‘TV Licensing’ – an example of 21st Century cynicism

The following letter appeared in the Guardian:

A letter by Rev Paul Nicolson (Letters, 4 April) suggests: “The BBC also sends in the bailiffs to collect unaffordable TV licence fees.” This is incorrect. BBC and TV Licensing do not use bailiffs.

We know some people struggle to pay, so do everything we can to help people spread the cost, including weekly cash payments. TV Licensing worked with more than 460 third sector organisations this year to offer advice and support to people who, for financial reasons, might find it hard to stay licensed. To find out more, visit tvlicensing.co.uk/payinfo.
Dan Higgins
PR adviser, TV Licensing

I sent a letter to the Guardian but received an auto-response email which was pretty rude in tone (I hate being told “resend your email with a postcode” when it wouldn’t cost them anything to say “please resend your email with a postcode”. So this is my response which the Guardian missed out on:

In response to Dan Higgins from the BBC (letters 9 April).

It may be correct that TV Licensing (which is essentially a sort of made up organisation – there is no statutory body ‘TV Licensing’) does not use bailiffs. However they do send letters which include phrases such as “Action required immediately”, “your imminent appearance in court” and “official investigation”. They also send letters with dates circled on the outside and the message “will you be in?”

Their tactics appear to be based on the methods of debt collection agencies. They are designed to create and raise anxiety. However; there is one big difference with a debt collection agency. In the case of a debt collection agency the agency is engaged in a lawful process to recover a debt which they are owed. However; the fact is that no one in this country is under any legal obligation whatsoever to answer the BBC’s question about whether they watch television (or need a license). There is in fact no ‘SORN’ type legislation concerning TV licenses. This is an extra-judicial system which the BBC has made up.

Every year hundreds, thousands of elderly people must receive these letters and be frightened out of their wits. The explanation that the letters start nice and get progressively stronger fails on two counts. Firstly – if no one is legally obliged to answer any of these letters there is no legal justification for the increasing acerbity of the letters. Secondly, on a practical level; imagine the scenario that an elderly person has been in care for a while and comes home. They start opening their post from the top – and the first letter they open talks about their “imminent appearance in court”.

This scheme is extra-judicial and without doubt causes stress and anxiety to innocent people.

We can also add that the letter from Mr Higgins appears to be quite disingenuous. Based on this BBC report (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/uk-wales-12601219) it appears that the courts can use bailiffs to enforce fines relating to non payment of TV Licenses. So, the Reverend, whom Mr Higgins is ‘correcting’, may have been technically wrong – it is the courts not the BBC who sends out the bailiffs; nonetheless he was on the right tracks. In not admitting this, Mr Higgins while purporting to be offering a clarification is in fact muddying the waters.

The BBC scheme to hound innocent people in connection with TV licenses shows total disregard for the law and absolutely scant regard for what might be called human rights – certainly the right not to be molested if you are not breaking the law. That it is permitted says a great deal about the depths to which the authorities in this country have plummeted. They oversee a world in which elderly people and vicars are hounded and harassed by the authorities who should be protecting them. People like Mr Higgins illustrate a philistine and cynical attitude which has no place in a civilized society.

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer