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TV Licensing Madness


You may know that we don't have a TV, and hence no licence. After some "discussion" with TV Licensing over the frankly offensive "reminders" they kept sending us which implied we had a TV and were breaking the law we got onto their special mailing list where they write to us, politely, every two years (it used to be three) asking us to confirm we still have no TV.

Still annoying but I could live with that. At least the tone of the letter was polite, unlike those reminders.

Anyway the following letter arrived on the doormat on Wednesday last week from Peter Millward, Customer Relations, TV Licensing:

Dear Mr Oldham

Some time ago, we promised to stop making standard enquiries to the above address when we were advised that television was not being used at this address. As we are aware that situations change and that TV Licensing is not always high on most people's list of those who need to be told about changes we are now writing to you with two purposes in mind:

Firstly, we would like to ensure the accuracy of our records. If a TV set has recently started being used to receive broadcasts, you can find out about different ways of paying for a TV licence by phoning our General Heipline on 08705 763 763, or you can purchase one at any Post Office.

Secondly, we would like to tell you about a change of policy regarding those who do not use television.

It is now our policy to visit all addresses where we are notified that TV broadcasts are not being received. Instead of writing every two years or so we are now able to ensure that if we are allowed to verify that no television is installed, following a very quick cursory glance of the main living area by one of our Visiting Officers, we can stop further contact with you for up to four years. This does not mean that we are questioning the integrity of the advice received, but I am sure you will understand that we must be seen to act consistently and equitably in these cases. This means that we can then concentrate our resources on pursuing the significant minority of evaders. However, you are under no legal obligation to allow our officer to enter your home, although we would not then be able to offer the 'stop' to which I have referred.

You will shortly receive an automatically produced letter, the wording of which may not be totally appropriate to your circumstances, but which will advise you to expect an officer to call. To reassure you, officers work to a strict code of conduct and should act discreetly and professionally at all times. They will always identify themselves and will offer you a telephone number if you wish to check their credentials.

Can I take this opportunity to thank you in anticipation of your co-operation in this matter.

So there you have it: in order to convince these guys we don't have a TV we have to let them search our house: they will no longer take our word for it.

I was unimpressed and I replied that day as follows (it's a tad sloppy grammatically but I was in the middle of packing to go to the Yorkshire Dales so banged it off in a hurry):

Dear Mr Millward

Thank you for your letter of 23rd August. In reply to your first point I confirm that we still do not have television receiving equipment at this address, nor do we have any intention of doing so, but if we do we will be sure to get a licence, as is required by law.

Secondly I write to tell you that neither I nor my partner take kindly to the idea that you now want to search our house in order to confirm the above which seems tantamount to saying that you believe we are lying. As you note in your letter we are not legally obliged to do so, and so we will not allow your officers access so please don't let them waste their time calling.

If you persist in this new policy I, and many other people like me I suspect, will be taking this up with our MPs. I know you have an obligation to collect licence revenue and I have always tried to cooperate with you but this is really going too far.

So we now wait to see what happens. Do we get an officer from TV Licensing on the doorstep, or do we get another letter from Mr Millward ...

Update 2004-09-04

Since I posted the above I've done some fishing about on the Web and discovered this site which seems to be something of a central repository for people like us who have had dealings with TV Licensing. Erika Sigvallius' pages in particular are well worth a read and I now feel a lot clearer about the game that's been played here. In essence, assuming we don't want our house searched (we don't), then we should expect TV Licensing staff at all levels and in all forms of communication to assume we are criminals and to make promises they don't keep. Jolly good. At least we know where we stand and can act accordingly.

Anyway, we got the letter to which the previous letter referred today, the one "the wording of which may not be totally appropriate to your circumstances". It was from Val Smith of Custoemr Services and was addressed to "The Present Occupant". It reads as follows:

Dear Sir/Madam

Thank you for informing us recently that you do not require a TV Licence.

