complained that people were getting quote "a criminal record for the only crime of being poor" and the picture is Mike, is this - in 2012 164,000 people were found guilty of TV licence evasion, of which 51 went to prison.

Now critics claim that the current system is clogging up the courts. In response the BBC says actually most TV licence cases are dealt with pretty swiftly and don't take up too much time. And the Corporation also says that removing the criminal offence, which is the proposal, could actually massively increase non-payment, because people will effectively fear a civil penalty far less. The BBC go on to warn - BBC management this is - go on to warn that there could be a loss of up to £200m a year in income to the BBC resulting from decriminalisation and that could result in TV channels closing.

MP: Right. So is the criminal sanction on the licence fee likely to be withdrawn?

LW: Well it's definitely a possibility. The situation is this. There is currently an independent review underway into the issue of decriminalisation of licence fee evasion. It's expected to report to Parliament this summer, and there are indications that both the Conservatives and Labour are looking sympathetically at the idea of moving towards these civil rather than criminal penalties, although Labour is said to want any reform piloted before it is implemented. In reality Mike the crunch will come next year with the renewal of the BBC Charter, when the whole future of the licence fee will be on the table.

MP: And there is discussion about other reforms of the licence fee as well, isn't there Luke? With some wanting it abolished altogether. So what's being suggested?

LW: Well, as you say, there's an argument that the flat rate £145 licence fee is unsustainable. Some say that it doesn't take into account that households use the BBC in lots of different ways - maybe have different abilities to pay. Others say the BBC should come out of general taxation. One option mooted is for at least some of the BBC services to be paid for from advertising and there's the idea that people might want to opt in to varying menus, varying levels of services - the more you want, if you like, the more you pay.

Now all of these options are likely to be thrown into the mix when discussions start on next year's BBC Charter renewal, although I suspect really fundamental change might come, you know, some way down the track and may depend partly on technology.

Now these discussions on Charter renewal won't start until after the General Election in May and I would say that the result of that General Election could have a bearing on the outcome of that Charter renewal and the future of the licence fee.

MP: Luke, thank you very much indeed. We're talking about the television licence with TV Licensing. We're not necessarily this morning talking about how that licence fee is spent - that is a conversation for another day - but we are talking about how it is collected. So if you've got a question - 01642 225511.

[Song - Ride a White Swan - T.Rex]

MP: T.Rex and Ride a White Swan. We're taking calls for Matt Thompson from Television Licensing this morning. Before that (we were) talking to our political correspondent Luke Walton. Something you want to clear up Matt that Luke mentioned.

MT: Yes, there was just one point. There was talk of obviously prison for not having a TV licence. Just to be really, really clear - you cannot go to prison for not having a TV licence, only for not paying the court fine. So if you're found not to have a TV licence, you risk prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000. If you then don't pay that fine, then that's when you could risk a prison sentence, but you will not automatically go to prison if you do not have a TV licence.

MP: So you will go to court first, you're given the chance to pay the fine - if you don't pay the fine then you go to prison.

MT: Then you could risk a prison sentence, yes.

MP: Okay. Let's take some calls. Hello Darren, how are you?

Darren: Hello. Morning.

MP: You're through to Matt.

MT: Hi Darren.

Darren: Hi Matt. I've never heard so much rubbish in my life about your TV detection methods that you claim to have.

Your detector vans are a total myth. There's nothing in the vans. Your handheld devices that your enforcement officers carry is nothing more than a database and you don't have anything you could point at a block of flats to detect whether somebody's watching or recording live TV. That technology doesn't exist. A TV picks up a signal - it doesn't transmit anything for you to intercept. I'd just like to know what you think about that?

MT: Yeah, thanks for the question Darren. So to address your points... [sigh] right, where do I start? So in terms of our detection methods, I guess the first thing I would say is that we are very effective at catching evaders. We catch about 1,000 evaders each and every day.

Darren: Yes, but not through detector vans or handheld detector devices. They don't exist and you know that. The only way that you can catch someone is if they admit on the doorstep that they watch or record live TV, or invite you into their house. And without that knowledge from the person you can't detect anything.

MP: Okay Darren. Is he right? Is he right? Is that caller right?

