£100k to recover TV licence fines worth £16k

The following findings are backed by Freedom of Information requests

dscf5073-mod

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”. That one degree of separation is a bit meaningless tough because if you oppose to the TV licence, you will oppose paying the fine too.

 

Considering that 38 people were given an average of 25 days for fine default in relation to TV licence offences in England and Wales in 2015, each stay is likely to have cost tax payers close to £2,275. If we add the 57 prison stints in Northern Ireland, it means over £100k was wasted in the process of recovering fines worth around £16k. And that’s on top of all the other expenses. Collection fees alone are over £100M. Jailing people for TV licence fines is literally throwing good money after bad.

 

Year Number of defendants committed to prison

for TV licence fine default

England and Wales Northern Ireland Scotland Total
2012 51 228 0 279
2013 32 18 0 50
2014 39 1 0 40
2015 38 57* 0 95

* One person in N. Ireland had two separate periods of custody for non-payment of TV licence.

  • There is a sharp increase of people jailed for TV licence fine default since 2013 (nearly twice as many)
  • Northern Ireland has taken a backward step by restoring a policy of custodial sentence for TV licence fine default (a Judicial Review led to a temporary suspension of fine defaulters being sent to prison)

The length of stay is decided by the amount owed. This, however, is an all-round lose/lose situation: the BBC gains nothing in the way of monies and it costs the tax payer an average of £91 per day to keep one person behind bars. This estimate is based on a disclosure from the Ministry of Justice that it costs £33,291 per annum to house a UK prisoner. MoJ Costs per place and costs per prisoner 2014-2015

 

 

Year

Length of sentence
England & Wales Northern Ireland
2012 22 days* 3 to 28 days
2013 24 days* 7 to 14 days
2014 20 days* 7 days
2015 25 days* 8.5 days* awarded but 3.1 days* spent

* average

  • sentences in England and Wales are at least 3 times longer than in Northern Ireland.
Year Gender distribution in England and Wales
women men
2014 11 28
2015 20 18
  • The number of women committed to prison in England and Wales has nearly doubled last year.
  • Women account for 52.6% of people jailed for TV licence fine default in England and Wales
Year Gender distribution in Northern Ireland
women men
2015 26 31

 

  • Women account for 45.6% of people jailed for TV licence fine default in Northern Ireland.

 

  Age distribution in England and Wales
Age brackets Male Female
   21 – 24 ≤2 ≤2
   25 – 29 3 ≤2
   30 – 39 3 7
   40 – 49 9 7
   50 – 59 ≤2 5
total 18 20

These data were collected by anti-TV licence campaigner Caroline Levesque-Bartlett.

Her petition End the BBC Licence Fee has been signed by over 210,000 people.

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/end-the-bbc-licence-fee


2015 at a glance

 200,117 people charged for TV licence offences in 2015

TV Licence Prosecutions & out of court disposal, 2015
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL
Prosecutions 173,966 4,863 15,383 5,905 200,117

 

 

TV Licence convictions Per Gender, 2015
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL
Women 107,835 3,335* 9,807 2,963 120,605
Men 44,269 1,525* 4,007 1,209 49,485
Percentage of women 70.8% 68.6% 70.9% 71% 70.5%

*including out of court disposals

TV Licence unnecessary prosecutions, 2015
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL
Prosecutions 173,966 15* 15,383 5,905 195,269*
unsuccessful 21,862 3* 1,569 1,728 25,162*
Percentage 12.5% 20%* 10.1% 29.2% 12.8%*

*excluding out of court disposal

  • There has been a slight increase in the overall number of unsuccessful cases brought to court (from 12.6% to 12.8%). 2014 boasted 24,025 unsuccessful cases and a total of 190,532 prosecutions.
  • It is a burden on the State to bring 1 in 8 to court unnecessarily in England.
  • Northern Ireland’s rate is simply unacceptable (1 in 3)

THE LEGALITY OF THE TV LICENCE COLLECTION PUT INTO QUESTION

TV licensing relies on confessions of evaders to prove their case. TV licence ‘Officers’, who are no more than pressure salespeople with the most basic training, are sent door to door to inquire about people’s viewing habits, targeting people without a TV licence. Their aim is to get as many forms signed as possible, in order to achieve their targets and get their bonuses. And indeed, every day, forms are filled and signed by who I can only assume are the most vulnerable and the most trusting people in the UK. Because who else would sign a confession of having committed a crime without having talked to a solicitor first?

