TV licensing - John C. Kirk
Nov. 26th, 2008
12:29 am - TV licensing
The BBC often refer to the unique way they're funded, i.e. they don't have adverts because everyone with a TV has to pay a licence fee. In theory, this means that they don't have to pander to popular tastes, and I've heard Americans speak about this in amazement (e.g. watching fly fishing on BBC2). In practice, it doesn't always work out that way, and the main objection to the system is that you can't "vote with your wallet". They're not perfect, but they do some good stuff, so I don't begrudge them my licence fee; frankly, it's worth it just for Doctor Who.
Having said that, I'm far less happy by the TV Licensing organisation. They've recently been sending me threatening letters, despite the fact that I've had a licence in my flat since 1st July 2004.
On Friday 17th October, I received a letter (dated 13th October). It started out badly: "Important: Please respond to this letter by 28th October to avoid your details being passed on to our Enforcement Division for investigation." So, what if I'd gone on holiday for two weeks? I'd have missed the deadline by the time I got back, which seems rather harsh. They then mention what will happen if I don't reply in time: "The consequences of such an investigation can be serious. [...] Regional Officers will be scheduled to visit your address. If they find evidence that TV receiving equipment is being used on the property without a valid licence, you may be cautioned and your statement will be taken in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 or Scottish criminal law. You may face prosecution and risk the maximum penalty of a £1,000 fine."
As I say, I do have a licence (valid until 30 Jun 2009), which is for "Mr J C Kirk, 10A blahblah Road". By contrast, the red letter was sent to "The Present Occupier, Flat A, 10 blahblah Road". In other words, they're treating "Flat A, number 10" and "Flat 10A" as two separate addresses.
This seemed like an easy enough problem to resolve, so I phoned them up. I spoke to one of their employees, and gave him the reference letter from the red letter along with my licence number, and he agreed that I do in fact have a valid licence. So, end of story? No. He said that they get the list of addresses sent to them, and he can't delete anything. He said that I would get another letter (which he was powerless to stop), and I should just write something on the envelope; I didn't make a note of his exact phrasing, but it was something like "Return to sender, no such address". This seems a bit dubious to me: why would they cross the address off their list based on me scrawling on an envelope, if they ignore a more detailed phone call? If they do, it seems like a pretty easy way for anyone else to avoid paying their licence!
This weekend I did receive a followup letter: "Despite the fact that we have sent you a previous reminder, there is still no TV Licence registered at this address." I thought that I might have more luck if I wrote to them (rather than phoning again), but I've run out of stamps, so I put that on hold. Today, the enforcement squad turned up. I was out at work, so they left a leaflet for me, warning that they'll call again soon.
I don't have any particular quarrel with the employees; what I object to is the process itself. Firstly, they're claiming to be infallible (their adverts say that they know about every address in the UK), which is clearly a lie. Secondly, they have a very aggressive attitude. For instance, today's leaflet says "We said we'd call" on the outside, and on the inside it says "Get a licence before you get another knock on your door".
I understand that mistakes happen: what counts is the way that the company handles those mistakes. In this case, the person I spoke to on the phone lacked the initiative and/or the authority to correct the situation himself, and there was no standard procedure in place for him to escalate the call to someone else. Instead, they're pestering me even though I've done nothing wrong. If the organisation is institutionally incapable of correcting itself then it doesn't deserve to exist.
Here's the thing: I don't like it when people threaten me, and I'm more inclined to do the opposite of what they want. In this case, my instinct is now to say "Bring it on". If they do take me to court, I'm guessing that it will be a pretty short case.
Prosecution: "John doesn't have a TV licence, so we want him to pay a fine."
Me: "Yes I do, and here it is."
Judge (to prosecution): "You suck."
Still, while that would be entertaining, it would also take up quite a bit of my time, so I'll try phoning them again tomorrow. As for their bovver boys, I have no intention of allowing them into the building.