MT: No. He is absolutely incorrect.

MP: So the technology does exist then?

Darren: No, it doesn't. It doesn't.

MT: Well if I can respond to you. If you give me an opportunity to respond to your question, then I'll certainly give you an opportunity to reply.

Darren: Okay.

MT: Quite simply, you are incorrect. We do have excellent detection systems. Yes, we have a database of 30m addresses which tells us, at the click of a button, who is unlicensed. Yes, detector vans do exist. Yes, they are very effective at identifying those properties where live television is being watched, but at the same time our enquiry officers also have handheld detection devices, which compliment the detection vans and again aid us when it comes to identifying if live TV is being watched illegally. And we are effective, through these different means, at catching 1,000 evaders each and every day. So yes they do work, yes they do exist. Without these methods it would be very difficult to catch people who were watching television.

Darren: Scaremongering tactics. Scaremongering tactics from Capita and the BBC. That's all that is.

MP: So Darren, where do you get your knowledge of this from?

Darren: I work in the telecommunications industry and I know that there's no such thing. I work (in the RAF?) and I know about radio frequencies and stuff and I know that a television receives a signal. It doesn't transmit anything to be intercepted. So without a television... so if a television doesn't send out a signal, how can it be detected? It's physically impossible. I've worked in this industry for years and I know the technology out there and there's nothing that a television sends out. It doesn't transmit a signal, it receives a signal. You can't intercept a signal from a satellite and work out if it's going to that individual TV. It's spread out over such a wide area, you can't pinpoint exactly where that signal is going.

MP: Well Darren, you've made your point which has been disputed by Matt as you can hear.

Darren: Yeah, it would be.

MP: But thank you for your call Darren. Dave in Saltburn says "all televisions have chips in them that people don't know about and that's how they know what you have been watching". Any truth in that?

MT: Again, I couldn't really comment on that. We don't want to give too much information around this, because clearly obviously that could help those people who are actively wanting to evade payment of the TV licence fee. But I guess, just to reassure Darren, the technology absolutely exists. The detector vans do exist and they are effective. The handheld devices do exist and they are effective. We catch 1,000 evaders each and every day. Without that technology - if it didn't work - we'd struggle to do that.

MP: This is the number if you want to join in - 01642 225511.

[News Headlines]

MP: So we're taking your questions on Television Licensing at the moment to Matt Thompson - 01642 225511. If you'd rather text in - 81333 (and) start your message with "Tees".

And the questions coming in thick and fast now. Mac Maltby. Hello Mac. Mac says can you still buy a black & white licence? Well we've answered that - yes you can. Mac goes on to say, if so how can you tell if it's a black & white telly that they're watching?

MT: Again, the technologies are in place and have been for years. We are effective at catching people regardless of whether it's a colour licence, whether it's a black & white licence. The technology is such that we do know if people are watching live television and they don't have a licence.

MP: And whether it's colour or black & white though? That's Mac's point.

MT: We can identify. We can identify exactly what's going on.

MP: Right. Mike at Ingleby Barwick says "if you have a television in your house but you don't use it or watch it, do you have to pay the television licence? If I film a wedding for example and then copy it onto a DVD disk the same day, then play it back the same day on a DVD player, not television, do I need a licence as it will be live the same day?"

MT: No. You don't need a TV licence for that. It's live television. If you're watching live television or recording live television then you do require a licence. If you're watching a DVD for example that you got from the local shop, then you don't require a licence. If you only ever watch catch-up television - regardless of the device - if you only ever watch catch-up television then you don't require a TV licence, but we know that's around 2% of the population. So a very small minority of the population only ever watch catch-up television.

MP: Dave in the Boro' says "do you legally have to pay the television licence if you've withdrawn the right of access? I was sick of the aggressive nature of people knocking on doors, so I've withdrawn the right of access to Television Licensing."

MT: It's UK law, so yes you do legally have to have a TV licence if you're watching or recording live television.

MP: Alright. Email from Sue - hello Sue - she says that she has a friend who says that she doesn't need a TV licence even though she has one. She doesn't watch it and uses her laptop instead.

