13 things you need to know about the TV licence (or maybe 130)

Posted in Media by Deputy city editor on November 18, 2008

Despite the widespread mistrust of the BBC by those who pay for it, the corporation enjoys strong political and media support . After an extravagant expansion during the epoch of Blair and Brown, the BBC licence fee is temporarily frozen and if the BBC is no longer the subject of universal admiration, it remains powerful and dangerous.  Reform of this self-obsessed monopolistic provider of so-called public broadcasting is long overdue. The establishment will, however, wish to maintain its control of this ideological enterprise. There are already huge numbers of reluctant licence fee payers and also many who outright refuse to pay. But given the interests of the deep British establishment versus the people paying the bills, the abolition of the licence fee, and the transformation of public broadcasting into a medium actually accountable to the public, seems to be still very distant. That the licence fee is the worst of all possible methods for funding public broadcasting seems to matter not a twitter.

Australians got rid of their TV licence by mass refusal  to pay – the Brits are a more obedient lot, it seems.

Polls (except those rigged by the BBC) pretty consistently show 60 per cent of the public annoyed that they are paying the fee.  After recent scandals, the BBC is now widely mistrusted and even hated for reasons that go well beyond its typically craven journalism (BBC political news), frequent populist vulgarity (countless examples), vast waste, stupid salaries, left-wing trade unions and generalised contempt for viewers. Then there is the corporation’s role running its own contracted force of investigators who launch 17% of all prosecutions in the nation’s magistrate’s courts. The defendants are mainly female and poor – single mums at home during the day when the inspectors call. These women are too polite/intimidated to shut the door on the BBC tax farmers and they are processed through the magistrates’ courts, in order that the chattering classes might enjoy Radio Four.

Despite creating a hideous relationship between the BBC and its viewers, the licence fee has enormous political support. Politicians like the BBC because they are drawn to TV cameras and the BBC has a lot of them. The BBC is conscientious mirroring the Westminster debate. Politicians set the annual rise in the licence fee and appoint the Trust that claims to represent the licence-payer. Nobody opposed to the licence has ever been appointed to the Trust.  The thought that there might be an alternative is never discussed in Parliament, or much mentioned in the media.

Even Murdoch likes the licence fee, for fear that a truly independent BBC, financed by subscriptions, could build a platform to rival his own BSkyB structural subscription broadcasting monopoly.

Then, there is a large public constituency of people who listen to e.g. The Archers, and firmly believe that everyone must contribute to their listening pleasure. Even magistrates like the BBC, which helps finances their house magazine and whose prosecutions provide much of the cash-flow the courts reap from fines. The BBC works hard to keep various interest groups on-side. There is even a legion of rinse-haired fogeys who promote the BBC while styling themselves the ‘voice’ of the viewer and listener. Needless to say, the ‘voice’ gets a BBC subvention.

The BBC has constructed a careful mythology of its own greatness. This, with its £3 billion in licence-fee cash, and a disproportionate share of electromagnetic spectrum, especially in the radio band, the BBC is an institution of influence without equal in Britain.  The licence fee keeps a lot of the chattering classes on the payroll – from Andrew Neil to Ian Hislop via Polly Toynbee. The BBC’s cheques are very useful when it comes to the upkeep on the Provençal (Neil) or Tuscan (Toynbee)  villa.

As of April 2010, the TV licence costs £145.50 and roughly 20 million households pay it. It is illegal to watch ANY television without a licence. The BBC claims this includes computers and games consoles. Where does the money go? Propping up the Groucho Club accounts for only a tiny share, notwithstanding the publicity given to the notorious millions paid in salaries to various celebrities. It is actully hard to say where all the money goes because the BBC’s acounts are a bit like Enron’s. There is known to be a £2 billion pension deficit. Presumably, the licence-fee payers will be asked to pay for this, too. Although there is no risk to the corporation’s top executives, whose pensions are among the richest ever known in the so-called public sector.

This is possibly a lesser black hole than the BBC’s exposure to risky property developments, which focus on the construction of palaces for itself. In addition to the rebuild of Broadcasting House at immense expense in London, whose cost-overrun is certainly not fully revealed by the BBC’s opaque accounts, the BBC,  at an even vaster expense, is currently decanting thousands of its dazed and confused worker ants to a new media city in Manchester.

They are leaving the capital with the grace of the san coulottes departing Paris. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the plight of the BBC apparachniks told they must live in the North of England. But the BBC sees this as a crucial step in the defence of the fee after 2013. As for the credit crunch – who knows?The BBC is  engaged in colossally expensive property developments Manchester, too, although the exposure of these is hard to divine.  Billions seem to be at stake. You can read more about BBC corruption here.

As the BBC knows, I have not had a TV licence for many years. It has even been several years since I have received one of their charmless letters.  For the moment they leave me alone. I think I am possibly on the list of political refuseniks. Do I have a TV? How might I use it?  I consider these questions none of the BBC’s business. I avoid their programmes. I find their relationship with the viewers to be obnoxious and their journalism to be mediocre, tendentious,  but mainly tedious, narrow and self-obsessed. Fighting this ministry of truth in the courts has been a mug’s game (see below). At the local level, they practically own the courts. But they have to be nervous. The BBC is a gigantic contradiction, very close to implosion.  I’d love to see their books. I reckon they are probably bankrupt. And they certainly will be if viewers stop sending them cheques.

Opting out of the TV tax is not as hard as it seems. There are probably a million hard-core resisters and the number appears to be growing. These people are a diverse group ranging from EU-phobes, to people who simply can pay and won’t because the programming is so miserable, as well as others who may ethically object to the ransoms paid to the BBC’s personalities.  Still others detest the patronising drone of its programmes, and then there are those (like me) who simply consider the BBC’s demands unlawful and  impertinent. There are lots of reasons to be a conscientious objector to a scheme that is the worst option on every level.  Can you really get away with not paying? The BBC spends heavily to make you think not. The truth is more subtle.