All criminal prosecutions should be handled by the State and no one else.

The form used by TV licensing (see below) is designed to appear innocuous: it doesn’t have an official title, it doesn’t contain a legal statement and is filed out by the TV licensing representative. The lack of title makes it easy for them to present it as something else, such as an Interview Record, a Proof of Visit, an Agreement to Purchase a Licence and who knows what! Poor hand writing by the TV licence ‘officer’ can add to the confusion in knowing what one is really signing. As these ‘records of interview’ are later be used as the only ‘hard evidence’ of the committing of the crime, they need be clear on the intent of the form and statements contained within. A title, such as ‘Prosecution Statement’, would therefore be a good start. “Self-Incrimination Form’ might be closer to the truth tough.

These forms should also come with appropriate legal warning. As they are, they carry less in them than the terms and conditions for simple software packages on a PC. Before the interview as started, even before names are asked, the TV licence representative should inform the suspected evader about the offence under investigation. They should run through all Rights and Entitlements, making sure that the person they are talking to has had a chance to contact a solicitor. Under aged and people with learning disability, metal health problem or autism should be accompanied by an Appropriate adult. Non-English speakers should be offered the opportunity to have a form in their own language. If this is not possible, an interpreter should be arranged to inform them of the content of the Statement Prosecution they are pressured into signing.

At the start of the interview, people should be clearly informed that ‘Anything that they say may be given in evidence’. At the end of the interview, the interviewer should read back any written statement and give an opportunity to clarify anything and ask if there is anything that should be added. The court process should be explained and how the information obtained will be used and stored. It’s hard to understand how one body, namely the BBC, has been allowed to appoint third parties, such as Capita, to abuse this position for decades, unchallenged. The process used in Magistrate Courts has been streamlined to the point that a case is dealt with in less than a minute. Magistrates courts are simply rubber stamping criminal prosecution. In other cases, driving offenses as an example, the evidence presented comes from law enforcement. However, TV licence offences, which are handled the same way, are based on documents prepared by TV licence representatives. Surely, a statement given to a police officer, reported in a court room by a solicitor offers guarantee of reliability that a statement given to a target driven commission based salesman, reported by another, doesn’t. If there was a greater challenge of the process, the workings would be laid bare to closer scrutiny. And this may lead to questioning the legality of the prosecution for TV licence Fee. It’s distressing that two institutions, the government and the BBC, are engaged in targeting the weaker sections of society by sanctioning this unjust approach.


Proposed New Form (changes are highlighted in red)

better-prosecution-statement


Opposite side:

rights-and-entitlements

A Day in Court – TV licence session in Weymouth – 19th Sept 2016

Exact verbatim of a TV licence case:

First Act:

The Court Clerk reads a name and a surname and specifies if there is a plea by either saying:

I haven’t heard from him/her.

I have a Guilty plea.

Pleaded Not Guilty.

Then, the Court Clerk reads a summary of the defendant statement. For example, she could say:

“I’m very sorry I missed a payment”

“I thought I had a TV licence”

“I was awaiting a payment card”

“I’ve got brain lesions and MS symptoms”

The complete statement, along with a Statement of Means, is then handed over to the Magistrates (who would glance at it for a couple of seconds – which is not enough to actually read it all).

Second Act:

The TV Licence representative states the date the TV licence officer visited, the duration of the offence and the number of previous conviction. For example:

“Visited 4th July, so the new surcharge applies. Unlicensed less than six months. No previous.”