MT: Again, it comes down to live. So, thanks for the question Sue. Essentially if your friend is watching live television - so television as it is transmitted, regardless of the device - so if she's watching it on her laptop then she still would require a TV licence.

MP: Let's talk about free and discounted licences then. Who is entitled to a free television licence?

MT: So if you are over 75 the good news is that you're entitled to a free TV licence, but you need to let us know and we would ask that people do get in contact with us. There's lot of ways you can do this - you can go through the website, tvlicensing.co.uk, or you can give us a call on 0300 790 6112. 

And if you're just about to turn 75, but a little bit off, so maybe 74, you can apply for a short-term licence. But again, let us know. We need to know, so we would ask that people get in contact either through the website or by picking up the phone. Let us know. We can arrange that short-term licence just to carry you over until you reach 75 and then you are eligible for a free licence, but you have to get in contact with us to let us know that you are 75.

MP: What happens if you move house then?

MT: Again, we would just ask that people get in touch with us to let us know. So, you can do that via the website, you can actually put in that you've moved address and identify your new address, absolutely fine. Or again, pick up the phone to us and let us know that you've moved address. It is no issue at all, but we just need to know.

MP: So can you transfer your TV licence to your new address, or do you have to effectively start again?

MT: No, you can transfer it to the new address, but you just need to let us know. We just need to know that you've moved to a different address, know that address and that's no problem.

MP: Is there such a thing as a discounted television licence? People who pay a reduced rate?

MT: Yep, so those people who are blind or severely sight impaired are eligible for a 50% concession to their television licence. And also those people who are living in sheltered accommodation, again they may be eligible for a TV licence for just £7.50. But again we would urge them to get in touch - tvlicensing.co.uk or give us a call on 0300 790 6112 - we can get to know their situation and identify if they are eligible for that concession.

MP: So what happens if you've got a caravan? You know, it's a nice weekend and you've got one of those televisions with a portable aerial - do you need a separate licence for your caravan?

MT: So no licence is required for a touring caravan, a vehicle or boat, as long as a valid licence is held for the home address by the main driver or occupant.

MP: So your home licence applies to your caravan.

MT: It does, yes.

MP: What if you've got a hotel? What if you've got a hotel with 300 rooms? How many licences do you need then?

MT: So for hotels and holiday accommodation, they can apply for a hotel and mobile unit licence. This means they buy one licence for the first 15 units of accommodation, then a further licence for every addition 5 units.

MP: Right. So for every 15 rooms in a hotel you would need one licence.

MT: For the first 15 rooms you need one licence, then for every additional 5 you need one further licence.

MP: Just taken a call from a fellow listening to our conversation on the phone earlier. He says that his Dad used to work on the detector vans and the doubters should be in no doubt at all that the technology definitely does exist.

MT: Yes, it's reassuring to hear that from a listener. It does. It absolutely does exist. We have these different detection methods. They're working very, very well. The vast majority of people are correctly licensed. Evasion stands very low at around 5-6%. We are effective at catching evaders, but at the same time let me be really, really clear - we want to work with people. We want to make sure that people are correctly licensed. We don't want to prosecute people for not having a licence. We'd much rather they willingly obliged and complied with the law, but where we have to then we will effectively prosecute evaders.

MP: We're talking to Matt Thompson from TV Licensing this morning. If something has occurred to you - a question that we haven't answered yet, something quite personal to you - there's still time to give us a call and we'll get you on - 01642 225511.

It's not about how we spend the money this morning, it's how it's collected. And in the UK we pay £145.50 every year for the television licence. It is a legal requirement. So how do other countries do it? Tim Wescott is from industry analysts IHS Technologies. Tim, good morning to you.

Hello Tim, can you hear me okay? We've got a problem with Tim. We'll try to get Tim on the line in just a moment. Hello Tim. Can you hear me Tim?

Tim Wescott (TW): Yes, I can hear you. Can you hear me?

MP: Yeah, got you now. That's loud and clear. How do other countries then do it?

TW: How do other countries collect the licence fee? Or how do they...

MP: Yes, how do they collect it?

TW: I'm not an expert on collection, but most countries in the world don't actually have a TV licence. We're aware of about 21 countries that currently have a TV licence. Most countries finance public broadcasting by direct tax, so it's a sum that is actually levied in tax every year and set by parliament.

