Now they want us to pay for services we do not receive!

When I heard from a constituent complaining of persecution by the TV licensing authority, who not believe him when he told them he did not have a television, I was sympathetic and took up his case. The response I received from the Authority was typical of this government’s revenue arms – inflexible, and determined to raise the maximum cash it can from the long suffering public. As usual I did not take the matter to the press, as the issue came to me in confidence and many constituents do not want their personal details splashed across the local – or sometimes the national – newspapers.

Today I can vouch for the hectoring behaviour of this body, backed up from my personal experience. I have a studio flat in Westminster, which I use when I have to vote after 10 pm in the Commons – or attend a working dinner in London – and then need to be up and out early the next morning for a breakfast meeting or the like. It is not a place I plan to spend my evenings in. I decided not to buy a TV partly because I deeply resent having to pay a poll tax to the BBC for the TV coverage of public issues they choose to put out, and have no intention of paying them two, one for home and one for the flat.I do not like the way they use so many voices who want higher taxes, more European government and more regulation for every problem.I also tire of the very large number of self advertisements on the BBC, when no-one else can buy the advertisement time.

When I moved in they sent me a letter reminding me of the need to take out a TV licence. I wrote back telling them I did not have a TV. For my pains I received another couple of standard letters telling me I needed a TV licence, and that inspectors might call unannounced to check up on me. I wrote back again complaining of the harassment. They replied saying they were sending me another standard letter, that inspectors would be calling unannounced, and they were sorry I was cross about it. They said they would be writing to me in a similar vein at least annually.

It is typical of this government and its state broadcasting corporation that the only thing they care about is extracting more money from the public, and they cannot believe that anyone could possibly live without their TV output. They clearly regard anyone who says they do not have a TV as a liar, and spend large sums on writing them endless letters and sending out inspectors. Their inspectors will, of course, be wasting their time in my case, as I am most unlikely to be in any time they call, unless I am to experience the knock at the door at 2 am, to confirm that I am living in a version of the Soviet Union circa 1960.

We see the daily incompetence and waste of most branches of government, where letters go unanswered for months, where people have long waits to get on a waiting list for a hospital appointment, where many parents and pupils cannot get into the school of their choice, and where the roads are constantly disrupted by the authorities who are meant to look after them. It is galling to discover that the only thing they are persistent about is taking money off us. Life in a democracy requires civil exchanges between the government and the governed, and a framework of trust. Governments should assume honest conduct by citizens unless there is evidence to suppose otherwise, and should have a framework of sensible laws and requirements that most people most of the time respect and wish to follow. As soon as government becomes heavy handed and imposes too many laws – and too many laws that do not seem reasonable to the governed – there is more chance that more people will deliberately or inadvertently break them, and more likelihood that government will then intensify its snooping and heavy handed enforcement. Such a progress makes public life coarser, and creates a growing gap between government and governed. The UK now is suffering from rapacious government, seeking ever larger sums of revenue to feed the bureaucratic monster. It will in turn create an angrier electorate, resentful of how the money is spent and cross about the bullying techniques used to extract it.

The TV licensing website – with comments in 16 languages – tells us they spent over £130 million last year on collecting the revenue and enforcing the charge. They also claim that around 5% of the public with TVs do not bother to buy a licence. It is difficult to know how they work out such a figure, yet still fail to collect the money from them. In this multi media digital age the licence fee is looking increasingly out of date and expensive to collect. It is time for rethink.


  1. Ian Turner
    April 27, 2008

    You are, of course, quite right that the multiplicity of TV outlets and the declining proportion of the viewing public using the BBC brings the Licence fee into question. Whether "Dave" and his cohorts will ever have the courage to ask the question, let alone answer it, is open to serious doubt. Regarding inspectors, I believe I am right in saying that they do not have the right of entry to your property without a warrant. This could, and probably has, been changed since I read it.

