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.

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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.

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TV licence Overview 2016

TV licence Overview 2016

In 2016, there were 184,595 people charged for TV licence offences (including out of court disposal in Scotland); 15,522 less than in 2015.

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PROSECUTIONS PER CAPITA

Prosecutions are above the combined UK average in Wales and below average in Scotland.

 

TV Licence Prosecutions & out of court disposal Per Capita, 2016
Countries England Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL
159,573 7,939 12,055 5,028 184,595
Population

(in million)

53.01 5.295 3.065 1.811 63.181
Per 1,000 people 3 1.5 3.9 2.8 2.9

 

POLICE FORCE AREAS, LOCAL AUTHORITIES, AND COURT DIVISIONS WITH THE MOST SUSPECTED EVADERS IN 2016:

 

  1. Cleveland 28,984 (24,888 more than in 2015)
  2. Warwickshire 24,062 (9,502 more)
  3. London 19,529 (5,547 less)
  4. Greater Manchester 11,803 (1,162 less)
  5. South Wales 9,271 (2,622 less)

 

The change is likely to be due to the closure of courts (a centralisation that started a few years ago).

 

 

WOMEN

The BBC was alerted a few years ago to the fact that the current TV licence prosecution regime penalises women disproportionately but they haven’t changed a thing since then because they are a dinosaur incapable of compassion, introspection or change. If anything, the disproportion slightly increased in 2016.

 

TV Licence Convictions Per Gender, 2016
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL
Women 101,263 5,749* 7,775 2,658 117,445
Men 39,502 2,190* 3,157 986 45,835
Total 140,765 7,939* 10,932 3,644 163,280
Percentage of women 71.9% 72.4% 71.1% 72.9% 71.9%

*including out of court disposals

 

UNSUCCESSFUL CASES

In total, 21,312 people were unnecessarily brought to court last year. This equates to nearly 1 in every 8 cases. This number of unsuccessful prosecutions lends weight to the view that cases are initiated on a speculative basis whereby it is hoped by the BBC that people will plead guilty or won’t contest the prosecution. This surely is a scandalous abuse of the courts’ process by the BBC.

 

Comparing these results with those of 2015, it would appear that the overall percentage of unsuccessful prosecutions has remained pretty static, but Northern Ireland still has an alarmingly high number of failed prosecutions whereas the number of Scottish cases resulting in a fine has been halved.

 

TV Licence unnecessary prosecutions, 2016
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL
Prosecutions 159,573 11* 12,055 5,028 176,667
unsuccessful 18,808 5* 1,123 1,375 21,312
Percentage 11.7% 45.4%* 9.3% 27.3% 12%

*excluding out of court disposal

 

FINE

English evaders pay twice as much as their counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

 

TV Licence fine, 2016
Countries England  Wales Scotland Northern Ireland
Average Fine £188 £123 £96  £86

 

Fines, at least in England and Wales, are based on the person’s income. The maximum fine is £1,000 (except in Jersey where it’s £500 and in Guernsey where it’s £2,000). In England and Wales, the fine should represent between 25% and 125% of the evader’s weekly income, depending on the duration of the offence and other factors. For example, if a guilty plea is made, a reduction will apply, reflecting the stage at which it is made.

At the first reasonable opportunity: 1/3 off

Where a trial date has been set: 1/4 off

At the door of the court: 1/10 off

 

For the sake of a theoretical average gain of £43 (the difference between the fine in England and the price of buying a TV licence in the first place), the BBC is happy to relentlessly chase people and press charges, which is far from free. The BBC sent, under the TV licensing trade mark, 51.5 million letters[1] in 2015. These letters were followed with around 3.9 million visits[2] by TV licence officers. But, considering that court records show that less than 35% of TV licence fines are actually recovered[3], it would appear that prosecuting people is a long way away from being a profitable business.