Those who simply ignore the BBC will, for the most part, get away with it. Even at the best, the BBC manages to proecute only a tiny percentage of evaders – and these are always those who are prepared to admit the crime!

If convicted, it’s not so terrible – maybe more a badge of honour. The fine (usually £150) is hardly more than the price of a licence  and is about as much a badge of shame as a parking ticket. But here’s the key point:  you’ll only get convicted  if you admit it.  The key tactic of resistance is to throw away all the mailed demands, ignore the pathetic threats,  and in the unlikely event that one of the BBC’s hired goons shows up at your doorstep, say absolutely nothing.  What about the detector van? Worry not (read on).

If you are new to BBC resistance, or simply considering overcoming your fears of getting done and joining one of the several announced boycotts, you’ll have plenty of questions. There’s a bit to know. For those new to this fray, I am pleased to present the ‘need to know’ points – 13 of them naturally, pace Proust, although revised and extended, due to the requirements of the material.

1. Know thine enemy. TV Licensing is not an entity or a registered company but a trademark owned by the BBC. The BBC does not wish to be directly associated with the collection of the TV licence so it contracts out the collection to the Capita group, which has a billion pound contract with the corporation. Capita employs a small army of tax farmers (styled TV licence “inspectors”) who visit those who can’t or won’t pay. Unless, of course, they are a high-profile refusenik. Needless to say, those willing to make admissions to these inspectors tend to be the weakest and most vulnerable. So  if you attend the BBC prosecutions at your local magistrates’ court, the people you’ll see prosecuted are single mothers.

2.TV detection is all a Big Lie. There is no evidence that the detector van really exists, other than as a photo-op van filled with scary-looking bits of electronics. The legality of warrentless electronic surveillance by the BBC has never been tested because no detector van evidence has ever been used in court. Privacy and proportionality are merely two of the reasons why it never will be.  The BBC relies for convictions on the admissions extracted on the doorstep by its army of monitors, who get a bonus for every prosecution they bring (though this is not disclosed to the court).

3. The prosecutions depend on confessions. If you do not confess, you will not get done. BBC/TVL prosecutes more than 150,000 people annually but even the BBC admits that a hard core of maybe a million households puts up a finger and get away with it. While most of those who get done are women and on benefits, most of those who don’t are the people the BBC’s inspectors don’t fancy tangling with. One of the highest rates of evasion is in Northern ireland. Wonder why? Only a handful are imprisoned after being unable or unwilling to pay the fine. Typically, the twin-setted, Archers-listening magistrates punish TV Licence evasion more harshly than they do assault. (Visit their courts – and weep.)  The cases are processed by rote and the BBC is represented by a prosecutor employed by Capita. Legal aid is not available. This is British Justice – uncut.

4. Intimidation is believed by the BBC to be the only effective tactic against people termed ‘evaders’ hence the expenditure of millions each year on threatening advertising campaigns claiming (falsely) “TV detector vans can quickly find you.” In one advertisement, a ‘license-cheat’ is seen swinging from the gallows at Tyburn as the mob cheer and spit at the corpse. This passes for humour. The BBC also advertises straightforwardly: ‘Get one or get done’ and promises to know where you live and whether you are licensed because of its all-knowing database. Is there any other organisation that treats its customers in such a manner? But of course these are not consumers in a traditional sense. They can send no meaniningful economic signal to the BBC, as they can to Murdoch, by cancelling Sky.  They are captive ratepayers –  victims, not viewers.  Many people think it is just and proper that those who not not appreciate the BBC, nevertheless must pay for it. They will not explain why if the BBC is loved and respected, it should not be the case that those who love and respect it can choose to pay for it.

5. No alternative to the licence fee has ever been seriously considered by the BBC or governments of either political stripe. With the consequence that the licence fee keeps the BBC entirely dependent on government, for money and governance. The BBC trust is headed by a Labour placeman. All members of the Trust are appointed by the government. The size of the fee and its periodic renewal are matters for the prime minister. The claim that the licence makes the BBC independent is a Big Lie. The BBC in return for the licence validates the British polity by mirroring the parliamentay debate, sucking up to those in power, over-promoting celebrities and above all, defending itself. Politicians of all parties rather like the idea of a broadcaster so firmly under the thumb of politicians, hence tend to defend the fee. Jeremy Hunt, the shadow media secretary, and my own MP, is utterly useless, having advocated only cosmetic changes, in order to perpetuate the fee.  Cameron is worse, slavering on like some demented Archers fan.  Just notice:  Nobody opposed to the licence fee is ever appointed to the Trust. Discussion of the fee itself is simply avoided. Debate is shut down. The BBC even pays a subvention to the Voice of the Listener! Never mind that  polls consistently show a growing majority of the population objects to the fee and that popular consent for it has vanished.

6. The fee is contradictory to the stated right in the European Convention on Human Rights (adapted  by the UK) to receive information without interference. It also arguably contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (a meaningless document which the UK has also signed.) The collection of the licence fee, which is essentially a poll tax, uses disproportionate methods that invade personal privacy.  The taxation of television contradicts the television without frontiers directives by making it illegal to watch foreign satellite broadcasts without a permit. Profoundly illiberal, the BBC is entirely driven by the insane and self-defeating wish to retain the licence fee. In the BBC newsrooms are NUJ posters with the demand: “Defend the licence fee.” Now the BBC even wishes to extend the licence fee to networked computers.  TV licence fees are not an exclusively British problem, although we invented them. These so-called public broadcasters (really state broadcasters) are political playthings everywhere. Made absurd by an infinite digital media diversity that makes their entire rational absurd, they demand exemption from normal human rights laws to protect their licence fees. But there are plenty of reasons to challenge these fees nonetheless – with the proviso that it will take years and enrich only the lawyers. The much better way to sweep these fees away is a mass refusal to pay them. There is precedent for this.