  2. Stuart Fairney
    April 27, 2008

    A friend of mine had a very similar experience; they simply cannot accept that anyone could live without them. I do think however that hope maybe at hand. I will need to check this, so please don’t take it as gospel, but I understand we pay the TV licence for TV receiving equipment, not for the actual monitor? So, when this TV finally gives up the ghost or I upgrade to HD or whatever, I simply won’t bother with the traditional aerial or satellite dish, just wire up a HD monitor to the internet and see what subscription services are offered. If SKY are not offering this now, it can’t be long coming. Combine that with a DVD and I need never see or hear Mark Mardell’s skewed broadcasting ever again. Maybe, inside of a decade, prosecutions of penniless women for not paying the BBC poll tax will be a long overdue thing of memory

    (On an aside, did you see the laughable almost Pravda-like 'news' coverage this morning? The reporter outside Downing Street referred to the PM as Gordon Brown but could barely keep the sneer out of his voice when calling the leader of the opposition 'Cameron' and his attempts to brush aside the latest condemnation of the PM, this time from Lord Levy. Combine that with yet more “Ken is going to win London” stuff, not actual news, just cheerleading for the chosen one, and the whole broadcast rather put me on mind of that chap who used to stand on top of the Iraqi information ministry and say the Ba’athist Iraqis were winning gulf war 2.)

  3. John
    April 27, 2008

    We inherited my father in law's house in June 2005. The property has been in the family since it was built in the 1930s and needed total renovation and extending to make it into a decent modernised family house. Due to delays in executing the Will, planning permission issues and building proceedures, the work has only recently commenced.The property has been empty thoughout and due to being gutted is virtually inhabitable.We are, and have paid FULL council tax for all but a period during this time.I know there is a 'shortage' of properties but we are substantially updating and improving this property and I resent being penalized whilst doing this work and having to pay thousands of pounds in tax.
    Throughout this period we have been inundated with demands to pay for a TV licence. These are not polite demands either. Phrases such as 'wilful evasion' and 'you will be interviewed under caution' are frequently used. Despite intervention from the local MP (Alistair Burt) these letters are still arriving.We have given up replying to them, they are just not interested.We have now received backdated bills from the water company despite telling them the property is unoccupied and paying a standing charge only. Perhaps this government have stealthfully changed the rules and full water rates have to now be paid on empty properties. Just another item for us to pay for and not receive the services in return.

  4. Steve
    April 27, 2008

    Having disposed of our TV over 20 years ago, I can say that the letters I receive from the TVLA these days are slightly more tactfully worded than they used to be back then.

    It's still way past time we privatised the BBC.

  5. Mark Sparrow
    April 27, 2008

    The proliferation of petty rules and regulations is as a direct result of EU diktat. Anyone who has ever lived in continental europe where Roman law is widespread, will recognise the petty and innumerable rules that most people ignore. Indeed, it is not possible to live in Italy and not be a law breaker. This is the way we are moving in the UK. I do not wish to be a law breaker. I uphold the rule of law, but if the laws become ever-more Byzantine, then I will become a defacto law breaker. I resent my own government making me an outlaw. Something must be done.

  6. Tony Makara
    April 27, 2008

    The BBC must be privatized, a Conservative government must have the guts to do this. The licence fee is no more than a tax to subsidize a state-sanctioned broadcaster. Even the public information films 'reminding' people to buy a licence carry an ominous, threatening, statist tone. "We know where you live" "Its all on the database" etc. We need a Conservative government to liberate us from this tv-tax, we don't want the BBC, we don't need the BBC and its time to cut the cord on state-sanctioned broadcasting.

  7. Alison Saville
    April 27, 2008

    If the voters of the United Kingdom took time to think about the serious issues of our time, and if people with a genuine concern for our nation's welfare as well as the necessary talent to represent us in Parliament were to stand as candidates and be elected as its MPs, Mr Redwood would soon be in his rightful place at the helm of a seriously conservative political party, which would find itself elected and in a position to tackle the wrongs we are all aware of; and under his leadership that party would get this country on to the right track towards a prosperous and secure future.

    Sorry, just dreaming.

  8. Mike
    April 27, 2008

    As a postman I have to deliver many of these letters from TV licensing. Some of these addresses are equipped with satellite dishes and so are clearly flouting the law. Other addresses may well be occupied by people who genuinely have no television. In both cases, TV licensing are simply wasting their time and (presumably our) money, as the same names crop up again and again, month after month, in my delivery.

