The Grievance List
The long, long list of issues with the TVL approach
TVs and money
This (long) page contains a fairly definitive list of all the issues with BBC/TV Licensing.
It's a sordid tale of TVs and money, of politicians who don't care and BBC management's arrogance and detatchment from reality.
Read on... if you dare.
- Communication with the public that is abusive, misleading and disrespectful.
- A Doorstepping operation that is of questionable legality and dubious effectiveness in the apprehension of committed Licence Fee evaders.
- An interview methodology that fails to meet basic standards of evidence and process.
- An unduly close relationship with the Courts.
- A Search Warrant mechanism that is cloaked in secrecy and appears to be an abuse of process in its entirety.
- Filtering of cases that is not in the public interest and promotes discrimination.
- Too many opportunities for fraud by rogue employees in an environment with a woefully poor level of supervision, "mixed messages" and confused objectives.
- A prosecution process in which all of the authorities are aware of the flaws in the processes, but proceed anyway - failing to meet the basic requirements of justice.
In Detail - Conceptual Flaws
- In respect of legally licence free (LLF) households, TVL expect (them) to prove a negative. TVL also demand to make repeated visits because proving non-reception at a point in time is not sufficient "guarantee" to them that the situation will remain unchanged.
- Whilst TVL goes to great lengths to use a variety of euphemisms around their desire to "check" Audio-visual (AV) equipment in people's homes, it is clearly, in legal terms a Search. We do not want to participate in any activity that challenges the implicit assertion that we are living our lives within the requirements of the Law without good reason. We neither wish to be required to prove our innocence, nor to indulge the associated home search process.
- TVL do not publish detailed advice about lawful and unlawful AV equipment configurations. This makes it difficult for individuals to assert that a given AV configuration is lawful, if it is queried by TVL visiting staff. It also presents the problem of TVL staff making false or exaggerated claims about the need for a licence, and the "need" for equipment to be checked.
- TVL do not publish detailed information about the process to which they wish to subject people. This in itself raises issues with regards to Article 8, HRA [Source: Liberty]
- The letters/visiting regime is outside of legislation. Therefore neither legally licence-free people or Evaders are required to participate. This reflects legal principles on privacy. However, TVL refuse to state clearly the consequences, if any, of refusal. (Again, raising HRA issues).
- The BBC's entire position seems to be based on two contentious misinterpretations of the Law. The first is that the requirement in the Legislation to detect and prosecute evasion equates to a requirement to ensure that every UK address is correctly licensed. The second is that having built up their remit in this way, they then claim legal authority based on the notion of extrapolation of powers. (i.e. if Parliament intended them to police every UK address, then there is an authority to do so even though it is not explicitly stated). This is nonsense, especially in the context of activities which are within the remit of the Human Rights Act.
- As well as a lack of detailed information about AV configurations, there is also a lack of consistency about the offence. TVL's website states that a licence is required to "watch or record TV broadcasts as they are being broadcast", however, in many accounts of TVL visits and court cases, this rapidly degrades to incorporate notions of capability, in line with the Rudd precedent. It is unfair to citizens and unhelpful to all concerned to tolerate this level of inconsistency/inaccuracy in headline information, especially when it is compounded by a lack of published detail.
- TVL consistently refuse to give any advice to citizens regarding their rights. Their communications are a mess of legalese (some of which is missing significant caveats), information about TVL's non-statutory wishes, and misinformation. This places citizens in a difficult position in that they have to seek further guidance, usually from the Internet, some of which is misleading or incomplete. It is not in the public interest for BBC/TVL to communicate in such a partisan way with the public, and again it raises HRA issues. It is inconceivable that a vast, wealthy communications organisation lacks the capability to communicate fairly and clearly with citizens. Therefore we presume malicious intent.
- TVL field staff are subject to a rigorous performance management scheme. This targets 36 calls per day [Source: TVL Annual Report]. This pressure to "perform" is problematic in itself, and the very definition of "performance" in this context may be hostile to the principles of justice (in that both shortcuts and false reporting are encouraged).