7. So, with unlimited legal resources, the BBC can expose any litigant-challenger to enormous and continuing costs. Resisters and conscientious objectors have preferred to use defensive techniques – not exactly pouring boiling oil over the BBC’s inquiry agents, but not making incriminatory statements, either. This technique of passive resistance is highly effective. it involves ignoring all the threatening correspondence from invented people at the licence bureau; ensuring that TV sets cannot be seen or heard from the front door, and responding to any inquiry by men with clipboards with the words, “I cannot help you,” and closing the door. Some say you should write to them withdrawing their right of implied access even to approach your door. But simply ignoring them avoid entering into correspondence with these people, and the waste of a perfectly good stamp. The so-called inspectors for all of their blue fluorescent costumes have no right of entry and one is not obliged to even reveal one’s name to them (indeed it is strongly advised not to do so).  Those who employ this entirely legal stonewall tactic report that the BBC’s thugs (who have only rarely been known to physically assault recalcitrant television owners) invariably move on to lusher pastures (usually deprived areas and council estates, where single women are easily intimidated into signing the “witness statement” that the BBC’s inquiry agents will subsequently triumphantly produce in court, for the benefit of the credulous magistrates). This has been descrbed as the criminalisation of female poverty. The BBC is unabashed.

8. BBC prosecutions amount to 17 per cent of all the business conducted in the magistrates courts according to Sarah Lyall in the New York Times and those prosecuted are never fined the £1,000 threatened but usually £150 plus of course prosecution and court costs and also a special fee used to sustain the victim counselling scheme. It seems that much of the cost of the magistrates courts (when they are not hearing prosecutions for wheelie-bin violations)  is paid for by the aseembly-line of fines for TV licence evasion.  A court can raise several thousand pounds for a TVL docket – and they all do. Magistrates are kept ‘on side’ to TVL through a specific PR campaign aimed just at them. TVL advertises lavishly in the glossy magistrates’ magazine.  Magistrates are an odd lot. It is sad to see why people would seek this work. If you want to test the oxymoron “British justice” just drop in and see your local magistrates deal with TV licences in batches of 100 at a time.  Failure to buy a TV licence is a conviction that does not need to be disclosed on a US visa waiver!

9. The BBC will not allow serious or continued discussion of the licence fee on its own airwaves nor is there any evidence that the trustees or governors before them have ever seriously considered an alternative. Despite clear evidence that most of the BBC’s fee-payers would like to be offered an alternative, nobody advocating one has ever been appointed to the governors or trustees.  The House of Commons media select committee has never held a hearing on whether there should be a licence fee.  The commentariat defend it while never disclosing their own BBC earnings.

10. BBC/Guardian propaganda notwithstanding, Rupert Murdoch is the licence fee’s biggest fan. Although he knows perfectly well that the licence fee is a ridiculous, self-deafeating and unfair tax to the benefit of a competitor, it suits him that Sky is the only national subscription TV platform (cable is very regionalised), and it terrifies him that the BBC could produce a competitive terrestrial subscription platform, to compete with his electronic programme guide and conditional access monopoly. One might have thought the BBC would seize the  opportunity of subscrptions (Murdoch has proven it works) and liberate itself finally from a detested fee and a sordid relationship with its viewers. The BBC would have a chance to establish a  powerful and profitable platform business, by itself or in partnership with others, should they have introduced a free view box capable of conditional access. But Greg Dyke (who was against the licence fee before he was for it; he may now be against it again) boasted that the BBC sabotaged this idea at the Department of Media. Dyke and the BBC engineers ensured that a crippled box was offered to the public, with no possibility of conditional access. In other words: there was an a priori exclusion of even the possibility of subscription televisionin which viewers could make their own choices. What a fool he was. The BBC cut itself off from the future and boasted about it!  BBC manipulation of technical standards to inhibit competition is nothing new, of course, as the disaster of digital radio has reaffirmed.  (Dyke was sacked because proving doubly that he is a fool, he’d actually believed the BBC was independent and could challenge the government on the war in Iraq.)

11. Other than the uniquitous BBC services, public broadcasting meanwhile hardly exists in the UK (unless you count Big Brother) and there is no access or money or even frequencies for anyone who wants to compete with the BBC. The BBC has ahieved the status of a secular religion (maybe a little like the NHS) where it has successfully confused its own identity with something the public understands to be desirable. Unfortunately, the BBC has long been an obstacle to a diverse public broadcasting culture in the UK, through its monopoly of the funds not to mention its monopoly of the frequency spectrum (half the VHF band) (and obstruction of competition).

12. The BBC tells us frequently that it is a beloved British institution – so why is it so terrified of asking viewers and listeners to pay voluntarily, like every other media company? Murdoch has persuaded almost 10m people to pay for Sky. Could not the BBC do at least as well offering subscriptions. If the argument is universality, there is nothing to stop them giving away some of their programs. Or they take a few ads (which the BBC already does – in America.) The BBC has never explained why it needs to be so big, so imperial, so obsessed with itself – or even for that matter why it publishes Hello magazine in India.  Why shouldn’t we have real public broadcasting, accountable to the public?

13. The BBC was the model for the Ministry of Truth in 1984 and in 2008 it really has become a Big Auntie but with a vicious temper and gutter tastes. They claim to be loved, but don’t trust that their output is saleable.  In Australia, public revulsion with the ABC led to a boycott of the licence fee, which politicians were forced to repeal. Subsequently, ABC seems neither much better nor worse, although the media choices available to all have expoloded, with the Internet and digital wireless, satellite and cable.  When will the British say enough and refuse en masse to pay? It would probably not take much to make the entire licence fee edifice crumble. If the BBC wants to become part of a diverse public broadcasting sector, good luck to them. But the argument for the licence fee is a tissue of lies, wrapped in hypocrisy.  But will anything change? You gotta ask yourself the question: are the British willing to stand up to the bullying BBC, or when the Inspector calls, will they revert to the customary reflexive cringe?

