Have you been bullied by the BBC into buying a TV licence? If so, Lazy Money UK is here to help.
Once you see through the façade of TV Licensing, and discover their unethical sales tactics, you will gain the courage to cancel your TV licence. By living legally licence free, you will save £159 a year- Money you can put to good use by investing.
What is TV Licensing?
TV Licensing is a British television service owned by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Purchasing a TV Licence legally entitles you to watch live broadcasts, plus make use of the BBC iPlayer app. This is an alternative to watching high-quality shows on streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+. If you enjoy dreary dramas and cringe-worthy competition shows, BBC’s TV Licence might be right for you. If not, BBC will try to bully you into paying them anyway.
Why does BBC bully people over the TV licence?
Any sensible company selling a TV service would operate a subscription model. Unfortunately, BBC is both idiotic, and stuck in the past. They decided it would be best to broadcast their product to everyone who does not want it, and then demand payment using aggressive and deceitful tactics. What makes them think this is acceptable?
BBC’s bullying is backed by the Communications Act 2003. This puts BBC in charge of collecting a licence fee from those who view live broadcasts. It seems strange to me that BBC profits off of other channels they don’t own or operate. However, the licence fee in used in part to fund the UK’s infrastructure which delivers terrestrial television.
The legal basis of the TV licence gives the impression that it is some sort of mandatory tax, rather than an optional entertainment service. It would appear that the elevated responsibility of the BBC has gone to their heads. They now act as if they were a law enforcement agency, sending out threatening letters and harassing homeowners in person.
Do you really need a TV licence?
TV Licensing carefully words their information, to mislead people into thinking they require a licence. They do this by mentioning entertainment platforms such as YouTube, or devices such as games consoles, implying you need a licence even to use these. In reality, the TV licence only applies to watching live broadcasts or BBC iPlayer from any device or platform. (Who watches live TV channels on Youtube anyway?)
To clarify, your household legally needs a licence to watch:
- Live TV broadcasts from any channel (e.g. Freeview and Sky)
- BBC iPlayer
You do not need a licence to use:
- Any device, including television sets, smartphones and games consoles
- Streaming services (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+)
- On-demand content / “catch-up TV” from non-BBC channels (e.g. All 4)
How to be legally licence free
To opt out of BBC’s television service, it is simply a matter of not watching live broadcasts, or accessing the BBC iPlayer app at your property. It may be helpful to disconnect your TV aerial cable, and delete the BBC iPlayer app from your devices where possible.
This is not to be confused with being a “licence evader”- BBC’s term for someone who illegally views licensable content at their unlicenced property. BBC have a hard time telling the difference between legally licence free citizens, and “licence evaders”, however.
TV Licensing harassment
BBC operates under the assumption that everyone is guilty until proven innocent. Their default position is that all unlicenced households secretly engage in illegal viewing of their poor-quality programming. As BBC does not have the legal power or technological capability to detect unlicenced TV viewing, they instead rely on deception and fear tactics to sell licences.
TV Licensing harassment primary takes the form of constant threatening letters, and the possibility of “home inspections” (sales visits). Their hope is that naïve individuals will incriminate themselves in response to this intimidation.
There is an option to contact TV licensing and declare that you do not require a licence. Why should you give them your personal information though? Do you have to go out of your way to tell Netflix that you don’t want to purchase their services? Of course not. Besides, TV Licensing will assume that you are mistaken and actually do need a licence. They will attempt to send one of their employees to your house to confirm whether or not you watch live broadcasts (you should always refuse home visits, for reasons I will explain below).
Worse still, if you undergo this process, TV Licensing will only stop harassing you for 2 years at most. They will then resume targeting their aggressive marketing campaign to your address.
TV licence letters
TV Licensing letters are mass-produced from templates, and sent to unregistered addresses on a monthly basis. The letters arrive in a repeating sequence, with an increasingly hostile tone. The sequence will loop back to the beginning after the final letter. You can see annual scans of TV Licensing letters here.
Common features of TV Licensing letters include:
- Manipulative language which conveys a false sense of authority
- Empty and baseless threats of legal action e.g. “What to expect in court”
- Use of the colour red to intimidate the reader
- Fake (printed on) stamps and signatures, to make it look like your case has been individually considered
- Made-up codes e.g. IN01O0A12 to appear more serious
- Naming random upcoming dates to suggest that further action will be taken
Needless to say, the arrogant and accusatory tone of the letters is in poor taste. TV Licensing attempt to condition the reader into believing their false narrative- That their company and salesmen have legal power over the situation.
Ironically, the letters are often unable to identify the name or even the gender of the recipient, yet still claim that they can take this anonymous entity to court. Their “Official Investigation” somehow never manages to unearth these details.
Should you respond to TV Licensing letters?
You have absolutely no legal obligation to respond to BBC’s sales pitch. Replying to the letters may even be disadvantageous for you. It confirms to TV Licensing that your address is actually occupied, and you may inadvertently supply them with personal information such as your name, e-mail address or phone number. This may then encourage them to investigate your address further.