- In the context of performance incentives, and otherwise, the TVL regime is a classic conflict of interest, in which the BBC is both the beneficiary and the operator of the enforcement activity. It is complicated further by the complex relationship between the BBC, Capita and the Courts. In particular, Capita has a financial interest in maintaining levels of prosecutions, both in terms of contract performance, and because it appropriates costs orders to itself (raising, perhaps, £12500 in a single two-hour TVL Court session).
- Representations have been made about the many issues with the Licence Fee enforcement regime. These have been largely unsuccessful. It seems that the BBC Trust lacks the necessary foresight or authority to examine the issues properly. Ministers at the DCMS have denied any role for Government, claiming, bizarrely that this is an issue covered by BBC Editorial Independence.
Ministerial repudiation of accountability would seem to be quite a serious development, with potentially constitutional consequences. In short, we should not have policing of citizens of the UK by any force that is not authorised by, and accountable to Parliament. This Ministerial coyness emanates equally from the two major parties, and we can only hope that something other than self-serving deference to the BBC is in play, though the evidence is not good on this point.
It's sad that in the context of the gross failure of governance regarding the Savile scandal that Ministers and BBC Executives seem to lack any awareness of the possibilities for public harm inherent with a nationwide enforcement operation that lacks any credible control or accountability. A number of TVL field staff have been prosecuted for crimes committed in connection with their employment. These range from fraud and false accounting (which involve false allegations of TV Licence evasion) to more serious and violent crimes.
- The lack of use of electronic detection is a serious and fundamental issue. The Law seems to be based on the assumption that it will always or almost always be used. The poorly-designed, substitute manual process that BBC/TVL has unilaterally implemented is at the heart of the many issues with Licence Fee enforcement.
- TVL letters rarely address the issue of the extent to which TVL demands are simply the whims of the BBC (they are not statutory requirements). It's undoubtedly the case that TVL is exploiting the Public's misperception of them as an official agency to demand compliance despite any meaningful informed consent or legal requirement. It should be a basic principle of good governance that these process/policy requests are clearly distinguished from legal requirements. (There is a precedent for this in the Vehicle Odometer reading request on the DVLA's V5 form).
- Some of the letters compound the issues in (1) by setting deadlines for compliance. The effect of a deadline is to increase the public perception of legal authority behind a demand. There is no requirement to respond at all, let alone within a deadline.
- In the case of the 10 Day deadline letter, it seems likely that the time window is insufficient for a response by the citizen to reach TVL in time for the follow-up "action" or follow-up letter to be cancelled. In previous correspondence the BBC has suggested that this can take 6-8 weeks. The most credible explanation is that the entire gambit is fake, which is not an acceptable approach for a public authority.
- The BBC Trust states that the letters are overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority (as direct mail), however the ASA state that they do not cover them, and the letters are not direct mail advertising. Analysis of TVL direct mail reveals a large number of potential breaches of the ASA Codes. This needs to be resolved. There is no reason why the BBC should not subject their official communications to the same standards and regulatory processes as most other organisations (including Government agencies), however the letters would need to change to achieve compliance.
- The role of the letters is to inveigle the citizen into the TVL enforcement process, which follows from BBC/TVL's lack of statutory authority. As well as the individual threats and demands requiring clarification in regards of legal standing, the overall process also requires this. If the Law protects citizens and enables them to ignore TVL without prejudice, then this should be made clear (and made to happen).
- Some citizens receive these letters every month. This seems wildly excessive and it is difficult to see that level of frequency and repetition as anything other than a campaign of harassment. TVL excuse this by claiming the need to contact new residents at an address previously occupied by someone legally licence free as quickly as possible. However, TVL also claims that the number of LLF households is very small, and Public awareness of licensing requirements is very high. These facts are inconsistent with its claims regarding monthly letters.
The other interpretation is that because TVL is unable to "catch" evaders with any degree of efficiency it simply floods the country with as many letters as it feels it can justify. This seems more plausible, but it also places the burden of TVL inefficiency onto innocent citizens.
In either case, given that the vast majority of the population fully understand the need for a licence, the whole approach is questionable and fulfils the criteria for a long-term campaign of harassment.