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53 Responses

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  1. Richard Herley said, on November 22, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Well said. The cringe, I think, despite Brand & Ross.

    BTW your text is very hard to read using Camino (a Firefox derivative) on the Mac. The background colour is dark blue — not much contrast. I had to select it.

  2. TV Licensing said, on November 24, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    Brilliant summary.
    The mythical ‘detector van’ is the biggest con out there.

  3. James Callaghan said, on December 11, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Well said, but I prefer the term TV TAX.
    Were the stinking Broon’s Broadcasting Company ever to be subscription only it would be bankrupt in 30 minutes.
    We pay the extortion of the TV TAX for the dubious honour and privilege of being fed a
    load of government propaganda, pap and recycled sewage.
    For the last 30 years ITV alone has surpassed the BBC crap a hundred fold.
    Finally, one does not normally get fined or imprisoned for NOT purchasing a packet of
    soap, unless, of course one shoplifts it.

  4. Charlie said, on December 11, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    There in fact perhaps four detector vans – not that many per square inch really. But they only detect on one side of the van, making it a little tricky to be effective on one-way streets. And as you have said, evidence from them has never been used in court.

  5. Jonathan Miller said, on December 11, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    I must apologise if I doubt this.

  6. Zack Albion said, on December 11, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Yuletide salutations all,
    I have not payed the TV Tax since the start of Novermber this year.

    The threatening letters are coming thick & fast, & we have been “promised” a visit from “Inspectors”.

    I am so fed up with the pro EU bias that I could not, in all good conscience, continue to pay fior the BBC. It is rather akin to asking German Jews in 1930 to pay for Nazi party conferences.

    I can pay, I simply have reached a point in life where I have to stop moaning about the BBC & actually stand up & be counted – ireespective of the consequences.

    Long live BBC Resistance.

    • Toby Madrigal said, on November 8, 2015 at 9:50 pm

      Yes Zack, but have you done what I did 15 years ago and unplugged and gave away my TV on the last day of the licence? It should be made very clear that you only get prosecuted and fined if you have a television.

  7. Tom said, on December 11, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    I recall the so-called glory days when Lord Boothby was wheeled out at the defender of the nations traditional virtues and the ikon of culture. This shows little has changed. It was his view that the BBC was there to keep the peasants happy. The BBC has made a few good programmes, more by accident than design, but only a few, and given the money it has had as well as the quasi-monopoly of some sectors chance alone might explain that. What we forget is the relentless promotion down many decades the BBC gave to the smoking habit, and how little coverage it gave to the questions being asked.

  8. Charlie said, on December 11, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    Jonathan – fair point; they may have fixed it by now. It was certainly the case five or six years ago: I used to work for TVL. It is academic though, both because there are so few vans and because the evidence is unlikely to be admissable.

  9. Vronsky said, on December 12, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Their database is shit. A few years ago I received regular cards from them saying they had no record of a licence at my address, and an ‘inspector’ would call. I was seldom home, and had a TV licence, so ignored the threats (which included a threat of forced entry).

    And then, one day I was home when the inspector called. Do you have a TV licence for this address? he asked- pointing to an entry on his clipboard. I looked. The address was mispelled. No, I said. Do you have a TV? Yes. He was visibly delighted. Ittook himabout 20 minutes to fill out his form. He advised me I would be summonsed. Why? For not having a licence. It was fun telling him that I had a licence for this address, but not the (mispelled) one on his clipboard.

    The database cannot recognise synonyms for flat names – 0/1 G/L, 0.A and many variants all refer to the same household.

    At that time I had no issue with the BBC’s output, largely because I seldom watched television. it’s different now – the political bias is utterly blatant – and I’m not a Tory, by the way.

  10. Clorinda said, on December 13, 2008 at 8:39 am

    I threw out my TV nearly 2 years ago now and have never regretted it. Especially now since with all the Catch-up websites, I can watch the one or two programs that are any good without a TV Licence. Plus I can watch them when it suits me, not when they think I should watch them.

    What you didn’t mention in the blog is how to get TV licencing off your back. I started to get their threatening letters when I got rid of my TV and licence and dicovered through research on the internet that the only way to get them to back off is to write to them withdrawing their “implied rights of access” to my property.

    Everyone has implied rights of access to someone’s property: ie you can walk on someones land in order to knock on their door or deliver a letter etc. But, you can withdraw these rights in writing. This means that if you write to TVL and do this, they have to respect the law and not send one of their army to knock on your door. Otherwise they would be trespassing.

    They wrote back to me telling me they would not “go on my land”. (I told them I would sue them for trespass if they did). I also told them that if they sent any more correspondence to me this would viewed as harrassment and I would also sue them. They backed off and I haven’t heard from them since.

    They did say that they would write to me in 3 years time in case I had moved away. Which I suppose is fair enough.

    All you people who are refusing to pay the licence fee – just try going without your TV. You’ll find your quality of life is much better. You’ll talk to your family, you won’t find yourself a slave to the schedules and you’ll find you have loads more time to do more constructive things rather than watch the rubbish that is broadcast these days!

    • Toby Madrigal said, on November 8, 2015 at 10:09 pm

      Clorinda, you talk a lot of sense. I gave up my TV about 15 years ago. I gave it away. Yes, I’ve had harassment and when they call I let them in. They see the wirelesses, the books that I get from the charity shops each October ready for the long winter nights. The kind people next door sometimes invite me round (we have antique telephones coupled up with magneto generators for ringing!) and they have the TV on. The soaps ( Eastenders/Hollyoaks/Emmerdale Farm/Coronation Street) and all people are doing is shouting at each other! I’m not paying £150 a year for that drivel, £150 keeps me and my little dog for six months

  11. fewqwer said, on December 13, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    Great article Jonathan.