MP: I gather Serbia and Romania pay through their electricity bill. Is that true?

TW: Yes, some countries do that. That's the case in Greece as well. There's basically a supplement that you pay in addition to your electricity bill. I'm told that you pay that whether you have a TV set or not, so there are even places like cemeteries - which are on record in Greece my Greek colleagues tell me - which have to pay a fee for TV.

MP: Yeah, but most European countries have some form of TV licence?

TW: There are some which... I mean the Scandinavian countries have a quite similar system to the UK. In Norway, Denmark and Sweden there's no advertising on public service and there's a licence fee. It's the same in Japan - there's also a licence fee there. A lot of countries have a mixed system, so the public TV actually has advertising and commercials and sponsorship as well as a licence fee and then they also supplement that by a top up with taxation.

MP: Now I notice in Poland they have a relatively low TV licence, 55 Euros, but they've got a very high evasion rate of 65%.

TW: Yeah, ironically. I can't really explain the economics of that, but Poland has a real problem with collecting the licence fee, so they are thinking of bringing in other systems to finance public TV.

MP: Now in Finland, and Iceland I think, they've abolished their TV licence and replaced it with a tax that applies to all adults. Now is that popular?

TW: I can't speak for whether it's popular. I think in Finland, which was the country which abolished the licence most recently - I think it was about two years ago - they brought something in which is called a public broadcasting tax. That means that what you pay for the public broadcaster, which is called YLE, is based on your income. So there's a maximum you pay - you pay up to 140 Euros a year and it's based on 0.6% of your income, so if your income is below a certain level you don't pay anything for public broadcasting.

MP: And the way that we go about it in this country then with the TV detector vans, which Matt has told us about. They know which addresses are unlicensed, then they go to take a look at whether you're watching live television at that address. Do you think that will have to change? Will technology become available in some way that we can get rid of the TV detector vans?

TW: I lived in France briefly and I went to buy a TV set and a few days later I got a demand for the French TV licence, so I think there are other ways of establishing whether you have a TV set. Obviously people are using lots of other devices now like smart phones, games consoles to watch TV. I believe - I'm not a technologist - but I believe there are ways of tracking when people are online and what they are actually streaming online. So I think there will be other ways of actually monitoring whether people are watching live broadcasts by whatever device.

MP: Tim, thank you very much indeed for that. Just a taste of what other countries do around the world with their television licence.

You were nodding there when we were talking about technology changing, because it's a bit old fashioned isn't it? Sort of this hit and miss idea of trying to catch people in the act.

MT: Yeah, it was interesting to hear what the gentleman there was saying. I think just to reinforce that it really doesn't matter what technology you're using to watch live television. We have technology in place that is really very good and have had this technology in place for some time. And it's just as capable at identifying if you're watching live television from a traditional television as it is from an iPad or a laptop.

MP: But it's going to become more difficult, surely isn't it? People are watching live television on the go now. My mobile phone there. I can watch certain stuff live on my mobile phone. How are you going to make sure that I've got a television licence? I'm assuming my home television licence then, covers me watching live television now on my mobile phone?

MT: It does, yes - as long as it's not plugged in. If you were to plug it in here, then this site would require a licence for you to watch live television. But absolutely, you would be covered by your home (TV licence) to watch live television on your mobile phone.

MP: In the same way as my caravan would be?

MT: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, as you're out and about there.

MP: Alright, we've got some questions coming in. Are you okay to hang on for a bit longer?

MT: Absolutely no problem at all, yes.

[Traffic Report]

MP: So Matt Thompson is here from TV Licensing. Let's do some more questions - there's quite a few coming in now. David in Norton says "I pay my television licence quarterly. Can I ask if I pay more, because of the way I choose to pay?"

MT: Is that... So I would need to know... Quarterly Direct Debit? There is a slight premium attached to quarterly Direct Debit, which I think is around £1.25. That comes from the UK Government. That doesn't come from TV Licensing. We're merely complying with what is set by UK Government. But we do say to people - we do obviously inform them of that premium before they actually pay - but there's lots and lots of different ways that you can pay for your licence.