 

 

PRISON

TV licence evasion is not punishable by a period of imprisonment per se. It’s only when convicted evaders refuse to pay the fine they were ordered to pay, or are incapable of paying it, that a period of imprisonment may be imposed as a “last resort”. This, however, is an all-round lose/lose situation: the BBC gains nothing in the way of monies and it costs the English and Welsh tax payer an average of £89 per day[4] to keep one person behind bars. It costs £158 per day to the Northern Irish tax payer.[5] The last prison stint for TV licence fine default in Scotland was in 2008.

 

Prison for TV licence fine default, 2016
Countries England  & Wales Scotland Northern Ireland TOTAL
number of prisoners  29:

12 females, 17 males

0 61:

32 females, 29 males

90
 
duration of stay 21 days (average) 0 7.8 days

 

CONCLUSION

It’s interesting to note that 2016 was the 70th anniversary of this government endorsed extortion[6]. After crying that the so-called loophole was slowly draining the BBC’s funding, its power to charge and barge in to homes (under the TV licensing umbrella) was recently extended on the 6th September 2016, to cover iPlayer. However, it would appear there were 25.6M TV licences in the UK in 2015-2016 (most recent data available[7]). This number has been on the rise since 2010 (oldest available data). So, have we been lied to? And where is the debate in Parliament on the future of the TV licence fee, scheduled for the 8th May 2017, but cancelled on the 3rd of May due to the snap election?

 

The BBC sent 51.8 million items of mail last year. This was follow up with 3.3 million visits.

TV licensing wants to add: “It’s only right we do everything we can to ensure people buy a licence, and letters are a cost effective way to get people to pay. We use letters where we don’t have email addresses and all our mailing campaigns generate substantially more revenue than they cost. We visit unlicensed properties which have ignored our earlier attempts to make contact. Our work to get people licensed at an earlier stage has been successful and we have encouraged the majority of delayers to pay at an earlier stage, prior to receiving a visit.”

 

These findings are backed by the following Freedom of Information requests:

 

FOI 112134 and 111716 Ministry of Justice for England and Wales

FOI-17-00955 and FOI 2017 218 Justice Analytical Service for Scotland

FOI 047/17 Court and Tribunals Service, Northern Ireland

 

 

DETAIL:

Number of people proceeded against vs convicted at magistrates court in England in 2016

 

Police force area

 

Total

Prosecutions

FEMALE MALE Total Guilty Total

Unsuccessful

prosec guilty prosec guilty
1. Cleveland 28,984 20,957 19,605 8,027 7,381 26,986 1,998
2. Warwickshire 24,062 17,181 15,354 6,881 5,965 21,319 2,743
3. London 19,529 13,375 10,774 6,154 4,479 15,253 4,276
4. Greater Manchester 11,803 8,584 7,769 3,219 2,826 10,595 1,208
5. Sussex 6,673 4,784 4,274 1,889 1,673 5,947 726
6. Cheshire 6,497 4,739 4,367 1,758 1,556 5,923 574
7. Lancashire 6,352 4,465 4,062 1,887 1,665 5,727 625
8. Merseyside 4,536 3,245 3,255 1,291 1,095 4,350 186
9. Dorset 4,162 2,875 2,594 1,287 1,139 3,733 429
10. Cambridgeshire 4,044 2,865 2,489 1,179 1,011 3,500 544
11. West Yorkshire 3,379 2,385 2,138 994 857 2,995 384
12. Avon & Somerset 3,352 2,353 2,141 999 892 3,033 319
13. Hampshire 3,262 2,281 2,027 981 837 2,864 398
14. Kent 3,217 2,371 2,038 846 669 2,707 510
15. South Yorkshire 3,099 2,216 2,022 883 773 2,795 304
16. Northumbria 3,076 2,226 2,091 850 763 2,854 222
17. Thames Valley 2,293 1,585 1,324 708 557 1,881 412
18. Nottinghamshire 1,801 1,300 1,118 501 414 1,532 269
19. Humberside 1,523 1,132 1,034 391 340 1,374 149
20. Norfolk 1,461 965 838 496 419 1,257 204
21. West Midlands 1,351 961 900 390 357 1,257 94
22. West Mercia 1,324 917 802 407 336 1,138 186
23. Suffolk 1,265 857 751 408 345 1,096 169
24. Staffordshire 1,224 857 764 367 321 1,085 139
25. Durham 1,200 869 779 331 303 1,082 118
26. Hertfordshire 1,129 838 690 291
27. Bedfordshire 1,083 785 664 298 236 900 183
28. Derbyshire 1,052 721 619 331 284 903 149
29. Cumbria 1,050 753 682 297 268 950 100
30. Gloucestershire 1,047 715 622 332 283 905 142
31. Lincolnshire 1,005 664 574 341 264 838 167
32. Wiltshire 904 637 532 267 216 748 156
33. Leicestershire 886 600 499 286 229 728 158
34. Surrey 859 567 457 292 218 675 184
35. Northamptonshire 664 447 377 217 186 563 101
36. North Yorkshire 255 179 157 76 64 221 34
37. Essex 136 86 66 50 40 106 30
38. Devon & Cornwall 34 15 14 19 14 28 6
TOTAL 159,573 113,352 101,263 46,221 39,502 140,765 18,808
NOT GUILTY 12,089 6,791 18,808