    I’ve been telly tax free for over 3 years now, so by now there’s over £400 in my meagre savings account that would not otherwise be there. Perhaps Jonathan Ross would have spent it on a pair of silk socks.

    I got rid of my TV, but I still watch the odd programme on my PC using Zattoo.

  12. Sao Paulo said, on December 14, 2008 at 11:15 am

    I’ve been without a BBC TV Licence for 19yrs as you know Jon,

  13. Will said, on December 15, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    An excellent read. The sheer arrogance of the BBC takes my breath away.
    Lets’s consider BBC Wales: it is a monolith employing thousands. It has massive and disproportionate impact on broadcasting, as it uses public money to take away ITV Wales’s news & current affairs audience.
    On top of this, its management is howling because the BBC Trust has turned down its plans for very localised broadcasting. It wanted our money to outcompete local weekly newspapers! And now it says it may have to make redundancies as a result. Why did it take people on for this doomed enterprise.
    And why does the BBC have to do any localised broadcasting at all? It’s city radio stations could be run commercially. Sell them off. Sell Radio 1. The private sector would do just as good a job at no cost to us.
    Am I the only one infuriated by the BBC running ‘consumer programmes’ like Watchdog, or in Wales X-Ray. As an organisation devoted to denying consumer choice – what right have they got? I could go on…but I fear it is bad for my health.

  14. […] I came across this today via a tip off Guido’s “seen elsewhere list”. Jonathan Miller provides a spectatularly comprehensive roundup of (a) the sheer iniquity of the telly-tax-scheme, and (b) what to do about it at indiviual level. Worth a read, and worth also spreading virally. […]

  15. […] I came across this today via a tip off Guido’s “seen elsewhere list”. Jonathan Miller provides a spectatularly comprehensive roundup of (a) the sheer iniquity of the telly-tax-scheme, and (b) what to do about it at indiviual level. Worth a read, and worth also spreading virally. […]

  16. Nick Sherman said, on January 21, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    If the BBC can afford to pay Jonathan Ross £19 million, then it cannot possibly need my £139, so I will not pay it any more.

  17. Andy said, on November 3, 2009 at 2:57 am

    Great Writeup!.. Love the heads up. The bit that made my ears prick-up was the bit you said about,

    ” The taxation of television contradicts the television without frontiers directives by making it illegal to watch foreign satellite broadcasts without a permit.”

    I am so sure that breaks the human rights act. (freedom of expression) and also you have to pay a BBC to watch non UK broadcasts (satellite).

    I wish i had the money to take the BBC to court to answer as to why?

    Hope to read more of your write up, perhaps an update to TV licensing might pop up.

    and another point, the top of the letters say

    TV licencing. Not PC/DVD/Mobile fone/TV licensing.

    Thanks Jon again… very informative.

  18. huttonwhitewash said, on November 22, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Well done Nick Sherman, my sentements too!

  19. Geoff Dunn said, on January 10, 2010 at 12:49 am

    The quality of content, programming, bias etc are in my opinion irrelevant to the main issue which is the sheer oppressiveness and injustice of a system like this which is in complete opposition to the fundamental ideas of freedom, choice and democracy on which our society is supposed to be founded. As I have said before elswhere, the license system is a kind of legalised protection racket whereby if you do not cough up to the BBC then they / the government will not allow you to do business with other tv broadcasters.

    Yes it is the law but it is bad and unfair law and should be abolished.

    On top of that once the money has been extorted from us we have no influence over how it is spent and the BBC (like some of our politicians) is enabled to live in a world protected from the realities the rest of us have to face like income / budget limitations, real accountability, need to obtain value for money etc.

    There is no reason why, if the BBC must continue existing, that it could not produce essential programmes only and buy blocks of ad free airtime from commercial broadcasting companies.
    At the very least the whole thing should be scaled down and maybe we licence payers should receive a return on our investment over all these years.

    Perhaps the best thing would be to kill it off all-together rather than risk it regrowing into the monster it is now.

  20. Peter Roberts said, on March 25, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    We had a TV licence up until last year..My Wife would make fortnightly payments…Whenever we fell behind we were subjected to continous hassle and threats!!The straw that broke the camels back was a so called “Licensing Officer” calling at my home and trying to imtimidate my Wife on our doorstep!!They were even trying to find out what make of television we had and when we last sat and watched it! (rarely)
    We have since moved home, and i have already had a visit from them, i have refused to give them any information and wouldnt sign anything…..The letters have already started dropping through our door…I am not prepared to be “Bullied” and harassed by the BBC!! I have no desire to watch BBC….I will not be scaremongered into paying for something i dont use and couldnt afford anyway!!

  21. Sally Moxon said, on June 1, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    I took the BBC to court for invasion of privacy, harassment and extortion at the end of 2008 after suffering eighteen months of intimidation from their TVL agents. I also asked for an injunction to stop any further contact by these people who were constantly informed that I have no television and have not watched tv for many years. It is, by the way, also a breach of Principle 4 of the Data Protection Act for BBC TVL not to update their records upon receipt of notification by the person concerned that he or she does not have a television and has no equipment in their property allowing downloading of live tv programmes. The process was bizarre and has taken as long as the intimidation.

    Judgement is expected in June 20010. I have only recently read Jonathan Miller’s excellent article: what he said is absolutely correct.