- TVL state that the letters can cease if citizens accede to its non-statutory demand that they "get in touch". Aside from this euphemistic approach to communications, many people continue to receive letters after having contacted TVL on multiple occasions. This was observed as an issue by the BBC Trust in its March 2009 Review, and yet the problem remains. "Getting in touch" simply means being told that a TVL sales person may call at the address to "check" the "claim" that no licence is required. It's clear that TVL is inventing terms for its process steps that have no basis in law, and again, it presents them to citizens without setting them into that context. It's difficult to see this aspect of TVL's process as anything other than a coercive gambit to achieve citizens' compliance with Search where none is legally required. TVL should not be using one unacceptable aspect of its own processes as a punishment to promote compliance with another.
- Vulnerable people, including those with learning difficulties and mental illness have reported experiencing severe distress as a consequence of this coercion, and the stress of deciding how to handle TVL aggression and incompetence. The lack of clear information about what will happen in the case of legally licence-free households exacerbates this. In the case of paranoid feelings, the spectre of TVL's false identity, fake threats and coercion looms large. Some people in these groups report buying licences that they do not need simply to stop the harassment.
- In isolation from all of the general issues, above, the wording of some parts of most of the letters is offensive and objectionable in and of itself. It is not acceptable to use phrases like: "We want to ensure you have the information you need before a hearing is scheduled at your local court", or "Official warning: we have opened an investigation". The truth is that both these statements are false and meaningless. There is no trial pending, and no investigation, new or otherwise. It is simply inappropriate to use word games to coerce or threaten innocent people, or to rely on people's credulity to achieve the aims of official communication. The law also requires organisations to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of disabled people. These letters are known to cause severe distress to some vulnerable people, especially those with learning difficulties and mental illness, as well as people with poor English. We can only conclude that the BBC values a notional, marginal increase in Licence Fee revenue above the needs of those people and above the broad requirement for transparency and respect in official communications. If the organisation were properly accountable, it is hoped that this notion would not be allowed to persist.
- Where someone is legally licence free, this process immediately provokes the situation where their innocence is being challenged by an uninvited "official" on their doorstep. This in itself is objectionable, especially since there is no evidence of evasion.
- Legally licence free people are generally asked to undergo an immediate search (in the legal sense) of their premises, with the aim of examining any AV equipment found. As with other aspects of TVL process, there is rarely any suggestion that this is voluntary and not a legal requirement. Furthermore, the citizen has rights under HRA Article 8, and PACE that are not explained, nor is there any meaningful attempt to comply with the requirements of PACE in regards to Search by Consent.
- It is not clear what the consequences for non-compliance with a TVL demand for search are, since TVL do not publish a guide to their processes. (Again, a probable infringement of HRA Article 8). In practice, the TVL staff member leaves, and a further visit takes place at some point in the future. However, there have been a number of instances where this kind of disagreement has led to false allegations of evasion being made by TVL employees, that in some cases are sustained to Summons and beyond.
- With regards to people who admit evasion, or where the TVL staff member sees evasion evidence first-hand, the situation is equally unsatisfactory. The sole form of evidence in most cases is the multi-part paper form: TVL178. This form is unfit for purpose: the questions no longer distinguish legal and illegal behaviours, it is corruptible through the addition of information after signature, the interview process itself is corruptible without leaving any evidence on the form, it is not an accurate or independent record of interview (as required by PACE), and in extreme cases it can be completed without the knowledge or consent of the accused, giving rise to subterfuges to obtain or forge a signature. Some TVL178s are also submitted for prosecution without a signature or without clear evidence of an offence within them, both of which would appear to be an abuse of process.
- In many cases, the citizen does not have the language skills or knowledge of the law to successfully withstand pressure and deceit by TVL staff to complete the TVL178 form. TVL were warned about language/translator issues by CAB in the 2008 Licence Fee review that was undertaken by the BBC Trust. It is disappointing that there is still a problem.
- The fundamental issue is that TVL staff receive commission in respect of doorstepping activities. There is a clear conflict of interest between these financial incentives and the fair process of justice.