If there had been previous convictions, he would ask with glee:

“Do you find the case proved, sir?”

And after a perfunctory “yes” from the Magistrate, the TV licence representative would add something along the lines of:

“3 previous, one from this court” (and would give the date of each conviction & value of each fine)

Third Act:

The Magistrates might exchange a few words (or not) quietly, then one of them reads out the sentence.

 “Mr/Mrs…. £220 fine, £30 victim surcharge, £120 cost. 14 Days and a collection order.”

Variation:

On 4 occasions, the TV licence representative described the crime at the beginning of his spiel:

“The TV was seen in used that day”

“Football.”

All 3 acts unfolds in less than one minute.


 

In short, here is what I found:

People who were not there were found guilty of crime that was not proven.

Is this due process? Is this justice? The whole process has been dehumanized and “streamlined”, i.e. striped down to the point of becoming a rubber stamping exercise by the Magistrates.

The bottom line appears to be as follow: if someone  has been properly served, and they didn’t come to challenge the conviction, then they must agree with the statement.

These trials paint a tragic picture. Considering the average fine, the majority of cases appears to be of limited means.

TV licence forms (which are the only document with a possible shred of evidence) are not handed to the Magistrates and therefore are not read.

The validity of the TV licence forms and the TV licence rep’s integrity are never questioned:

  • TV licence reps are treated like solicitors despite their lack of a Law degree.
  • The fact that TV licensing is a high-pressure commission-based sales operation is ignored.

wymouth-crunched

The facts:

There was 92 cases (possibly 91 or even 90, I’m unsure because the last few were rushed and the names were foreign.) Only one defendant showed up.

The whole session lasted 80 minutes. It started at 10 Am and finished just before 11:30. There was a short pause towards 11:15

Each case was dealt with within 52 seconds (in reality it’s a little less because one case required a little longer than the others)

76 were found guilty, 4 cases were adjourned to the 31th October, 11 withdrawn and 1 dismissed because the TV rep was not able to provide evidence (the officer who wrote the statement had left)

17 people pleaded guilty.

22 had a previous convictions (1 to 4)

5 defendants mentions of poor health (schizophrenia, mental health, anxiety, MS + brain lesion, sensitive personal issue) as a reason for being behind payments.

The average fine was £197 (plus victim surcharge and costs) but the standard fine was ‘Band A’:   £220 fine + £30 Victim surcharge + 120 costs 14 days collection

99% conviction: Don’t believe the BBC spin

I can’t fathom why people still believe the BBC’s every word. It is a fact that they changed the way they counted their average reach in 2009 to artificially feed the myth that the BBC’s popularity is forever growing and that their “reach” is near absolute. It’s also well documented that the BBC ignored the public’s views during the recent consultation and instead used a paid-for-study to represent the views of the population. The bottom line is: the BBC is a self-serving institution that does not mind spinning facts until everyone is giddy.

The facts remain: 195,269 people were brought to court in the UK in 2015. Of them 25,162 were found not guilty. That’s a national average of 12.8% of all cases (1 in 8). In the eyes of the law, all those 25,162 people are equally “not guilty” because the Ministry of Justice doesn’t take into account if said cases were withdrawn, rejected because of insufficient proof or plainly, because someone was innocent. Cases are initiated by the BBC on a speculative basis, in the hope that people will either plead guilty or won’t challenge the prosecution.