 

 

Number of people proceeded against vs convicted at magistrates court in England in 2015

 

Police force area

 

TOTAL

Prosecutions

FEMALE MALE TOTAL

Unsuccessful

Prosecuted Convicted Prosecuted Convicted
1. Metropolitan Police 25,076 16,611 13,069 8,465 6,464 5,543
2. Warwickshire 14,560 10,402 9,164 4,158 3,581 1,815
3. Greater Manchester 12,965 9,371 8,527 3,594 3,156 1,282
4. West Yorkshire 11,990 8,391 7,679 3,599 3,236 1,075
5. Northumbria 9,072 6,629 6,217 2,443 2,221 634
6. South Yorkshire 7,562 5,298 4,836 2,264 2,023 703
7. Merseyside 7,226 5,427 4,939 1,799 1,591 696
8. Lancashire 7,168 5,021 4,608 2,147 1,902 658
9. Cambridgeshire 6,305 4,494 3,985 1,811 1,553 767
10. Kent 4,896 3,583 3,092 1,313 1,107 697
11. Hampshire 4,808 3,353 2,859 1,455 1,218 731
12. Nottinghamshire 4,641 3,346 2,970 1,295 1,143 528
13. Humberside 4,584 3,283 3,037 1,301 1,162 385
14. Dorset, Devon & Cornwall 4,334 3,000 2,672 1,334 1,153 509
15. Cleveland 4,096 3,042 2,865 1,054 959 272
16. Durham 4,050 2,888 2,671 1,162 1,062 317
17. Avon and Somerset 3,997 2,790 2,563 1,207 1,060 374
18. Thames Valley 3,921 2,617 2,183 1,304 1,064 674
19. West Mercia 3,087 2,176 1,946 911 791 350
20. Staffordshire 2,884 2,019 1,865 865 777 242
21. Derbyshire 2,811 1,945 1,711 866 763 337
22. Cheshire 2,519 1,798 1,650 721 634 235
23. Leicestershire 2,464 1,638 1,384 826 666 414
24. Sussex 2,412 1,736 1,484 676 553 375
25. Lincolnshire 2,224 1,449 1,310 775 676 238
26. Northamptonshire 2,117 1,452 1,252 665 540 325
27. Norfolk 1,868 1,256 1,112 612 554 202
28. Suffolk 1,648 1,114 996 534 461 191
29. Hertfordshire 1,536 1,105 934 431 353 249
30. Surrey 1,382 935 789 447 365 228
31. Bedfordshire 1,321 901 718 420 330 273
32. North Yorkshire 1,245 850 757 395 325 163
33. Cumbria 1,127 837 773 290 261 93
34. Gloucestershire 1,010 717 612 293 254 144
35. Wiltshire 924 615 535 309 272 117
36. Essex 114 69 55 45 34 25
37. West Midlands 22 17 16 5 5 1
 TOTAL 173,966 122,175 107,835 51,791 44,269 21,862
NOT GUILTY 14,340 7,522

