Royal Scam by TV licensing

Every month, TV licensing sends nasty letters to prospective customers, insinuating that they are breaking the law and that an investigation (and a £1,000 fine plus legal costs) is afoot.  It’s marketing gone wrong.

We affectionately call those “threatograms”. I, myself, have received over 20, with headlines ranging from “You risk a court appearance and a criminal prosecution” to “We are giving you 10 days to get correctly licensed” to “Please act before …” to “As we haven’t heard from you, an officer will visit your property soon” to “Will you be in on…”, to “Your address has been scheduled for a visit by an Enforcement Officer” to “Local investigation active in [your postcode]” to “Officers have now been authorised to visit [your postcode]”.

DSCF5093mod

Old threatograms usually bear an ‘Enforcement Officer Visit Approved” seal and a fake signature, a 10 day calendar or a circle highlighting (wrongly) that the conviction rate for TV licence evasion is 99%. All designed to insidiously create a impression of authority and urgency.

TVL Stamp TVL calendrar

But that was before. See their new calling card for yourself:

flyer 1          flyer 2

(Back and front pictured side by side)

It’s red, like Royal Mail’s Missed Delivery cards. It only bear one logo: The Royal Mail’s, and it uses a hand written font to make it look like it was written by your postperson.

It states that the website is available 24hrs, but it deliberately omits to refer to http://www.tvlicensing.co.uk, which would have given the game away.

It insists that this is urgent and that contact should be made ASAP, which is not true because the British public has no duty to inform or assist TV licensing, as confirmed by Matthew Hancock from the Department fro Culture, Media and Sports.

no legal requirement

When I received this, I was at home. It totally fooled me, I went rushing after the postman asking him why he left me a card instead of delivering me whatever he was supposed to. That puzzled him too at first but he said it was not one of his cards. I went back home and re-read the whole thing, trying to make sense of it. “Read information inside” was odd, as it was a card. But then I realised it was 2 pieces of paper really well stuck together, so with the use of my nails, I opened it and found the same usual drivel: Fake stamp, check! Threat of an investigation, check! Threat of a £1,000 fine, check! Insinuation that I might be breaking the law, check! Mention of “Enforcement officers”, check!  (By the way, TV licence “Enforcement officers” are just glorified sale reps, so give us a break and drop the pompous titles, Beeb! )

royal scam

The BBC (under their TV licensing umbrella) is using deceit and fear to prey on the vulnerable in order to compensate for the lack of interest for their products. This is a new low, even for them! Who knows the depths they are prepare to sink to manipulate the public!

 

The BBC needs to realise that people that more and more are switching off. They need to acknowledge that is is legal and that people like me are not “TV licence evaders”: we simply don’t want or need a licence. And if they wants us back as customers, they better change their attitude because there is NOTHING in their junk mail that makes us want to reconnect with them. It’s like trying to catch fly with a vinegar.

 

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MPs position on the Free TV licence

The decision to scrap the free TV licences to 3.7 million people over 75, after the BBC profited from the increased the TV licence fee for two years (which was supposed to be used to offset this new burden) was not a popular decision, to say the least. Everyone had something to say about it, including a large number of MPs.

Jeremy Corby, Labour MP, said “Pensioners are being failed by the Conservatives. Their 2017 manifesto promised to keep TV licences free for the over-75s – they must not go back on their word now. ” He added “Pensioners have spent their lives contributing to our society. Providing over-75s with free TV licences is not too much to ask. ”

Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire, said ” In February this year, I wrote to the BBC stating “I would remind you that dozens of people, many of whom are women are going to prison for non-payment. As if this is not bad enough, to potentially add people in their 80s and 90s being prosecuted and going to prison for not being able to afford a TV licence is to my mind, unacceptable.” The BBC are making a mistake by choosing to punish pensioners in this way.” He added ” When people say don’t blame the BBC for punishing over 75’s, remember they secured several concessions when the charter was renewed in 2015, such as linking the annual licence fee to inflation and ending the BBC’s commitment to fund superfast broadband around the country by 2020.”