Conviction rates are so far from the 99% bragged by TV licensing reps, one can only wonder if they suffer from rarefied air, up there in their ivory tower. They also said that, unless there are aggravating circumstances, TV Licensing will apply to withdraw the case if a defendant is a first time offender and buys a licence before the case is heard. However, the official paper work used by TV licensing (and therefore approved by the BBC because the two are two sides of the same coin) states that “Even if you purchase the appropriate licence, you may still be prosecuted for the offence”.  The system is driven by the quotas for TV licensing enforcement employees so there is no “get out of jail free card”

interview form back mod

as both Samantha (Tyne and Wear, England) and Sarah (Wrexham, Wales) discovered. They both contacted me and showed me their paper work. Samantha had simply forgotten to buy a licence and Sarah had not renewed hers on time. They were prosecuted even though they agreed to buy a licence on the spot, having not understood that the paperwork they signed was in effect a confession. Sarah told me she even made a cup of tea for that TV licence officer. Now, tell me what sort of aggravating circumstances is that? TV licensing only dropped her case after her local newspaper investigated the story. As for Samantha, her case was dropped after a lengthy battle of emails between her caring brother and TV licensing.

The moral of this story is: don’t open your door unless someone has a warrant.

TV Licence Statistics 2015

CELEBRATING 70 YEARS OF GOVERNMENT ENDORSED EXTORTION RACKET

This years is special, we are celebrating 70 years of government endorsed extortion. Since June 1946, no one was able to think of a way of funding the BBC that would not involve a choice, for those who want to opt out, between withholding all TV channels and criminal sanctions. On the contrary, the BBC’s power to charge and barge in to homes has been recently extended to cover the internet. The mind boggles. Playing devil’s advocate: shouldn’t the TV licence fee retire at 68, like the UK work force? Don’t we need something progressive, flexible and tailored, more in tune with the changing world?

1946

Even though there were 200,117 people charged for TV licence offences in 2015, there still doesn’t seem to be a political will to challenge the BBC’s status quo. The previous Secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sports squandered the most recent opportunity to reform the TV licence fee and bring it to the 21st century in a bid to suppress his personal scandals from public scrutiny. With a newly appointed Secretary of state, maybe we can hope for some change to the Royal charter before it’s officially agreed in December 2016. The reality of facing statistics like these for a further ten years should be in the least a little concerning for a progressive society like the UK.

The tables below show the general picture for the countries of the United Kingdom in 2015. This will be followed by statistics covering each country by area and by gender in detail.

PROSECUTIONS PER CAPITA

TV Licence Prosecutions & out of court disposal Per Capita, 2015
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL
Prosecutions 173,966 4,863 15,383 5,905 200,117
Population (in million) 53.01  5.295 3.065 1.811 63.181
Per 1,000 people 3.3 0.9 5.0 3.2 3.1
  • The overall number of evaders has not changed substantially compared to 2014 where 204,018 prosecutions were made. However, where England and Northern Ireland have seen no significant change the level in Scotland has plummeted and the level in Wales rocketed for 2015.
  • Police force area/ local authority /court division with the most suspected evaders in the UK:
  1. Metropolitan Police
  2. Warwickshire
  3. Greater Manchester
  4. West Yorkshire
  5. South Wales

WOMEN

TV Licence convictions Per Gender, 2015
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL
Women 107,835 3,335* 9,807 2,963 120,605
Men 44,269 1,525* 4,007 1,209 49,485
Percentage of women 70.8% 68.6%* 70.9% 71% 70.5%

*including out of court disposals

  • Women are still more likely to be convicted than men in the UK. The ratios are very similar to those observed in 2014.

The BBC has been alerted a few years ago to the fact that the current TV licence penalises women disproportionately. They haven’t changed a thing since because they are a dinosaur incapable of compassion, introspection or change.

UNSUCCESSFUL CASES

TV Licence unnecessary prosecutions, 2015
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL
Prosecutions 173,966 15* 15,383 5,905 195,269*
unsuccessful 21,862 3* 1,569 1,728 25,162*
Percentage 12.5% 20%* 10.1% 29.2% 12.8%*

*excluding out of court disposal

  • There has been a slight increase in the overall number of unsuccessful cases brought to court (from 12.6% to 12.8%). 2014 boasted 24,025 unsuccessful cases and a total of 190,532 prosecutions.
  • It is a burden on the State to bring 1 in 8 to court unnecessarily in England.
  • Northern Ireland’s rate is simply unacceptable (1 in 3)
  • The “99% conviction rate” by TV Licensing is completely inaccurate.