 

 

WALES PER POLICE FORCE AREA

 

Number of people proceeded against vs convicted in Wales 2016

 

Police force area TOTAL

Prosecuted

Female Male TOTAL

unsuccessful

Prosecuted Convicted Prosecuted Convicted
1. South Wales 9,271 6,633 6,068 2,638 2,379 824
2. North Wales 1,753 1,226 1,102 527 474 177
3. Dyfed-Powys 1,028 669 602 359 304 122
4. Gwent 3 3 3 0 0 0
 TOTAL 12,055 8,531 7,775 3,524 3,157 1,123
NOT GUILTY 756 367

 

Number of people proceeded against vs convicted in Wales 2015

 

Police force area TOTAL

Prosecuted

Female Male TOTAL

unsuccessful

Prosecuted Convicted Prosecuted Convicted
1. South Wales 11,893 8,370 7,624 3,523 3,108 1,161
2. North Wales 2,238 1,621 1,429 617 541 268
3. Dyfed-Powys 1,248 831 753 417 355 140
4. Gwent 4 1 1 3 3 0
 TOTAL 15,383 10,823 9,807 4,560 4,007 1,569
NOT GUILTY 1,016 553

 

 

NORTHERN IRELAND PER DIVISION

Number of people proceeded against vs convicted for an offence of ‘No TV licence’ by court division

Northern Ireland, 2016

Court office Total

prosecuted

Female Male TOTAL

unsuccessful

Prosecuted Convicted Prosecuted Convicted
Laganside (Belfast) 1,512 1,135 878 377 277 357
Newtownards 395 272 199 123 86 110
Downpatrick 148 103 77 45 34 37
Craigavon 270 200 141 70 50 79
Armagh 69 47 32 22 14 23
Banbridge (at Newry) 83 54 41 29 19 23
Omagh 168 122 87 46 29 52
Strabane 68 51 41 17 14 13
Antrim 190 121 81 69 48 61
Londonderry 557 431 320 126 85 152
Enniskillen 92 72 47 20 13 32
Coleraine 233 154 110 79 58 65
Newry 273 183 117 90 59 97
Limavady 97 72 58 25 19 20
Magherafelt 107 67 47 40 31 29
Ballymena 221 154 113 67 55 53
Lisburn 308 235 160 73 49 99
Dungannon 226 157 109 69 46 71
Total 5,017* 3,630 2,658 1,387 986 1,373
NOT GUILTY 972 401

* including 11 people of unknown gender

 

Number of people proceeded against vs convicted for an offence of ‘No TV licence’ by court division Northern Ireland, 2015

 

 

Division TOTAL

Prosecuted

Female Male TOTAL

unsuccessful

Prosecuted Convicted Prosecuted Convicted
1. Belfast 1,820 1,338 1,012 480 337 469
2. Londonderry 912 637 451 274 195 265
3. Fermanagh & Tyrone 874 592 375 281 203 296
4. Antrim 730 509 352 220 157 220
5. Craigavon 561 416 285 145 97 179
6. Ards 549 379 275 169 125 148
7. Armagh & South Down 459 323 213 136 95 151
 TOTAL 5,905* 4,194 2,963 1,705 1,209 1,728
NOT GUILTY 1,231 496

* including 6 people of unknown gender

 

 

 

 

SCOTLAND PER LOCAL AUTHORITY

 