Esther McVey, Conservative MP for Tatton said “The BBC was told that it could increase the licence fee if it covered free TV licences for over 75s. It now seems to have broken that deal The BBC shouldn’t benefit financially from breaking that promise. I would ensure that all over 75s get the free TV licences they deserve. ” She added “As someone who used to work for the BBC I am ashamed of them for this decision. Our “public service broadcaster” who has forgotten the public they are supposed to serve.”

Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, said ” All this will do is make the campaign to abolish the licence fee even stronger.”

Louise Haigh, MP for Sheffield, said “Not only are they [the Tories] treating our national broadcaster to aggressive, bully-boy tactics – forcing them to take on the cost of free TV licences when they know full well they will be unable to maintain the entitlement – but they are trying to get the BBC to take the backlash from disgruntled pensioners too”

Neil Hamilton, UKIP AM for Mid & West Wales, said ” Gary Lineker £1.8 million, Graham Norton £850 k, But sorry, over-75s, the BBC has no room in the budget for you! You now have to pay £154.50 to receive your daily leftist indoctrination. What an absolute racket.”

Maria Caulfield, Conservative MP for Lewes said ” Absolutely disgraceful decision by the BBC to scrap free TV licenses for the over 75s. We should be scrapping the fee for everyone.”

Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract, Castleford & Knottingley, said “Tories are supporting cutting £150 TV licence from pensioners on £10k a year at same time as Tory PM candidates promise £3,000 tax cuts for people on ten times that much. On what planet is that fair?”

David Davis, MP for Haltemprice and Howden said “Very poor practice by the @BBC to withdraw free TV licences for over-75s. In 2015 they agreed to take responsibility for this from 2020. They should now honour that commitment.” He added “I suspect the BBC’s decision will face a legal challenge in due course. They will likely lose this, thereby wasting more taxpayers’ money.”

Stephen Morgan, Labour MP for Portsmouth said “The BBC is not the DWP” He added that he was Grateful to Pompey Pensioners for joining him to call on the PM to show leadership, and in one of her final acts in charge, to commit her Government to take back responsibility for the free TV licence for the over-75s.

Tracy Bradin, Labour MP for or Batley & Spen, said “I’m concerned that scrapping millions of TV licenses for older people will impact loneliness. I’ve just asked if the Minister for Loneliness will be undertaking an audit into this.”

Eddie Hughes, conservative MP for Walsall North said he asked in Parliament this week if it was fair that vulnerable, elderly people in Walslall North contribute to the high salaries of BBC stars instead of getting a free TV licence.

Ian Paisley, DUP MP, said “I think it’s wrong […] The BBC is going for the easy option, putting their hand in the pocket of pensioners.”

Andrea Leadsom, MP for South Northamptonshire, said “We owe a debt of gratitude to those generations who came before us, and it is right that we do all we can to support them. I am committed to the triple lock on pensions, restoring the free TV license for all over-75s, and protecting pensioner benefits.”

David Drew, labour MP for Stroud said “We must continue to fight to have the free TV licence for over 75s reinstated.”

Emma Little-Pengelly, MP for Belfast South, said “Back in January I warned that the BBC were planning this – despite opposition, they have went ahead. A bad decision that needs to be reversed!”

Justin Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port & Neston said “I would rather my licence fee not be spent on the BBC giving a prime time TV slot for an internal Tory party election.”

Chris Stephens, SNP MP for Glasgow South West, said “I am calling on the UK Government to U-turn on its broken manifesto promise and debate who should be responsible for the TV licence and who should be eligible for free licences”

Judith Cummins, Labour MP for for Bradford South, said “I have wrote an urgent letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, calling on the Government to apologise and reverse the decision to scrap free TV licences for the over 75s”

Ronnie Cowan, SNP MP said “TV licence will adversely affect thousands of Inverclyde pensioners”

Conor McGinn, Labour MP for St Helens North said “4,720 pensioners [in my constituency] will now have to pay the TV Licence fee. The Tories should take responsibility – rather than outsource both welfare policy & blame to the BBC – & save free TV Licences for over-75s.”