    • Toby Madrigal said, on November 8, 2015 at 10:28 pm

      Good for you Sally Moxon, I nearly took this route when TVL refused to make an appointment with me to confirm I had no TV. In the end a chap came and He came in and was satisfied I only used wirelesses.
      Upstairs in my bedroom, I have an Eddystone 840C short-wave receiver that picks up more stations than someone with all the Sky channels possible. Most countries have an English speaking service and it’s very entertaining. Plus I read a lot and each October I visit charity shops for books to see me through the long winter nights. A television set? No thank you, when housesitting for friends I rarely bother to put it on!

  22. Clare Shortall said, on July 4, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    Sally and Geoff – sadly I can completely relate to your posts! And thank you Jonathan Miller for campaigning against this. I am actually in the process of writing a letter to my local MP after suffering harassment by one of these ‘inspectors’. As only a recent home owner, this was the first time Id been subjected to it but it took me completly off guard – the guy knocked on my door just as I was trying to leave for work and even appeared professional and well spoken. I explained we dont need a license because we only use our TV set to watch DVDs, which as the TVL’s own website explains, is perfectly legal:
    ‘You do not need a TV Licence if you only use your TV to watch videos and DVDs or as a monitor for your games console’

    Of course, having no previous experience of con artists, when someone is standing there intimidating you by telling you that you are breaking the law, you start to doubt yourself (it’s not as if id memorised the words of the website to quote back to him). What ensued was a horribly protracted exchange in which he tried to dupe me into signing what I now know to be one of these witness statements. I told him I would never sign anything without reading it first (clearly he didnt want me to do that) and i was even more aghast when, on reading it out loud to him, the very first line was a form of ‘confession’. He went from polite, to patronising, to verging on aggressive. I was actually shaking and he still continued – and you know why, because they are on commission! When he eventually decided to ‘let me go to work’ (err..”thanks”!) he was no more than 3 minutes before deciding to come back and knock on my door Again! This time i felt like a prisoner in my own home, unable to leave for work, which is an absolutely absurd situation to be in. As it’s my first house, it only dawned me when i eventually escaped that it was my own property and I could have told him to get off my land (years of living in shared houses you tend to forget that).

    These thugs get a kick out of intimidating people in their own homes. As Johnathan says, they dont come round in the evening when more people are likely to be watching TVs, they come round when they think ‘man of the house’ is not at home. Surely it is illegal to lie about what someone is signing, leaving them open to be taken to caught!? Had I been partially sighted like my grandmother/not so well informed/new to the UK etc, I would have had to rely on his verbal claims (lies), and not able to read and understand the implications of the form he insisted I sign.

    Surely in this day and age such a method of collecting payment (sending round the heavies to knock on doors to collect a form of tax!) is at best medieval, and at worst unlawful?

    I know I should just not open the door/shut it in his face next time one calls but Id be tempted to tell them in no uncertain terms what I think of them…

    Best of luck to you Sally and keep up the campaigning/resistance everyone.

    • veganpanda said, on December 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm

      “I know I should just not open the door/shut it in his face next time one calls but Id be tempted to tell them in no uncertain terms what I think of them…”

      I’ve not paid the bbc’s tax for well over 5 years, I’ll tell you how I’ve done this and continue to; 1) I cancelled my direct debit 2) A few days later I received the 1st of many demand letters, I did NOT open it (I knew what it was) I wrote on the envelope “no contract, return to sender”, the next demand a couple of weeks later was addressed to “the legal occupier” and not to me 3) I began to get the bbc bullies (inspectors) knocking every so often, I didn’t hide away and I open the door to see who’s there, I DON’T utter a single word or converse with them at all 4) Shut the door on them and get on with your life! :))

  23. Clare Shortall said, on July 4, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    PS sorry, I meant to write ‘taken to court’ obviously..I was typing in quite a fury as these ‘inspectors’ make my blood boil!

  24. Jayne Burton said, on July 8, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Brilliant and so glad I was referred to this site. Just had a visit from one of the ‘inspectors’ telling me I had no licence. I told him I could get no signal in my basement flat as signal bad here and other flats have to use cable. He told me the previous tenants managed, to which I advised him that they also had cable, which is a luxury I cannot afford being unemployed. I hasten to add that this was via my entry phone and not at the front door. He told me the detection unit would check if I was using my TV. He also kept requesting entry which I refused, and didn’t give him my name. He buzzed again 5 minutes later but I ignored it. How are these people allowed to intimidate people in their own homes, it doesn’t seem right. I am now waiting for a letter from them!
    Thanks again Jonathan.

  25. poowee said, on October 19, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    I don’t watch tv because I haven’t got one and don’t want one. I haven’t had one for more than a decade because I know that if I did have one I’d probably watch it, and waste my time sitting glued to the box like a robotisized, lobotimized sheepish lemming. When I tell people I haven’t got one most people’s (aghast) reaction is “What do you do?” or they are left dumbfounded. If I’m with my missus and/or daughter they say “What do you think/do ?” as if I’m responsible for some terrible oppression, despite the fact that WE (our family) came to the decision to ditch tv after considerable discussion since we weren’t watching it that much anyway and so there seemed little point keeping it. WHAT DO WE DO !!!! We talk to each other, we talk to our guests/friends, we listen to music, we read (sometimes to one another), browse the web, my missus draws and paints, I muck about with operating systems, computer/network hardware (& fail to play guitar properly), and (this might seem a bit weird, but) we go to the park or nearby rural beauty spots, we visit friends and relatives (and sometimes HAVE to watch THEIR tv 😦 , and when we do we’re usually reminded how great it is not to have one) we go on bike rides (admittedly, not too often since northern England ain’t the best place to enjoy this, especially in the winter). We even watch DVDs sometimes, and yes stuff that has previously been on telly, but the great thing is, we watch it when we want, when it fits in with our day. It revolves round us, not the other way round. We had a friend come to stay with us for a couple of weeks and he thought it was a bit weird us not having a tv, but after living without a telly for a fortnight he reckoned it was an enlightening experience for him, that was months ago and he’s not switched his on since he reckons he’s gonna get rid of it. We still pay our tv licence though. Well it’s public duty isn’t it ! ……..
    ……… NOT ! ……. 🙂
    Oh btw, tv licence investigators have NO RIGHT of entry into your home. And think about this, the tv is a piece of RECEPTION equipment, it does NOT transmit. So other than the audio emanating from the speakers (which could be coming from your neighbours set) what EXACTLY do these vans DETECT !!!! ???