FINE

Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland Isle of Man
Average fine £89  £200

PRISON

Considering that 38 people were given an average of 25 days for fine default in relation to TV licence offences in England and Wales in 2015, each stay is likely to have cost tax payers close to £2,275. If we add the 57 prison stints in Northern Ireland, it means over £100k was wasted in the process of recovering fines worth around £16k. And that’s on top of all the other expenses. Collection fees alone are over £100M. Jailing people for TV licence fines is literally throwing good money after bad.

Prison for TV licence fine default, 2015  
Countries England  & Wales Scotland N.Ireland TOTAL
number of prisoners  38

20 females, 18 males

0 57*

26 females, 31 males

95
duration of stay 25 days (average) 0 3.1 days (average) time sentenced was 8.5 days

* one person had two separate periods of custody for non-payment of TV licence

  • The number of women committed to prison in England and Wales has nearly doubled last year. They account for 52.6% of people jailed for TV licence fine default in England and Wales
  • Northern Ireland has taken a backward step by restoring a policy of custodial sentence for TV licence fine default (a Judicial Review led to a temporary suspension of fine defaulters being sent to prison)
  • Average sentences in England and Wales are 3 times longer than those in Northern Ireland.
  Age distribution of prisoners in England and Wales
Age brackets Male Female
   21 – 24 ≤2 ≤2
   25 – 29 3 ≤2
   30 – 39 3 7
   40 – 49 9 7
   50 – 59 ≤2 5
total 18 20
  • 50% of the men jailed for TV licence fine default are aged 40 to 49.
  • The bulk of the female are aged 30 to 60.

Dr Jerkill and Mr Hide

Before going into the details for each country, it’s important to stress, that the BBC owns the ‘TV Licensing’ trademark and therefore endorses every action taken by TV licensing. Like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide, BBC & TV Licensing are 2 sides of the same coin. “If he be Mr Hide, I shall be Mr Seek”.

As far as I’m concerned, television should be free. If certain channels disagree, they go subscription. Not withhold access to all other free channels.

This report has been put together to support and promote my petition End the BBC Licence Fee, signed by over 200,000 people. https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/end-the-bbc-licence-fee

ENGLAND PER POLICE FORCE AREA

england prosec

  • There were 901 more prosecutions this year of which 217 were unsuccessful. (0.5% increase compared to 2014)
  • 1,680 more prosecutions in London this year (remains in 2nd position)
  • 823 less prosecutions in Greater Manchester (remains in 3rd position)
  • 1,050 more prosecutions in Northumbria (remains in 5th position)
  • Cambridgeshire, which was in 16th, climbed to 9th. (2,287 more prosecutions of which 1,744 are females)
  • Hampshire, which was in 14th position, climbed to 11th. (408 more prosecutions)
  • Avon and Somerset, who were in 12th position, fell to 17th. (678 less prosecutions)
  • Suffolk, which was holding the 32nd position, went up 28th. (268 more prosecutions)
  • Essex, which was 29th, is now in 36th. (1,783 less prosecutions)
  • The percentage of people found not guilty remains constant (12.5% compared to 12.7% in 2014) so we can say that the BBC keeps the same speculative approach when deciding who to prosecute in England.

WALES PER POLICE FORCE AREA

wales prosec

  • That’s 2,847 more prosecutions than last year (22.7% increase) of which 2,578 were in South Wales (1,783 of them were females.)