You can do it by Direct Debit, but you can also pay by credit or debit card in one sweep, you can pay by cheque, you can use a payment card. So there's lots and lots of different ways to pay. You can do it in monthly installments, in quarterly installments, you can do it in one big lump sum. So again, we try to work with people, because we do recognise that different payment methods suit different people. So that's why there's such a wide breadth and depth, so that hopefully there's something for everyone.

MP: Terry in Billingham says "contrary to what that earlier caller says" - that was Darren, controversial Darren - "receivers do leak a small transmitter signal. That leak is what gets detected. Am I right?" says Terry.

MT: I wouldn't want to go into too much detail...

MP: I thought you wouldn't!

MT: ... as to exactly as to how we do go about it. Clearly if I did, that information might be useful for those people who are actively evading. But I would say, look, the proof is in the pudding. You heard my argument back to Darren earlier. The proof is in the pudding. We are very, very effective at catching evaders. We catch around 1,000 each and every day.

MP: Joe. Thanks for your question. He says "when a person dies and they are over the age of 75, what happens then to the person who's left in the house who might be under the age of 75?"

MT: Okay, so we would ask them to get in contact with us. And if that person is under the age of 75 then they would require... be required to pay for a licence.

MP: Ah, anonymous texter says "I used to work in the garage that repairs the vehicles - the TV detector vans - and I can tell you for a fact the technology does exist. These people doubting it should be in no doubt, and that has been the case since 1980."

Mike in Marton says "my husband died on 1st October. He was 93 and I am 89. My daughter has told me that I don't need to re-register. Is true?"

MT: What I would say is that it depends whose name the licence was in. So if it was in her deceased husband's name then she can just let us know.

MP: It was in his name apparently.

MT: Yeah. If she can just let us know and obviously we can put it in her name. No issue at all. She's still eligible for a free licence, clearly, but it's just so we have a record of it in the right name. And again, you can either go through the website or, if it's easier, just give us a call on 0300 790 6112.

MP: Alright. Next one says "I'm over 75 and I've got a guest suite" - very nice too - "if the guests comes and then watch television in the guest suite, do we have to pay?"

MT: So, would I be interpreting that correctly when I say that's a hotel... holiday, hotel accommodation? Because if it is hotel accommodation...

MP: It's just in an apartment. It's just a flat, but there's a sort of guest...

MT: Sort of spare room?

MP: I guess that's what it must be, yeah.

MT: If it's a spare room then that's fine. Absolutely fine.

MP: So that's covered by your licence for that property?

MT: If you've got a 3-bedroom property and you have your friends over, then your licence will cover you for that property.

MP: John in Acklam says "what happens if I go away on holiday and you leave your house empty with a TV there, but not in use? Do you have to pay the licence?"

MT: Well if you're not watching live television then you don't require a licence. But it doesn't cover you just for your holiday period so obviously if you then return...

MP: He's maybe wanting a rebate then, say he goes away for a month? I mean that's a fair point I suppose, isn't it? If you go away for a long time, can you claim a rebate for that time?

MT: So if you are away for a long time... so certainly from a student perspective, for example, where we see this quite often. Students may get a licence at the beginning of term time - around September or October - but then may go home at around June time, so they've still got at least 3 months left on their licence. In that case they are absolutely eligible for a refund for a full quarter, but they just need to get in touch and we will refund them, yes. So it has to be more then 3 months, but certainly if somebody is away for a long time, do get in contact and we'll work with you to identify just when you need a licence, but also how much you should be paying.

MP: Liz says "is this not an invasion of people's privacy - detecting things in people's houses?"

MT: It's UK law to have a TV licence. The vast majority of people - 95% of people - are correctly licensed. There's just a very small minority - around 5% - who aren't. We owe it to the honest majority to ensure that we are enforcing the law.

MP: So what sort of excuses do people come up with then?

MT: We've had some very... sometimes ridiculous, sometimes sublime - some examples I've got here. So we had one excuse: "I have only just passed my driving test. I haven't done a test for my TV licence yet". Another excuse we had was: "Ghosts turn over my TV channels all the time, so I haven't bothered to renew my TV licence. Why would I, when I can't watch what I want?" We've also had another animal related excuse: "The TV belongs to my dog. He got it for Christmas. Ask him to pay." And one final excuse we had: "My son lost my tooth and the next day we found the TV under the stairs. We thought it was a present from the tooth fairy, so didn't need a TV licence."