  26. richard johnson said, on June 29, 2011 at 4:45 am

    I have to stand up and say that ,the so called (goons)the tv licence enforcers are only doing a job irrespective of wether you think its right or wrong to pay for a tv licence .
    These people are ordinary human beings who applied for a job .
    Given the state of the countries unemployment rate the (goons) enforcers are i should imagine overjoyed just for the fact that they are employed.
    Ok disagree with capita ,tvl ,bbc the government ,but some of the language and put downs of these ordinary folk doing a job is nothing shortof degrading and damn right disgusting .
    These people like the rest of us have mortgages ,and families to feed !!!!.
    maybe they should all be sacked live on benefits which you the general public will foot the bill for ….think about it strongly !!!!blame the game not the player they just want to earn a living like the rest of us ,u should be ashamed and appaled at the way these people are put down and judged .thankyou for reading and hope it makes you see !ordinary people doin an honest days work to put food in their families mouths .

    • Toby Madrigal said, on November 8, 2015 at 10:36 pm

      Richard, although I’m a ‘refusenik’ ( got rid of my TV 15 years ago so no licence) I agree with your remarks.

  27. maturecheese said, on September 8, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Can’t they just get a Police Officer to accompany them if they need to gain access to your property to check if you have a TV?

  28. Jim said, on April 18, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    There is an additional reason in Scotland not to pay a BBC fee
    And it is the constant anti-Scottish government / independence / SNP
    bias and the unionist propaganda that oozes out of the BBC every day.

    • Colin James said, on March 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm

      I totally agree, regardless of who you vote for the democratic process should be held up at all costs especially by a public funded state broadcaster paid for by a tax which is enforced by law.
      Living in Scotland we are very poorly served by most media, the newspapers are all pro Westminster power over us and can only be described as hysterical rather than informative but the BBC are no different and they think it goes unnoticed or at least push the limits of what they can get away with.
      It makes me angry when this secretive organisation proclaims how trusted and impartial they are when they clearly are not, maybe they even believe the lie now that it has been said so many times.
      It`s quite astonishing to watch their clear political bias in action, mostly on a daily basis now and on every story they can misrepresent to suit their own agenda. Thank god for the internet!
      There is talk amongst a fair few people in Scotland now of a mass non payment of the tax and indeed I spoke to an 80 year old man who had made a journey from Aberdeen to Glasgow to take part in a demonstration and march against the media who had stopped paying.
      BBC Scotland have shut down comments on their bias news reporting in Scotland as the independence debate moves forward, the only part of the UK to do so!
      If this can happen in Scotland then it can happen in the rest of the UK also but i`m sure it already has on many different issues.
      Forget mirroring the UK populous, the BBC is there in part to hold the British Establishment in place. Ever wonder why we don`t protest as much as other countries in the UK? We`re probably the most misinformed!

      • Harold said, on October 28, 2013 at 10:55 pm

        I didn’t think it would be long before the monstrous regiment of whining scotchmen put their oar in. Ever the victim! No matter the political establishment is one they they dominate, or that a country paid for by English money and exempted even the most basic contribution to the ‘multicultural experiment’ to which scotland’s ‘proud’ [i.e. non-existent] contribution used to be such a favourite parliamentary theme of Charles Kennedy and others anxious to misdirect us from the conniving of scottish politicians who use high office to settle historical scores. Consider a non-white population in scotland straining to reach 0.6% as recently as 2006 according to the pro-scottish Independent newspaper. Consider the illegal 2003 strike at scottish asylum offices we footed the bill for [in every sense since it involved sending applicants to England], or the anti-asylum demonstrations in Glasgow given the sort of sympathetic coverage in 1999 no English citizenry could have expected from that filthy organization, run as it is by and for scots. Consider a seldom broken all-white selection policy in sports that gets no criticism at all in a hysterically ‘anti-racist’ southern media, especially the BBC, or even that the corporation hierarchy flat-out refuses to divulge scotland’s contribution to the licence fee [doubtless because of its pitiful nature]. There is only one truth here: everything is never enough for scoundrels. You cannot even give your own people the facts. Independence? Define the term. A chance to get your greedy snouts into a taxpayer trough of goodies far bigger than England could provide is not what I’d call independence, and with bumptiousness, self-importance and an over-developed sense of entitlement the chief characteristics of that sh**** little country you are sure to enjoy reinforcing the ludicrous image of a ‘fiercely independent’ people even as the EU Commission rubber stamps the cheque. I can’t wait for the first ‘research’ telling Europe how scotland subsidises most of the continent. They don’t know you like we do.

  29. Kai said, on June 21, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Wow couldnt agree more..I’m a the stage of the threatening letters now but I won’t pay..even funnier is that I did pay up until recently and within 48 hours of cancelling my direct debit I had a letter through the funny…
    The letters came in my name ,then stopped and area now addressed to the “occupier”
    I’m now at the letter stage telling me I’ll get a visit and maybe court…..
    So help me as I’m confused (not difficult) if after a visit(whether I’m in or not) what then happens? It’s court yes and fine etc? And I’m told It will be a warrant….so surely this means I know have no choice as I don’t want prison..or am I wrong and if so what do I do?
    Or do you suggest I write stating to stay away from my property?