- In addition to "visits" being made by Capita staff, TVL/BBC also employ G4S to hand deliver calling cards to unlicensed addresses. It would appear that no legitimate purpose is served by this, because G4S staff never attempt to make contact with householders. The purpose seems to be to create the impression of an "active investigation" by TVL. More generally, the use of Calling Cards by TVL themselves seems questionable. What purpose is served in alerting a resident to the fact that a TVL "visit" has been missed? The most plausible explanation seems to be that TVL has "invested" in the visit and seeks to get some, small benefit from it in terms of harassment.
- TVL Field staff do not appear to receive technical training to support them in their work of examining and testing AV equipment. The reason seems to be that the BBC expects them only to use equipment as an end-user would. However, such technology continues to become more and more complex, and there is also greater diversity of equipment in use. In the situation where a TVL staff member is required (by his/her employer) to prove that a particular AV configuration is never used for broadcast reception, it seems implausible that a level of expertise would not be useful.
- TVL have consistently refused to offer or make appointments for their "visits". This refusal makes it clear that a key objective is to catch evaders by surprise, however this impacts innocent citizens, also. A Freedom of Information request sought information about whether this policy was maintained for disabled people (who may need assistance in properly dealing with the TVL request, which would have to be organised). The response was that it still applied.
In Detail - Search Warrants
- Given the tiny number of TVL Search Warrants, there does seem to be widespread abuse of process. TVL falls at the very first hurdle in this respect, since its practical criteria for Warrant application are not consistent with the requirements of the legislation for "reasonable grounds". Instead, it has various criteria all of which can be (and are) readily satisfied by behaviour that does not require a TV Licence. As a consequence, whilst the number of Warrants is small, the proportion of Warrants that fail to identify evidence of evasion is high. This is not acceptable, as warrants are not to be used for "fishing expeditions". It is also inconsistent with the notion of a reliable means of TV detection. Even if electronic detection were ineffective or too costly in respect of routine use, it would make sense to use it both prior to applying for a Warrant, and immediately before Warrant execution, but this does not appear to be happening. We can only speculate that its effectiveness is so low as to make it irrelevant for all practical applications.
- One of the warrant criteria cited by TVL is non-communication. Whilst this appears to be consistent with S.366 3(a) of the Communication Act, there is clearly an issue here since no one is required to communicate with TVL. We assume, therefore, that TVL's interpretation of the Law is incorrect (and the Law actually relates to a specific non-communication during specific operations designed to target specific "reasonable grounds" for believing an offence is/has taken place, rather than general or strategic non-communication prior to the establishment of any reasonable/rational grounds for suspicion).
Despite this interpretation of the Law, and a further twisting of Withdrawal of the Implied Right of Access (WOIRA) into a complete ban on communication (which it isn't), there are well over 15,000 WOIRA instructions in place (Autumn 2016). This is a good demonstration of feelings about TVL's approach.
- Overall, the entire Search Warrant process seems to be out of date and inconsistent with the features of modern AV equipment. In particular, TV can be viewed on computer equipment, but this equipment is outside the scope of TVL Warrants, being covered by Section 49 of RIPA.
- Video evidence suggests that there is abuse of process within the Search Warrant execution. Where the search and examination provides no evidence of evasion, TVL should leave the premises. Instead they are shown to then begin questioning using their "TVL178" form. It is not acceptable to question someone about an offence that TVL themselves have just demonstrated is not taking place. Moreover, a Search Warrant (failed or otherwise) is not an acceptable method of compelling or coercing Interview under Caution, or undermining PACE rights.
- There is a further offence under S.366 (8) whereby a TVL search is "obstructed" by a person. Although the number of Warrants is small, the proportion in which an allegation of Obstruction is made seems to be very high in recent years. It seems likely that TVL have the political need to get a "result" when they apply for a Warrant, and are choosing to charge the Obstruction offence in the absence of any evidence of Evasion, often on the flimsiest evidence. In the overall context of Justice, it seems unfair to charge Obstruction when it is BBC Policy not to use the full range of powers under the Warrant (i.e. force is never used).