MP: These are all real?

MT: These, incredibly, are all real excuses that have been given to our enquiry officers across the UK.

MP: And I can probably guess what the reaction was then from your (red?)

How much... erm, you know, you're collecting this then... so we know that for a colour licence it's £145.50. How much of that goes on admin then? The cost of what you do?

MT: So we're getting increasingly efficient at collecting the licence fee. Clearly it's a massive job, but last year alone we reduced the cost of collection by £9m to an all time low.

MP: So how did you do that?

MT: We're constantly working to reduce the cost of collection. One thing that has been a great way of reducing the cost of collection has been our TV Licensing website, which essentially enables you to identify if you need a licence, you can purchase your licence, you can tell us if you don't need a licence as well. So, as you can imagine, that's led to huge efficiencies. But we're always looking for ways to reduce the cost of collection. But as I say, we are doing it more efficiently than ever before. Over the past year we collected £3.7bn in revenue, which was a £16.4m increase on the previous year.

MP: And final question, I think. When a conviction goes to court do you use evidence then from the detector vans to secure the conviction?

MT: We use evidence that we've amassed using all the different technologies, yes.

MP: Matt, I think that's just about it. Ah, a caller says "no conviction has ever produced actual evidence from a van".

MT: I would say that clearly we use these technologies for a reason, so we have very clear information that would lead us to prosecute somebody.

MP: Matt, thanks very much indeed. Thanks for taking the calls and answering the questions this morning. Matt Thompson from Television Licensing.

And so it went on... and on... and on...

A whole of hour of BBC Tees promoting the BBC TV licence fee, with Thompson using every utterance to reinforce the "effectiveness" of TV Licensing's technology.

I have never endured such a protracted and stomach-churningly biased piece of BBC reporting on the subject of the TV licence fee. It's as if the entire schedule was swept aside for Thompson to boast about the effectiveness of TV Licensing's regime.

I can't type any more!


Anonymous said...

Why is ithe BBC not subscription based?
Is it because a) they will lose revenue. b) their a government sponsored propaganda machine and totally biased beyond belief. c) they think we can't live our lives without them. d) all of the above.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Someone finally got through and gave it both barrels about the mythical detector vans.

What can I say? This chap called Darren was clearly giving a view based on his technical background and sounds like he knows a thing or two about this sort of stuff.

And yet this twonk Matt Thompson STILL kept shovelling the party line.

Swipe said...

i really can't believe the clap trap that idiot Matt Thompson was spouting. I thought all detection had to be authorised by top brass, so the line about goons routinely carrying handheld detector devices is cock and bull. Fair play to Darren for putting them straight. Notice how Matt Thompson or one of his colleagues texted in during the song break about "his dad" working on the detector vans? You really couldn't make this shit up. But the sorriest thing is, Joe Public actually believes it.

Admin said...

Thanks for all your comments. Once I've recharged my batteries I might look back at this post and try to transcribe the final 10 minutes of Thompson's piffle too.

You are totally correct Swipe about detection. Each use of detection has to be authorised by a BBC senior manager. The legislation (Regulation of Investigatory Powers (BBC) Order 2001) states that only the following can act as authorising officer: the Head of Sales; the Head of Marketing; and the Head of Revenue Management.

The idea that goons are walking about and routinely zapping unlicensed addresses with their "hairdryer" as Parr puts it, is nonsensical.

We also noted that the programme was quick to broadcast about 5 or 6 opinions that directly contradicted Darren's scepticism. A bit of a coincidence that.

I am going to produce a follow up post on this topic too.

Unknown said...

"I can't type any more!"

Thank god for that, I was losing the will to live just reading it (I jest, of course, I love this blog really)!! I hope one of these days when Matt Thompson is given a soap box to stand on that someone empties the damn thing down his lying throat!! That would be "absolutely" marvelous. :D Then again, you can't clean a turd, or so they say.