  30. Jo said, on August 20, 2012 at 3:13 am

    I Cant understand why uk citizens contue to pay tv license for the crap that BBC produces. I lived there for 6 months and hardly their programs. Everything is repeated many times, and people pay for that????

  31. david mccracken said, on October 22, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    why should we pay for rapists/perverts/degenerates/liers/homosexuals/lesbians/crooks/tax dodgers and plane out and out weirdos/pimps. theres a job for everyone abnormal at the BBC. As a licence payer, and none of the above, i think it`s time to stop paying into the pockets of the rich and not so famous employees at BBC. Cancel the tv licence.

  32. David said, on November 4, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    It is wonderful to find so many people so angry at this injustice, I had it easy with these people but then I can be very “persuasive” myself.
    If my wife came face to face with a TV tax collector I don’t know what would happen though, we have 2 tvs, 2 VHSs, a dvd player, a dvd/hdd recorder and 4 internet networked computers in this house. However nothing receives TV as it is transmitted, that is the crucially important bit. And brother do we have a full life without a timetable to keep!!!!!!!!
    Ignoring all letters seems to be the best answer and say nothing on the doorstep, especially not your name whether the Taxman knows it or not, just gently close the door with your foot and a smile.

  33. Eileen Robson said, on January 7, 2013 at 2:29 am

    Like your comments, but no one has mentioned that as we are now digital, the BBC should be able to cut you off if you don’t pay,just like sky. I think it’s time we all stopped paying just as Austrailia did.

  34. Bob said, on January 8, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    Another reason not to pay the fee is because the statute requiring the public to pay, the Communications Act 2003, is not a properly constituted statute. No statute created after 1972 by the United kingdom parliament is valid because those in parliament are guilty of common law treason. There by they are constitutionally not a de jure parliament but an unlawful assembly. You can read more at The deception which takes place in our country to which the BBC are a party is classed as a war crime under international law, because the parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, or to be more precise the political parties, conspired treason and other violations contrary to the treaty of Union ratified by the English and Scottish parliaments in 1707. This is a crime at international law and is classed as a war crime. Taking into account the European Convention on Human Rights, Article Two states “Everyones life shall be protected”. One of the exemptions from this is people who evade arrest. So given that the BBC and the principle political parties are in joint enterprise with the commission of treason and war crimes, and it is thereby the duty of the general public to make arrests for such crimes. Thereby any individual acting as agent for the BBC, even going by the name of TV Licencing should be placed under arrest by the public when situation arrises. If the suspected criminals resist arrest and are unfortunately killed in any ensuing attempt to arrest them, this is not a crime under the European Convention on Human Rights. Nor under English law where upon the public have a common law duty to arrest traitors and other criminals. It could be considered a crime not to arrest them under the customry laws of England especially where treason is suspected. The BBC promoting the European Union as a foreign overlord above Queen and Country is common law and statutory treason. The European Convention on Human Rights, has nothing to do with the European Union. Check these facts for yourself and good luck with those arrests, but do your best not to push any inspector under a bus.Call the police first, verify said police are properly constituted Crown Servants under an oath and instruct them to arrest the suspect, take the police officers number if he refuses to obey his oath and assists an offender in common law and statutory treason. This is perjury which ipso facto renders any police cunstable void of his powers and also liable to arrest. Any one who says they are the police but refuse to verify their status as Crown Servants under oath are unlawful, they are encroaching Royal Power which is an offence at common law.

    “constitution is a wonderfull thing he who does not know it is a donkey”

  35. said, on January 17, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    Just where did you obtain the suggestions to compose ““13
    things you need to know about the TV licence (or maybe 130)
    Antimedia”? I appreciate it ,Sylvester

  36. Stuff the bbc said, on January 23, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    Capita tvl are scum and the dross the bbc put on isn’t worth watching.
    Just slam the door on them and tvl won’t smash door down-ignore their warrent as police only attend for breach of peace. See Goon Doyle fail epically on you tube

  37. said, on January 26, 2013 at 9:53 am

    I actually blog too and I am writing something related to this blog, “13 things you need to know about the TV licence (or maybe 130) Antimedia”.
    Would you mind if I personallywork with some of your ideas?
    Thank you ,Angie

  38. Everything is very open with a precise explanation of the challenges.
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    Thanks for sharing!

  39. European Satellite News said, on April 6, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Great source of information, cheers.

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  41. Kelly said, on July 4, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    I have just been bullied on my own doorstep by a tv inspector telling me hes getting a warrent he got my name wrong I didnt tell him my name I just said no she dosnt live here he did this infront of my 3 and 4 year old who both thought he was scarey and proceeded to cry saying they were scared I can just to say afford to feed an cloth my kids while the people who work for the bbc live in a land of luxury nice …. thankyou for this insight I no what to do next time

    • Toby Madrigal said, on November 8, 2015 at 10:42 pm

      Fine Kelly, I just hope you are not watching an unlicensed TV. If you cannot afford the licence, throw out or give away the TV set, just as I did 15 years ago. When the man comes round, yes, I invite him in.

  42. dragongirl said, on August 30, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    ‘ It is illegal to watch ANY television without a licence. The BBC claims this includes computers and games consoles. ‘

    More than anything, this shows either a lack of understanding, or a lack of research (neither instil much confidence). In all their correspondance, and website, it clearly states you need a licence if you watch/record TV AS IT IS BROADCAST. It includes computers and games consoles as you can watch live tv through apps on them.

    If you don’t, it is extremely easy to get them to leave you alone – You simply TELL THEM. I have done this and get no angry letter, no one knocking on my door. It is not a problem.

  43. Sao Paulo said, on December 15, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Jonathan, you might be interested to know the Fake ‘TV Licence Resistance’ Page run by Capita stooges has stolen your article. John Casey who created the Page is passing it off as his own


    SP from the real ‘TV Licence Resistance’

  44. simon said, on December 15, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    Sounds like something for!

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