Our experience has shown that a small but significant minority of people who tell us that they do not need a TV Licence, are found to require one when visited. We therefore need to verify the position for all households who inform us that they do not have a television, as a standard procedure. This also applies to people who have told us that they have a television but only use it to watch programmes from abroad or prerecorded videos.

By visiting these households we hope to identify all such evaders and we can also ensure that those who, like yourself, legitimately need no contact from Television Licensing are not troubled unnecessarily in the future.

Therefore, we would appreciate your co-operation when one of our TV Licensing Officers visits you in the near future. These visits are routine and take a matter of minutes. Once our officer has confirmed that there is no need for a TV Licence at your address, we will ensure that you do not receive further letters or visits for at least two years. We will then contact you again, simply to check that your circumstances have not changed - for example, you may have moved and the new occupants might use a television.

If you now use or are planning to use a television,
please let us know before the officer visits.

If your circumstances have changed since you contacted us and you are now using or planning to use a television, simply complete and return the form below, with this whole letter, in the envelope provided. Remember, if you use television receiving equipment to receive or record television programme services, you must have a TV Licence, otherwise you are risking prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.

A colour licence costs £121.00 and a black and white one costs £40.50. You can choose one of a number of payment options by simply calling 0870 240 2934. All payment methods are listed overleaf, along with the concessionary licences that we offer for people aged 74 and over or who are blind.

No mention that the officer would need to search the house before leaving us alone now (technically called a "block" I gather from reading that site I mentioned), and that promised block is now for "at least two years" rather than the previous "up to four years". Either way it appears that this is still only likely to happen after they've searched our house, which we're not going to offer them the opportunity of doing.

Update 2004-09-08

Still no sign of their officer but I've finally had a response to my letter (it's clearly standard text, the give away is the plural "letters" in the first paragraph - I've only commented on one letter). It's from Jody Seward of Customer Relations and reads as follows:

I was very sorry to learn of the annoyance you were caused by the receipt of our enquiry letters and hope you will accept my apologies. I assure you it is not TV Licensings intention to cause offence to anyone who does not have a television set.

It is a regrettable fact that there is a surprisingly high number of people who advise us that they do not use TV equipment, but are subsequently found to be doing so. May I assure you that we have no wish to cause offence or to question your integrity, but in fairness to everyone, we feel that it is appropriate to visit all unlicensed addresses periodically to confirm that no TV equipment is being used.

The sole purpose of our enquiry officers visits is to confirm the fact that there is no television at the address. The visit takes a matter of minutes and there is no reason for anyone who has not got a television to be concerned.

When you receive a routine visit from one of our officers, I am sure you will find that this is conducted in a professional and unobtrusive manner and your co-operation would be much appreciated. All accredited Enquiry Officers carry identity cards, which they must produce before asking permission to enter someones home. No attempt to enter the premises would be made if permission was refused and if where there is no good reason to suspect the unlicensed use of television, the officer would not pursue the matter.

Once a visit has been made to an address where there is no television in use. The Visiting Officer will confirm the situation to the Regional Centre. Following this, a guard can be placed against the address to prevent any communication for at least 3 years.

I do hope that my reply has explained our position for you, and once again apologise for the annoyance and inconvenience you have been caused.

Hmmm ... so thus far we've had: "up to four years", "at least two years" and now it's "at least 3 years". Well, to be fair there's nothing contradictory there: 3-4 years satisfies all three conditions, but the fuzziness of the wording does suggest it's precisely that: fuzzy.

I also have a real problem with "there is no reason for anyone who has not got a television to be concerned". Well I am concerned. From everything I've read elsewhere I expect it to be confrontational and I'm not looking forward to it at all.

Oh, and as someone has pointed out, all these letters are from "Customer Relations" - I'm not a customer of TV Licensing.

Update 2004-11-03

Well, two months on and we've seen no sign of an officer, so it looks like they were lying in the hope of scaring us into getting a licence. No surprise there given other people's experience of TV Licensing.

Update 2004-12-22

Still no sign of them, but this article has attracted some press interest.

Tags: tv Written 31/08/04

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