If the tech really did exist, then TVL's "sales" people would use TV detectors all the time and then they wouldn't keep disturbing legally licence free people or be sending them the same p.o.s. letters EVERY MONTH. So Matt Thompson can climb Mount Everest and spout his lies from there for all I care. TV DETECTORS DON'T EXIST. PERIOD.

Keep up the awesome work, Peter!!

Fred Bear said...

Vultures is the correct word for these people - all they're looking for is easy pickings, which as far as TVL is concerned are people on benefits or stay-at-home mothers. The aim is to get the prey to sign a 'confession' on their doorstep and then the vulture is swooping off for more.

The idea of fleets of detector vans or a goon whipping out their detector at will is laughable.

Chris said...

Well done for transcribing all that! And for not vomiting half way through. What a load of staged bollocks. Eg the first "question" from "Liz". There was clearly no such caller. It was just a feeder line to repeat the £1000 fear-mongering.

No mention of LLF, no mention of 4 in 5 people (to use their own out of date stats) correctly not needing a license. No mention of there being no obligation to engage with TVL. No mention of them being a sales and revenue target led organisation.

Thankfully we can see that more and more people are abandoning this archaic tax, so tough luck Matt, the gravy train is now on its final leg.


Maryon Jeane said...

Presumably Matt Thompson and his ilk aren't going to confine themselves only to Tees and these 'interviews' will be going out elsewhere in the country. Perhaps some of us should get together and arrange to telephone the studio in turn, putting across the same point each time - that there are no detectors, handheld or in vans, because the technology doesn't exist? This could be organised through this blog. I, for one, would be willing to phone in because I'm very much against the media being used to disseminate misinformation of any sort.

Admin said...

Thanks to everyone for commenting so far.

Maryon Jeane, as far as I'm aware we do not get any prior warning about these radio programmes. They happen fairly often, but normally the first I know is after the pro-TVL segment has been broadcast.

Of course if anyone does get heads up that such a programme is about to air, I'd actively encourage their participation.

David said...

I have seen the new devices used by the goons in the more recent youtube videos.

It seems that they have a webcam because you can see them refering to them when they say I am filming you too.

I strongly suspect that the handheld devices DO have a new technology.

Now this is rather complex so don't get confused.

They have a wireless network connection, so they can see wireless networks in range, IF YOU TRANSMIT YOUR SSID!

So log into your router and disable that.

Of course they can't prove which one is yours and if you let them in you can bet they will look for the brand of router you have.

It would be interesting to look at the logs on your router to see if any device attempted to make connection.

If TVL made any attempt at packet sniffing it would be breaking the privacy (HRA) and computer misuse act which already has been used for people breaking into wireless networks.

We have seen Google break into networks with Streetview and allegedly even send data via open networks back to it's own data centres. Google tried to say this was an accident at first but then engineers leaked they warned management that it would break into PC's with weak security and would index their docs. Google deleted the docs but not the index of them.

Google uses the SSID's it gets from streetview to identify locations to deliver local ads.

Now the technology to sniff packets does exist for network management, but they usually require nodes that you install within your network. For TVL to go beyond looking at the SSID would be to hack. I think they would need approval for any device that was covertly monitoring or recording packets and that should be obtainable by doing an FOI to the relevant authority if one existed. I think it would breach the HRA though, because the way these things work you typically scan everything and make sense of it later.

That would mean they could reconstruct your emails etc which are not secure but have huge privacy aspects (ask Mrs Clinton).

It is possible they have a linux laptop in their "vans" and are breaaking into wifi but this would be a breach of compute misuse act. It would take longer with modern security but possible. They would need to be able to know which wireless network was in use at a particular address.

They could use such tools on the people they believe to be the serious evaders and if you use WOIRA then you might be a target for such an approach.

The biggest blocker for them would be the intelligence of their agents who let's face it are not the sharpest tool in the box are they. So a passive device that collects wifi's might be as far as they dare go. Battery life would be an issue anyway for these PDA's to do anything more.

Also I can't see them using this as evidence in Court, more likely they use it to try and get you to incriminate yourself.

So for now, assuming they are not breaking the law I would suggest you turn off your SSID on your router.