Emma Lewell-Buck, Labour MP for South Shields, said “It’s disgusting’ – South Tyneside communities and MPs have their say on BBC’s TV licence changes”

Margaret Greenwood, Labour MP for Wirral West, said “Tories break their election promise over free TV licences for over-75s – and over 5,000 households in Wirral West may lose out as a result. This will push some people even further into poverty”

Nigel Farage said “I am sick to death of overpaid, left wing, so-called comedians on the BBC who think their view is morally superior.”

 

FOI 2018 – TV licence statistics

FOI 2018 overview

TV Licence Prosecutions & out of court disposal, 2018
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL in the UK
Women 86,122 3 +

4,571 OoCD

7,197                     2,832 100,725
Men 32,559 3 +

1,818 OoCD

2,590                     1,036 38,006
unknown 924 52 11 987
Total 119,605 6 +

6,389 OoCD

9,839                     3,879 139,718 with OoCD

(132,353 without)

Percentage of women 72% 71.5% 73% 73% 72%

The overall number of prosecutions has gone down from last year (roughly 10,000 less prosecution for England but the number of Out of Court Disposal has gone up in Scotland. See table below for comparison)

The percentage of women prosecuted is still outrageously high and stable.

 

TV Licence Convictions (including out of court disposal) 2018
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL in the UK
Women 81,202 3 +

4,571 OoCD

 

6,889

               2,074 94,739
Men 29,958 2 +

1,818 OoCD

2,442                   751 34,971
unknown 644 41 4 689
Total 111,804 5 +

6,389 OoCD

9,372 2,829 130,399 with OoCD

(124,010 without)

Percentage of women 72.6% 71.5% 73.5% 73.3% 72.6%

POLICE FORCE AREAS, LOCAL AUTHORITIES, AND COURT DIVISIONS WITH THE MOST EVADERS IN 2018

  1. Cleveland 30,730
  2. Warwickshire 23,351
  3. Sussex 14,486
  4. London 10,706
  5. Greater Manchester 9,556

(no change of order, compared to 2017)

 

TV Licence Unnecessary Prosecutions, 2018
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL
Prosecutions 119,605 6 9,839 3,879 133,329
unsuccessful 7,801 1 467 1,050 9,319
Percentage 6.5% 16% 4.8% 27% 7%

*excluding out of court disposal

 

The number of cases thrown out in Northern Ireland (27%) is very high compared to the rest of the UK.

In 2017, the average percentage of cases thrown out in the UK was 12.5% 9compared to 7% in 2018) which suggests that less court time is wasted by bringing forward doomed cases.

 

TV Licence fine, 2018
Countries England Wales Scotland Northern Ireland TOTAL
Average Fine £182 £110 £121 £95 £127

English evaders have paid £61 more than their nearest neighbour.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I asked for the average fine for England and Wales in 2017.

 

Prison for TV licence fine default, 2018  
Countries England  Wales Scotland Northern Ireland TOTAL
Total of prisoners 5 0 0 60* 65
women 4 36 40
men 1 24 25
duration of stay 19 days 8 days

* The 60 cases in N.I. accounted for 43 people. Which means 17 repeat sentences. This is a worrying trend.

 

The number of prison sentence has gone down dramatically in the UK but

the average duration of stay in England has increased compared to last year.

The majority of people imprisoned for TV licence fine default were women (nearly 60%).

The large number of repeat sentences show that imprisonment doesn’t have a deterrent effect.

prison 2009-2018

FOI 2017 TV licence stats

TV Licence Prosecutions & out of court disposal, 2017
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL in the UK
Women 92,005 1 +

3,347 OoCD

6,994                     3,132 105,479
Men 36,332 4 +

1,414 OoCD

2,582                     1,138 41,470
unknown 740 45 10 795
Total 129,077 5 +

4,761 OoCD

9,621                     4,280 147,744
Percentage of women 71% 70% 72.6% 73% 71.3%
TV Licence Convictions (including out of court disposal) 2017
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL in the UK
Women 86,326 1 +

3,347 OoCD

6,654 2,504 98,832
Men 33,316 3 +

1,414 OoCD

2,401 855 37,989
unknown 512 36 8 556
Total 120,154 4 +

4,761 OoCD

 

9,091 3,367 137,377

(132,616 without)