- There is a major flaw of interpretation (or possibly of drafting) within S.366 of the Communications Act. The Act specifies search and examination of any "TV Receiver" found. However, TV Receiver is defined by the 2004 S.I. as being a device installed and used for the purpose of receiving TV broadcast programme services. Therefore a person legally without a TV licence might have a TV Set, but that device is not a TV Receiver, having not been installed and used for reception. That device is therefore outside the scope of any Warrant under this Section. It's not clear what legislators intended here, but the BBC's failure to pick up this issue and deal with it properly puts householders in the invidious position of having to choose between letting TVL breach the terms of the Search Warrant, or possibly receiving an Obstruction charge.
- Following on from (6) above, the initial criteria for Search Warrants are drafted (by the BBC) in terms of "TV Sets", not "TV Receivers", so Magistrates are being deceived when a Search Warrant application is made in the context of an observation about a TV Set because possession of a TV Set is not necessarily an offence. A Search Warrant is being requested in the absence of reasonable suspicion that the sought after TV Receiver even exists.
- Even after Warrant execution, the anomalies in TVL/HMCTS processes continue. People in receipt of Warrants have found it extremely difficult to get straightforward answers and information about the reasons for the Warrant, even though the Warrant Deposition ought to be an official document, readily available to an authorised recipient.
- The various issues with Warrants suggest to us that the Warrant Deposition process is not being properly observed, and that clumsiness in respect of the storage and release of official information may be being done to impede scrutiny. In particular, there seems to be little or no observation of the requirement that "a Judge must be told anything to the knowledge of the party applying which might weigh against the making of the order", in the context of the ex parte Deposition proceedings.
- TVL staff executing Search Warrants do not receive any technical training. This seems highly inappropriate since they are charged with (potentially) presenting technical evidence to a Court on the extent to which the AV configuration is/has been used for broadcast reception or is capable of it.
In Detail - Prosecution Process
- It is not clear what the parameters are for filtering of prosecution cases, or of offering alleged evaders a "last chance" to buy a licence. Ultimately, it seems likely that it is the BBC's interests that are in question here, not the public interest. Whilst evasion is estimated at 5%, or perhaps 1.3 million households, a prosecution rate of 200,000 per year is not going to impact on the overall long-term figure. In addition, it is probable that it is not in Capita's financial interests to achieve anything other than a "tick-over" rate of prosecution, again, at odds with the public interest.
- For an innocent person, falsely accused, the offer to buy a Licence presents a dilemma. There are anecdotal accounts of cases where representations have been made to TVL regarding false allegations, and TVL have agreed to withdrawal on the condition that a licence is purchased - clearly an abusive approach.
- Even acknowledged evaders have rights in the arrangement of their defences. Some of the technical flaws in the interview process documented above are probably beyond the knowledge and capabilities of a typical lay-person to present in Court with any degree of effectiveness. Since TVL prosecutions stand out from other minor offences in that physical evidence of evasion is rarely presented in Court (indeed, rarely exists), the defendant's case rests primarily on deficiencies with his/her confession on the TVL178 form that s/he will lack the capability to address. This seems unfair in the context of the very limited extent to which Legal Aid might apply to these cases.
- In some cases, TVL employees have been put on the stand, and it's clear that their responses have been deceptive. Alternatively, falsified details in the prosecution evidence have been discovered in Court. However, we have not seen any prosecutions for Perjury or Perverting the Course of Justice (outside of the cases brought by TVL themselves when financial fraud by employees has been discovered).
- Whilst the structure of TVL hearings is similar to other minor offences, the approach to volume is not. TVL cases are heard in special dedicated sessions. Typically, these are 2 hours in duration and 80-120 cases are heard in that period. As previously noted, the majority of defendants are prosecuted in their absence, and those hearings can take as little as 30 seconds to process. It's difficult to imagine justice being well-served in such a short period of time.
- In the event of a Not Guilty plea, a second hearing is scheduled. Whilst this is the case with other minor offences, it does place an additional burden on defendants. The information provided by the Courts seems to be poor, and we often have to explain the process to defendants in order that they can get a true perspective on how to approach their cases.
- There are also reports that TVL cases are scheduled at Courts many miles from where defendants live. Given that some defendants are reliant on public transport, it seems quite unfair to undermine someone's right to appear in their own defence in this way.
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