Thursday 2 January 2014

Asking to pay for a TV licence: what is an effective strategy?

Bruce was happy while having
his daily amount of Downtown Abbey ...
The 1709 Blog has engaged in conversation with one of its many friends about payment of ... TV licences in the UK. According to our friend, about half of his/her time [that’s exciting] since arriving in this country has consisted of aggressive letters [pretty much mirroring this] from TV Licensing UK telling him/her that he/she will be going to prison if he/she does not pay for a TV licence.

In response to this incessant mail that tends to accumulate in the common mailbox of a transient student flat, our friend has prompted a query about the effectiveness of this method:

"Has anyone investigated compliance rates with the UK's demands to pay TV license fees (and does anyone ever pay the black and white TV rate?!) as well as what kind of reactions to copyright law this approach inspires in the general population?"  

... But happiness was spoiled 
when the postman rang (twice)
Our friend would find it most interesting to see the cost/benefit analysis on amount spent with nagging letters vs. the amount of people that need to respond to make it all worthwhile, and find whether a more economical all-round measure could be found for supporting the TV content-providers.

Can anyone help?


John Enser said...

The BBC Trust undertook a detailed analysis on the costs of licence fee collection in 2009, readable at

The licence fee is due to be renewed in 2016 and discussions about that have just begun - there is a good article on that in today's Times (behind paywall at entitled "BBC starts fight to keep licence fee intact"

Ben said...

I can only respond anecdotally, but when I sat as a Magistrate, one of the least attractive afternoons would be 'TV Licensing' court - a long list of prosecutions under the Communications Act 2003 s363 which were tried summarily and were almost always undefended. In fact I can't remember ever having seen defendant in person in the court, although we did sometimes have explanatory letters. The sentence was usually a fine - a then 'Level 3' fine - now up to £1,000, for TV licence payment evasion. Somewhat annoyingly (for me any way) was the fact that TV Licensing authority used to send out their own pages for the Adult Court 'Bench Book' in the Magistrate magazine, ready formatted for insertion explaining more about this heinous crime. I never put them in my Bench Book. I believe a total of 181,880 people were summoned to appear at Magistrates' Courts in England for the offence in 2012 - and the BBC were accused of 'clogging up' Magistrates Courts in a House of Lords debate in 2013 - TV licence fee evasion accounts for 12% of Magistrate's workload. Some peers argued the cases should be moved to the civil courts and the offence decriminalised. 95% of UK homes do have a licence.

More here

Eleonora Rosati said...

Thanks so much for your comments, John and Ben!

Anonymous said...

Much detail regarding the work of TV Licensing can be found at:

As the url suggests, Freedom of Information requests are frequent (and the replies can be revealing) though BBC often claims an exemption due to 'commercial confidentiality'.

Personally I have found the approach of TV Licensing to be scattergun and aggressive, though they may argue this to be an effective way of operating.

Peter said...

Sounds like I might be able to help, as I run a blog (some would say the blog) on the subject of TV Licensing.

By way of background let me explain that the BBC, as statutory Television Licensing Authority, is responsible for administering and enforcing the TV licence fee. The BBC contracts a number of private companies to undertake these functions. These private companies operate under the TV Licensing trademark, but the BBC retains overall legal responsibility.

I'm sure your friend is aware that a TV licence is only required when equipment is used to receive TV programme services (e.g. any programme available to others at the same time on a TV channel). A licence is not needed if equipment is only used to watch DVDs, non-live catch-up services or play video games. Furthermore, a TV licence is not needed just because you happen to *possess* equipment capable of receiving TV programmes - it is the act of *using* that equipment to receive TV programmes is licensable.

Unfortunately, unlike any other body in the UK, TV Licensing is under the mistaken belief that people should have to prove their innocence. They don't. Anyone who does not need a TV licence is under no legal obligation to communicate or co-operate with TV Licensing. They do not need to respond to TV Licensing letters or answer the door (or speak to) TV Licensing employees. Indeed, experience has taught us that making a no-TV declaration is a futile exercise, as TV Licensing will not believe you anyway. Furthermore, as an indication of their distrust, they will insist on sending someone to confirm no-TV declarations in person.

Some statistics for your friend:
- The BBC estimates that 97% of households require a TV licence.
- They also estimate that the evasion rate (people receiving TV programmes without a licence) is 5%, which is slightly up on 2012.
- TV Licensing claim that just under 1 in 5 of those making a no-TV declaration do require a licence. They use this statistic to justify the aggressive tone of their enquiries. By their own admission more than 4 out of 5 of these people are correctly unlicensed, but they often still face a barrage of TV Licensing harassment.
- As recent newspaper coverage has shown, TV licence evasion accounts for 1 in 10 of all cases before the Magistrates' Courts. However, in reality, less than 40% of those "caught" by TV Licensing are actually convicted. Well over 90% of those have been convicted "by default" after failing to submit a plea or offer any defence. We believe the conviction rate is so low because TV Licensing abandons "dubious" cases rather than risk having their evidence tested in court.
- TV Licensing has previously told my blog (via an FOIA response) that it costs 18.3 pence in postage to send each of their routine letters. Based on figures they provided for the first half of 2012, we estimate that they sent around 27 million letters at a total cost of £5 million in postage alone. This does not include the cost of paper, printing and finishing (e.g. folding, envelope stuffing) each letter. Bear in mind that by the BBC's own admission, at least 4 in 5 of these letters (or £4 million in postage costs) are going to people who really do not need a TV licence.

I think I've covered all the points mentioned in your post. Should you require any further information, please can I ask you to visit our blog and download our free ebook

Eleonora Rosati said...

Many thanks for your help Anonymous and Peter, much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Never had a BBC TV Licence and never will.

Anonymous said...

After reading many articles throughout the internet surrounding the TV Licence.
I am still amazed to hear comments from posters such as BEN, who openly state that "I sat as a Magistrate, one of the least attractive afternoons would be 'TV Licensing' court" and yet we hear/view on a regular basis that in a time period of 50 minuets to an hour anywhere from 50 to 90 cases would be heard.
I find it incredible that one case will be heard in less than a minuet each and in many cases the defendant wasn't even present to defend themselves yet still received a guilty verdict and received a fine and court costs, which many whom couldn't pay for the TV licence in the first place due to financial difficulty let alone a court appointed fine.

I understand a Magistrate isn't a legally trained representative and relies on the court clerk for legal advice but surely it could be reasonable expected that an intelligent person who is capable of becoming a magistrate has a little common sense and see the situation as ludicrous and if said magistrate sits in TV licencing court on a regular basis should be expected to gain an understanding of the law.

In my opinion and I would hope some other readers too, that instead of letting the TV licencing prosecutor bombard magistrates with one or two case(s) per minuet each, magistrate's should have a duty not to see the 'TV Licensing' court session as nothing more than a "rubber stamping lets get out of here situation" but to apply common sense and not just blindly accept the evidence from the prosecution as sacrosanct when considered that the TVLA has been highly publicised to use underhanded tactics and in some cases potentially being highly illegal or fraudulent especially in the case regarding the infamous 178 form.