Percentage of women 71.8% 70% 73% 74.3%  
TV Licence fine, 2017
Countries England Wales Scotland Northern Ireland TOTAL
Average Fine     £60 £93  
Prison for TV licence fine default, 2017  
Countries England  Wales Scotland Northern Ireland TOTAL
Total of prisoners 19 0 0 75* 94
women 8     31  
men 11     44  
duration of stay 13 days        

*The 75 cases accounted for 60 people

THERE WILL BE A DEBATE ON TV LICENCE ON MONDAY, AND THOSE WHO OPPOSE IT THE MOST WON’T BE LEGALLY ALLOWED TO WATCH IT

My name is Caroline Levesque-Bartlett and I’ve been campaigning against the TV licence fee for the past three years. I have been TV licence free for the last two years and, like many other TV licence activists, I’m pretty pissed off that I won’t be able to watch the debate on Monday.

tv licence

Ironic really doesn’t start to cover this.

The BBC has been granted the right to fund its radio broadcasts with a licence fee since 1922. The TV licence fee was introduced in 1946 and its current form was set in the Communications Act 2003. Over the years, people have questioned this right to hound prospective customer and prosecute existing ones. Polls as far back as 2013 reveal a clear public dissatisfaction towards the TV licence fee. Multiple petitions have been created to raise this point to the government. Mine, called “End the BBC licence fee”, was brushed aside, despite being signed by over 200k, which is twice the threshold decided by parliament for debates, because it was hosted by 38 degrees and therefore somehow not valid. Taking a lesson from that, another petition, called “Abolish the TV licence, it shouldn’t be a legal requirement” was launched on petition.parliament.uk. It managed a neat 125k signatures just before the general election. A debate date was set but it was first cancelled because of said general election, then postponed.

The Magistrates’ Association has been calling for the decriminalisation of TV licence evasion for nearly 20 years. Not only are they concerned that evaders are punished disproportionately, but TV licensing clogs up the court. TV licence offences account for 1 in 10 court cases in England and Wales. Cases are usually massed and processed in weekly hearings. TV licensing will tell you that everything is done to speed up the process and they are right. Cases are heard and dealt with, on average, within 60 seconds. The procedure is very simple: Magistrates are asked to take at face value the form filled by commission incentivised TV representatives and to trust that the signature of the defendant that appears on the titled and innocuous looking form is both real and was obtained without deception. In the 92 cases I witnessed, TV licensing bothered stating what was watched at the time of the visit only in 4% of the cases.

Last year, 184,595 people were charged for TV licence offences in the UK. In 2015, it’s 200,117 people that were brought to court or dealt with out of court in Scotland. In 2014, it was 204,018 people. With these numbers in hand, one can assume that over one million prosecutions were started in the past decade. But because, actually proving a case is time consuming and tedious, it is reserved to aggressively contested cases. I am very sorry to inform you that the presumption of innocence had somehow to die in the name of efficiency.

Apart from giving the BBC the unique power to harass, prosecute and indirectly to jail people over the TV licence, another problem is that the BBC was granted freedom to subject it to restrictions and conditions as it thinks fit (Communications Act, art. 364(1)a)) So they did. Hence why one needs a TV licence to watch or record live TV programmes on any channel on any devices. According to TV licensing, BBC’s alter ego, this means you need to fork £147/year even to watch live broadcasts on youtube on your laptop. Or Parliament TV debating just how incongruous it is that one broadcaster should be given such power. In a great democratic country , which the UK pertains to be, should there not be at the very least reasonable exceptions based on the fundamental right, as a citizen and a tax payer, to observe your democracy in action?

Now the subject will finally see debate in the halls of Westminster this surely will expose further rifts in the current government. Let’s hope that the gloves are off.

There never was a huge crisis requiring the closure of the so-called TV licence loophole – and here is the proof

Update: post now includes FOI results RFI20171125 sent by the BBC itself.


In 2016, a media frenzy was generated out of the closure of the so-called TV licence loophole.

21

But was there any proof of money haemorrhaging through this open wound?

 

The number of TV licence is always increasing and BBC’s income has not changed much, which makes sense since the fee was frozen.

