I keep seeing people online asking about how to deal with TV Licensing when they are “legally license free”, trying to do something about TV Licensing’s unreasonable habit of hounding perfectly law abiding people as though there were no tomorrow. I thought therefore that it might be helpful to some if I shared my own experience…
When I bought my current house, I wrote to TV Licensing and explained that as I would only be using the television set to watch pre-recorded DVDs, I wouldn’t be purchasing a license. They admitted that my position as described was perfectly legal, but then insisted that they would send an “enforcement officer” round to my property to check. The justification for this is that “when we go on-site, we sometimes find people didn’t properly understand their position, and do indeed require a license”. Unlikely, given I had been a part of a campaign against the license online for a number of years…
Still, they insisted. I wrote back and told them no, they couldn’t come over, and that until such time as I they were able to present me with some actual evidence of law breaking (they constantly claim in the popular press that they have the technology to do this), then I thought matters between us were concluded. However, TV Licensing weren’t done yet – oh no… I could be served with a “Magistrates Warrant” if I didn’t comply! Scary eh?
Well actually, no – not scary at all. For one thing since I wasn’t breaking the law at all, I had nothing to fear, save the inconvenience of the inspection. Amusing thought it would doubtless have been to watch them ferret around trying to justify their intrusion into the private life of an innocent man, they also have a habit of turning up with police officers in tow. I’m not scared of them either, but I wouldn’t want someone robbing an old granny down the street whilst the county’s finest were getting rather bored in my living room – so something had to be done.
Here’s the thing about Magistrates Warrants – they are only supposed to be given once a number of conditions have been satisfied. I would like to discuss a couple of those conditions…
Evidence has to be laid before the magistrate that demonstrates that it is likely an offence has taken place. Now, in practice it seems a lot of magistrates don’t pay much attention to this one – either granting warrants without any further thought, or accepting things that appear to be evidence, but really aren’t. For instance, “I observed flickering lights from the suspect’s living room, and as I walked down the garden path I noticed huge TV playing with several people watching…”. Indeed – they were watching a DVD… See – evidence of nothing.
The point here is that, if you do find yourself dealing with a Magistrate’s Warrant, always go back and challenge the evidence upon which it was granted. This serves two purposes – firstly it allows you to show that TV Licensing are acting improperly, but far more importantly it just might wake up a few magistrates to what is going on.
Another condition of granting a Magistrates Warrant is that TV Licensing have no other alternate “Reasonable Access” – and it’s this condition that I used to get them to shut up once and for all. I wrote to them and told them that they could come round whenever they liked, totally at their convenience and with no requirement for advance notice, so long as they brought with them a receipt for a £20 donation to the local children’s hospital. If they did that, guided tour, otherwise they could continue to sod off. A few days later, I got a letter from TV Licensing stating that they accepted that I wasn’t breaking the law, and that was the last I heard of them.
Of course, this tactic only works if you’ve got the confidence to risk a magistrates warrant, which if you are truly legally license free, you should have. I never needed to worry about it, but there are also a couple of things you should think about in terms of preparation for a warrant visit.
First of all, record the visit. Modern mobile phones are quite good enough for this task, but you want a video record of the entire visit. If they claim to have found something later, you want to be able to get out the video and demand “Where?”. There have been cases where TV Licensing appear to have presented fake evidence to the court (see the Shakespear case), so a good solid video is in the interest of both yourself and justice!
Next, TV Licensing are very keen on their 178 form, which details any problems they claim to have found within your property. It is essentially an admission of guilt. I propose that you should really equip yourselves with a “Confirmation of Innocence” form. It should have space for the TV Licensing staff to record anything they find of concern, but otherwise should contain the provision that “No evidence of an offence being committed has been discovered during our visit”, and a nice space for the TV Licensing Representative to sign. Why is this needed? Well, sadly it seems that in a minority of cases TV Licensing staff haven’t been above just inventing evidence on their forms. Having a declaration that all is well, and the chance to challenge it should they not agree, is a massive protection here for the householder…
Withdrawl of Implied Right Of Access (WOIRA)
There has been much debate online about the efficacy of this tactic for people who are generally license free, with the commonly held view being that:
- TV Licensing staff do not respect it, and
- It only serves to flag you up as a person of interest to them.
Personally, I have mixed feelings. I suspect both of the above are true, but didn’t really have a problem with being “brought forward” for the magistrates threats etc. As I mentioned before, my set up was totally legal, and I had nothing to fear from magistrates. Being “brought forward” just brought things to a head sooner, which was a bonus for me. You might well feel differently though, and might well be nervous about having magistarate’s warrants served against you – which is perfectly understandable. If that is the case though, then WOIRA is not for you…
In conclusion, you should not allow yourself to be intimidated by TV Licensing or the tactics that they employ. Fight back! Don’t take this crap lying down… You can try and be nice with them, let them know your situation etc, but it won’t make any difference at all because they’ll not believe any information you provide and will insist on sending someone out to inspect your home. Personally, I was offended by the notion that I should be required to prove my innocence – that’s not how the law works here… I won’t play those games.
If you want any further advice on dealing with TV Licensing, my all means leave a message in the comments and I will see what I can do…