SCOTLAND PER LOCAL AUTHORITY

scot out of court

  • There were 8,638 less out of court disposal for 2014-2015 in Scotland than the previous year. (64% decrease)
  • There was an almost complete reshuffle in the order (Only Glasgow remains in its original position).
  • Most local authorities saw their number of out-of-court disposal at least halved.
  • The main exception are South Lanarkshire who saw a 7% increase (making it jump from 8th position to 2nd) and Clackmannanshire, where 1 more out-of-court disposal meant a jump from 20th to 11th position.
  • Glasgow city had 1,973 less out of court disposal last year (58% decrease).
  • North Lanarkshire saw 1,569 less out of court disposal (82% decrease), making it drop from 2nd to 4th position
  • Fife went from 1,346 out of court disposal to 493 (63% decrease – yet remains in 3rd position)
  • Edinburg had 867 less out of court disposal last year (77% decrease).

scot court

  • In 2013-2014, 32 people were brought to court in Scotland, compared to 15 last year (53% decrease)
  • The proportion of people found not guilty has increased. It went from 12.5% to 20%
  • Combined data for out of court disposal and court prosecution suggest that TV Licensing is not actively pursuing Scottish evaders due to the lower chance of prosecution and lower revenue from fines. Considering that the prosecution levels in the rest of the UK have remained static or increased this maybe a sign that TV licensing is focussing their resources here. This appears to be especially true for Wales

NORTHERN IRELAND PER DIVISION

Northern Ireland

  • There were exactly 1,000 more prosecution in 2015, compared to 2014 (20% increase)
  • The percentage of people found not to be guilty increased slightly (from 26% in 2014 to 29% last year)

ISLE OF MAN

IOM

  • Considering that a total of 125 were prosecuted between 2010 and 2014, the level of prosecution in 2015 (with 129 cases) is unprecedented.
  • Unfortunately, this new trend is continuing. For 2016, 33 cases have already been dealt with (25 have been convicted), and 105 are pending (55 women and 50 men)
  • In 2015 34% of cases brought to prosecution in 2015 were unsuccessful (defendant found not guilty or case not proceeded) this is alarmingly high compared with the rest of the UK.
  • The typical fine was £200 (though £300 fines were not uncommon), usually with standard £120 costs. Only two people were not asked to pay costs in 2015

JERSEY

  • There were no prosecution in 2015.

GUERNSEY

  • There were no prosecution in 2015.
  • The BBC inspectors seem to visit the island only every three years or so.

Reply from the government

There relevant bits are as follow:

  • This petition has become part of the large evidence base gathered during the public consultation held in July 2015.
  • The Government acknowledges other countries’ views on Public Service Broadcasting funding models.
  • The Government is still considering whether the licence fee remains the best way to fund the BBC and continue to consider recommendations regarding the enforcement process.
  • The Government’s position will be set out in the White Paper.

 

The reply can be read in full here.

Now, this is a very wishy-washy answer at best. All references to the David Perry Review just make me hit the roof.

  • First of all, David Perry relied heavily on the BBC’s response and findings.
  • Secondly, he did not interview a single person who had been recently visited by a TV licence officer or prosecuted by the BBC to ask them what they think of TV licence enforcement methods. So basically, he covered only one side of the story.

Even before starting, David Perry’s premise was that the BBC offers “value for money” and the bottom line was “if decriminalisation is likely to jeopardise revenues, then the status quo should remain”.

 He did not explore the following questions:

  • Is keeping the licence fee down and maintaining all the current BBC services more important than the social impact of this coercive funding method?
  • Can we make good television using only money freely given?
  • If people overwhelmingly like the BBC as the BBC claims it does, why not switch to voluntary donations/subscription?

Finally, he recommended that more flexible payment plans be investigated, ignoring the basic problem that money is finite and that some people don’t have enough of it to cover the basics. Another recommendation is that cable and satellite companies should share their customer data with TV licensing. This is a bit rich, coming from a barrister, as he should be well aware that it implies a major breach of the data protection act.


So this is it for now but remember that the petition can be handed over again and that I will try to expose the BBC’s funding model in new rounds of FOI in due course.

In the meantime, don’t forget my other petition, on the official parliament website and while you are there, have a look at the other petitions against the BBC too.