People receiving a non-court disposal for offences under Section 363(2)&(4) of the Communications Act 2003, by local authority and gender.
Local authority 2015-16
Female Male All
Glasgow City 1,482 523 2,005
South Lanarkshire 632 250 882
East Ayrshire 547 227 774
Edinburgh, City of 472 174 646
Fife 467 171 638
Renfrewshire 349 132 481
North Lanarkshire 310 97 407
Falkirk 242 108 350
South Ayrshire 214 92 306
West Lothian 199 78 277
West Dunbartonshire 178 58 236
Clackmannanshire 119 53 172
Dundee City 104 44 148
Stirling 111 31 142
Aberdeen City 71 36 107
Inverclyde 64 27 91
Highland 31 27 58
Aberdeenshire 36 16 52
Angus 36 10 46
Perth & Kinross 27 10 37
Not Known 20 10 30
Scottish Borders 17 8 25
Dumfries & Galloway 5 4 9
Moray 8 1 9
Total Scotland 5,741 2,187 7,928

 

Main result of proceedings:  
Fiscal Fines issued   7,926
Fiscal Fixed Penalty 2

 

People prosecuted in Justice of the Peace courts, where the main charge was under Section 363(2)&(4) of the Communications Act 2003, by result, local authority and gender
Local Authority 2015-16
Female Male All
Guilty Guilty
East Ayrshire 0 1 1
Edinburgh, City of 1 0 1
Fife 1 1 2
Glasgow City 4 0 4
North Lanarkshire 1 0 1
South Lanarkshire 1 0 1
West Dunbartonshire 0 1 1
Total prosecuted 8 3 11

 

Main result of proceedings:  
Admonished 5
Total Fines issued   6

 

Non court disposals where the main offence was under the Communications Act 2003, section 363(2)&(4), by local authority area, Scotland, 2014-2015
Local Authority ALL FEMALE MALE
1. Glasgow City 1,451 1,005 446
2. South Lanarkshire 650 439 211
3. Fife 493 335 158
4. North Lanarkshire 324 241 83
5. Renfrewshire 298 205 93
6. Edinburgh, City of 258 167 91
7. East Ayrshire 248 176 72
8. Dundee City 179 124 55
9. Falkirk 174 116 58
10. West Lothian 141 92 49
11. Clackmannanshire 108 77 31
12. East Lothian 85 55 30
13. West Dunbartonshire 67 43 24
14. South Ayrshire 58 35 23
15. Inverclyde 58 45 13
16. Angus 49 35 14
17. Stirling 44 36 8
18. Perth & Kinross 42 26 16
19. Highland 31 23 8
20. Aberdeen City 24 13 11
21. Aberdeenshire 19 10 9
22. Moray 11 9 2
23. Eilean Siar 5 2 3
24. Shetland Islands 4 1 3
25. Scottish Borders 3 1 2
26. Dumfries & Galloway 3 3
27. Argyll & Bute 1 1
28. Orkney Islands
29. North Ayrshire
Unknown 20 13 7
Total 4,848 3,328 1,520

 

 

PEOPLE PROSECUTED IN SCOTTISH COURTS where the main offence was under the Communications Act 2003, section 363(2)&(4), by local authority area, 2014-2015
Local Authority TOTAL

Prosecuted

FEMALE

guilty

MALE

Guilty

Not Guilty
Glasgow City 5 3 2
North Lanarkshire 3 1 1 1
Dundee City 2 1 1
Renfrewshire 2 1 1
Fife 1 1
West Dunbartonshire 1 1
West Lothian 1 1
Total 15 7 5 3

[1] http://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/about/foi-administering-the-licence-fee-AB20

[2] Idem

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/445844/_45__2015_04_24_-_BBC_RESPONSE_TO_CONSULTATION.pdf

[4] This average is based on a disclosure from the Ministry of Justice that it costs £32,510 per annum to house a UK prisoner. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/563326/costs-per-place-cost-per-prisoner-2015-16.pdf

[5] http://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2016/12/05/news/keeping-a-prisoner-in-northern-ireland-costs-same-as-night-at-savoy–817007/

[6] People’s TV viewing is subject to a flat tax since June 1946

[7] http://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/ss/Satellite?blobcol=urldata&blobheadername1=content-type&blobheadervalue1=application%2Fpdf&blobkey=id&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobwhere=1370006333028&ssbinary=true