What if the letters are already addressed to your name? I found that by not responding, TV Licensing soon dropped my name from the letters, which are now addressed to “the Legal Occupier”.
If you simply ignore the letters, TV Licensing aren’t able to do anything about it. It will get to the point that you will be able to recognise a TV Licensing letter just by looking at the envelope. I recommend putting them in the recycling bin without even reading them.
“TV licence inspectors”
BBC outsources their sales process to a third-party company called Capita, who operate under the TV Licensing brand name. Capita’s salesmen rebrand themselves as “Enforcement Officers” or “TV Licence Inspectors”. This creates a false impression of legal authority, used to coerce victims into cooperating.
BBC send salesmen to visit unlicenced addresses from their database. These salesmen receive a commission not only for every TV licence they sell, but also every successful prosecution they obtain. They therefore attempt to collect evidence of unlicenced TV viewing during their visit.
The pressure placed on BBC salesmen to meet monthly targets leads them to adopt fraudulent behaviours. While they might claim that they have visited your home to “help you sort out your TV licence situation”, they are in fact there to exploit you for profit.
“TV license inspectors” have no more of a right to inspect your home, or record your personal information than any other random person off the street. Despite this, they may attempt to mislead homeowners into thinking that they must co-operate with the inspection attempt. Possible lies you might hear from a BBC salesmen include:
- That you need a license just to own a television screen
- That you won’t be prosecuted if you sign a confession form and buy a TV licence
- That the salesman is entitled to enter your property without a search warrant
- That the salesman is able to escalate the legal severity of the situation unless you comply
How to handle visits from “TV licence inspectors”
Fortunately, home visits from “Enforcement Officers” are very easy to deal with. They are unable to do anything in situations where the occupant does not speak to them. They can’t manipulate you, can’t twist your words, and can’t gain any information to use against you. Therefore, I recommend simply shutting the door as soon a visitor identifies themself as a TV Licensing employee.
Remember to ascertain the identity of the visitor immediately, before you confirm or provide any information about yourself. For example, if the visitor opens with “Are you the occupier of the property?” you response should be “Who are you?”. TV Licensing rules require their salesmen to show you an ID card when asked. If they refuse to identify themselves straight away, it suggests they are trying to hide something. Don’t let them turn the question back on you- They’re the one who has approached you, so they must identify themselves.
It’s possible that the salesman could lie about the purpose of their visit, in order to collect evidence. For instance, they may claim to be conducting a survey about TV viewing in your area. You should treat any questions about television shows / reception / signal with suspicion.
You may instead prefer not to answer the door at all when an uninvited person shows up. It is perfectly valid to do this, because you never consented to have your time wasted.
Do not give information to “TV licence inspectors”
Nothing you say to a TV licence salesman will be used in your favour. The information you share will only be used to build a case against you. TV Licensing cannot attempt any kind of action against you if they don’t know what your name is, or whether you even live at the property they visited. There is also no point in stating that you do not require a licence- The salesman will assume that you are lying, and ask to confirm this by inspecting your home.
It is absolutely critical that you do not sign any forms. The “Record Of Interview” form is treated as a confession that you have illegally watched live broadcasts. After you sign a form, the TV licence salesman can easily add false information to incriminate you. The form would then be used to take you to court, or apply for a search warrant.
An alternative way that TV Licensing employees could collect evidence from outside a home is by spying through the windows. It would therefore be foolish for someone to have live broadcasts or BBC iPlayer on display in their front room in an unlicenced property.
Do not let “TV licence inspectors” enter your home
Aside from letting a private company invade your privacy and walk all over you, inviting a BBC salesman into your home opens you up to fraud. Cases have been documented where TV Licensing employees have attempted to falsify evidence against homeowners.
Inspectors may attempt to tamper with your television equipment, to illegally display a live broadcast against your will. For example, they might try reconnecting an unplugged aerial cable to your TV. Logically speaking, this does not constitute evidence of unlicenced TV viewing by the homeowner, since the salesman has modified the existing set-up. However, TV Licensing are not intelligent enough to grasp this.
In one extreme example, TV Licensing digitally edited YouTube footage of a home inspection to make it appear that The One Show was on the TV screen. They then proceeded to present this fabricated evidence in court, along with hiring an “expert witness” to attest to the legitimacy of the video. The amount of time and effort they put into trying to persecute an anti-TV licence campaigner is worrying. It truly speaks to the corruption of TV Licensing. Fortunately, the victim demolished them in court. Learn more about this case here.
Granting access to a BBC salesman also dignifies their accusation against you. TV Licensing have no right to pressure people into proving their own innocence. The burden of proof lies with the BBC. It’s their problem, not yours.
Should you revoke implied right of access from “TV license inspectors”?
Some anti-TV licence campaigners suggests issuing a Withdrawal Of Implied Rights Of Access (WOIRA) notice to TV Licensing. There are two problems with this. Firstly, it draws attention to your address and may be used as grounds to apply for a search warrant against you. Secondly, BBC salesmen simply deny knowledge of existing WOIRA notices, and visit properties anyway, claiming that the information “isn’t on our system”. The best course of action is to totally ignore TV Licensing if they visit.