 

Number of TV licence in force Income officially generated by the TV licence
2016-2017 25. 8m £3,787m*  (an increase of £44m on the year before)
2015-2016 25. 6m £3,743m*
2014-2015 25.5m £3,735m*
2013-2014 25.42m £3.7bn*
2012-2013 25.34m £3.7bn* (up £6.7m from the previous year)
2011-2012 25.23m £3.7bn* (up £19.1m from the previous year)
2010-2011 25.1m £3.7bn* (up £99million from the previous year)

 

*None of these number adds up because a colour TV licence costs £ £145.50 and a number of black and white ones (at £49) are still around – more than 8,000 in 2016 and exactly 9,813 in 2015.

 

Over the past 7 years the data shows a steady growth in TV licence numbers this would not support the claim that the existence of the so-called loophole was depriving the BBC of fee payers and therefore income.

 

TV licensing attributes this constant growth to 3 factors, in this order:

  • the continuing popularity of live TV (which is pure poppycock [1])
  • the increasing number of homes across the UK[2]
  • the change in law which requires a licence for BBC programmes on iPlayer[3]

 

In search of evidence to support the desperation to shut down the so-called loophole, we looked into TV licensing’s enforcement methods and spending. This revealed that the cost of postage has recently increased while the cost for call centre, officers and detection services has dropped massively. It would suggest that TV licensing made the tactical choice to nearly half the level of doorstep enforcement.

 

Costs Reminder letter, information campaigns Postage Call centres, officers, detection and services
2016-2017 £14.9m £13.6m £46.2m
2015-2016 £15.8m £10.3m £83.8m
2014-2015 £14.1m £10.8m £71.7m
2013-2014 £15.2m £10.8m £71.6m
2012-2013 £14m £12.2m £83m
2011-2012 £13.9M £9.5M £95m
2010-2011 £16.6m £8.7m £92.7m

 

Number of visits
2016-2017 3.1m
2015-2016 3.3m
2014-2015 3.9m
2013-2014

2012-2013

2011-2012

3.8m

3.9m

4m

 

Number of letters sent
2016-2017 55.1m
2015-2016 51.8m
2014-2015 51.5m
2013-2014

2012-2013

2011-2012

2010-2011

52.8m

55.9m

53.8m

56.4m

 

Number of people caught by TV licensing officers
2016-2017 256,600 700/day
2015-2016 ‘almost 300k’ +800/day
2014-2015 344,099
2013-2014 328,000
2012-2013

2011-2012

2010-2011

357,000

369,000

365,000

 

 

This idea that TV licensing is moving away from the aggressive and apparently costly doorstep enforcement approach may be supported by the drop in the number of prosecutions in 2016.

 

TV Licence Prosecutions & out of court disposal Per Capita, 2016
Countries England Scotland Wales N. Ireland TOTAL
2016 159,573 7,939 12,055 5,028 184,595
2015 173,966 4,863 15,383 5,905 200,117
2014 173,044 13,518 12,536 4,905 204,003

 

Even though the number of prosecution for TV licence offences has dropped, ‘15,522 less prosecutions’ is very little when put in perspective with the number of TV licence in force. When multiplied by the average fine,

 

Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland
Average Fine £188 £96 £123  £86

 

we get a potential gain of £3.175m (£2.7m in England, £400k in Wales and £75k in N. Ireland.)

 

Considering that only 1/3 of fines are usually recovered this would generate realistically £1.05m.

 

Based on based on 2015-2016 expenditure, it’s easy to realise that TV licensing made the right choice by not investing a further £37.6M in call centres, officers, detection and services as it appears to generate little or no effect, thus proving the futility of the whole criminal enforcement process for the TV licence. It feels like pulling a rotten tooth out of a dead horse’s head.

 

The final conclusion is that there never was a huge crisis requiring the closure of the so-called TV licence loophole, the numbers just don’t add up. We were taken for a ride. Again.

 


[1] http://informitv.com/2015/08/09/uk-traditional-television-viewing-declines/  and   http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3142416/TV-ownership-40-year-low-one-20-households-not-set-younger-viewers-avoid-paying-licence-fee.html

[2] The UK housing market comprises 28.1 million residential properties in 2014. A further 152,440 houses were built in the financial year ending in 2015.

[3] The law changed on 1 September 2016.