That said, the law requires visitors to leave a property when instructed to do so by the occupant. It is advisable to call the police if a TV Licensing employee is refusing to go, since they are then violating trespassing laws.
Can TV Licensing apply for a search warrant?
TV licence salesman can obtain a search warrant by presenting evidence to a judge. This could be in the form of a confession, or visual detection of unlicenced TV viewing at a property. The strength of such evidence is questionable at best.
Search warrants are extremely rare and unlikely. They can only happen if the victim provides information to a BBC salesman.
TV Licensing always request the attendance of police officers when executing a search warrant. This is under the guise of “keeping the peace”, but really it is TV Licensing’s attempt to appear authoritative. The search warrant does not permit police assistance in the actual enquiry. Whether they understand this or not is a different matter.
Neither TV Licensing nor the police will attempt to force entry into a property. This would be a PR disaster for the BBC. That said, the victim legally must grant access to their home, and reasonably assist with the inspection of any television set they own. Bear in mind that obstructing a search warrant is a chargeable offence.
How to handle a TV licence search warrant
You can easily avoid search warrants by not speaking with TV Licensing employees in the first place. However, if you have already enabled a search warrant to be obtained by volunteering your information, follow these guidelines for your protection:
- Film the proceedings on a smartphone or video camera to prevent fraud
- Check the validity of the search warrant document you are presented with
- As with standard visits, do not provide or confirm any personal information
- Do the bare minimum to reasonably assist inspection of any television set that is visible e.g. locate the remote
- Refuse inspection of devices other than television sets- This is beyond the scope of the warrant
- Seek legal assistance from a qualified professional
Are TV licence detector vans real?
BBC claim that they can detect TV broadcast viewing in houses, using unspecified equipment hidden in a van. Whether or not this is even technologically possible is up for debate. What we do know is:
No evidence from supposed detection equipment has ever been presented in a court case.
BBC make the excuse that this would expose how their technology works- Allowing “licence evaders” to circumvent detection. They also claim that they have “never needed to use” detector van evidence due to obtaining evidence from home visits instead. It appears more likely that BBC simply don’t possess such equipment. Think about it- Why would they ask to see inside of your home if they can obtain evidence from the comfort of their van instead?
In either case, the fact that they will never use detector van evidence in court renders the concept redundant. There are definitely situations where they “need” to use their detector vans to collect evidence, such as refused home visits, yet they apparently choose to remain powerless.
The images of creepy men lurking outside your home in a van are purely propoganda, appearing only in press releases and TV Licensing adverts. They still perpetuate this decades-old myth on their website. The reason BBC lies about having detector vans is to frighten unlicenced TV viewers into pre-emptively buying a licence. The branded vehicles themselves are real, but their only function is to transport BBC salesmen.
Who does TV Licensing victimise?
TV Licensing is only able to victimise people who respond to their letters, or enter into a conversation with their salesmen. Given the pressure placed on TV Licensing employees to meet monthly targets, they don’t have time to waste trying to get a result from unresponsive and anonymous households.
TV Licensing admit in their own Gender Disparity Report that 70% of their victims are women. They make the excuse that women are more likely to be at home during the day to answer the door. Really, we know that it’s easier for TV Licensing to intimidate single mothers by sending strange men to their homes.
As with other financial scams, TV Licensing pay particular attention to targeting eldery people who are vulnerable to deception, manipulation and intimidation. TV Licensing have rebranded their “enforcement visits” to elderly citizens as “customer care visits” in an attempt to appear less exploitative. Their objective remains the same however- To extort money from victims by way of distorted information and fear tactics.
If you know someone who might be susceptible to BBC’s bullying, it is helpful to inform them of their rights. I recommend the YouTube channel Chilli Jon Carne as a resource which empowers people to defend themselves against TV Licensing. TV Licence Bible is also useful as a quick reference guide.
How to cancel your TV licence
Whether BBC’s conduct disgusts you, or you just want to save money, cancelling your TV licence is easy.
The simplest way to do it is to cancel your direct debit, and ignore all correspondence from TV Licensing. If you are in arrears at the moment, you are going to have to settle the debt first, otherwise you’ll have to deal with debt collection. TV Licensing will start sending monthly letters to your address, which you can safely disregard.
You can also contact TV Licensing to state that you no longer require their services. You may qualify for a refund for any whole months left on your licence. It’s possible to postpone TV licence harassment for 2 years using this method. Remember to decline any attempt by TV Licensing to visit your home.
My goal in writing this article isn’t to make you live in fear of TV Licensing harassment, just to raise awareness and help you save money. Some people get a bit carried away, joining specialist forums and trying to escalate conflicts with TV Licensing. Fear of false accusations is pivotal part of BBC’s sales pitch. As long as you understand that BBC are powerless when ignored, you won’t have any trouble.
Funnily enough, the average court fine for someone who admits to unlicenced TV viewing is less than the cost of a 2 year TV licence- Making it more economical to be a “licence evader”. I’m not recommending this approach, but just saying…