    I totally agree with you that it's time for a rethink on the licence fee, and the digital switchover would be a perfect time to change the method used to fund the BBC. A look at the Wikipedia article on licence fees around the world show many alternatives, such as including it into the electricity bill in Cyprus, or the phone bill in Bosnia. Or maybe a form of subscription could be introduced, which would be much easier to do when all television is digital, those who have a TV but don't pay are simply "cut off" and households who don't have TVs in the first place are not bothered with angry letters.

    My personal choice would be to fund the BBC through general taxation or government grants, as is done in Australia, but this issue is something we as a nation need to debate, because the present system is not working as well as it might.

  9. Kay Tie
    April 27, 2008

    If I were to ring up the managing director of TVL and ask him why he doesn't have a firearms licence, to do so every few months, and to threaten to send an inspector, I'd have the police down on me within minutes and an ASBO issued.

    The behaviour of TVL is evidently harassment and grounds for a corporate ASBO. Has no-one tried to do this?

  10. Anna
    April 27, 2008


    I totally agree with you. I dont have a tv to watch broadcast media. I can get all the news i want on the internet, which is nothing to do with the BBC. I pay £25 a month for my internet and am disturbed that since the Beeb has put its shows on digital download, it now thinks we need a license for that too. How totally arrogant.

    I do own a tv for watching dvds and playing video games. It is de-tuned and is not connected to an arial.

    You wouldnt believe the problems i face in trying to convince the License body that im actually not that interested in broadcast TV.

    I just dont want to watch it, but i like my dvd's. Can you please start a campaign to address this. Owning a device that shows video pictures is not the same as plugging in and watching tv programmes.

    In the first days of tv, thats all there was. Aunty beeb and then itv ruled the airwaves. Nowadays there are many uses to a tv set that have nothing to do with the bbc.

    '1960's Russia' is an accurate asessment.


  11. Mike H
    April 27, 2008

    Agreed on all points, especially the one relating to the BBC's self-advertising.

    If the licencing authorities do knock on your door at 2am I hope you won't let them in. As far as I am aware they are not (yet) included in the growing number of organisations who can demand access to your property.

    I'll admit that I enjoy advert-free TV, but the supposed benefits of funding the BBC through taxation are diminishing by the hour. Their political commentary is biased, they can no longer be trusted to provide an even-handed opinion on many non-political topics, and they no longer provide a product that is differentiated from the offerings of most commercial channels. They have joined the ratings-chasing pack and no longer deserve special treatment.

    I look forward to these issues being tackled by a Conservative government.

    If the BBC were to provide unbiased political commentary, banish all self-advertising to history, reduce the plethora of additional unnecessary channels and raise the standards of much of their TV output, I could be persuaded to support the funding of a leaner, fitter BBC via taxation provided it is kept to reasonable levels. On the other hand, if they can't raise their game they should earn their own keep.

  12. mikestallard
    April 27, 2008

    Wow! That was a quick fix! I bet you do not use Public Service Computers, do you.
    Have you read Charles Moore's remarks about TV licensing in the Spectator. He had just the same experience as you did.
    I wonder, myself, if the problem isn't rather deeper.
    We are facing a new class of professional politicians who "know best". This is particularly true of Europe where the technocrats are deliberately put in charge. But it also true here in England where the MPs and the Regional governments are full of professionals who "know best".
    Examples of where they "know best" are, of course, the EU referendum/Lisbon Treaty; smoking in pubs etc; how much to tolerate alcohol abuse; how much to tolerate drug abuse; sexual freedoms (gays really are unpopular, but marriage is on the ropes); the death penalty; immigration (passionately against); litter and rubbish collection (dykes full of rubbish); multiculturalism and racism ("You cannot hear English spoken in the town centre"); global warming and carbon emission controls (especially wind turbines); biofuels (lots of Fairtrade stuff here, but farmers profiting for once); health and safety; minimum wage (Poles don't get it); religion (tolerance of everything except Christianity, e.g. banning nativity plays etc).
    From my own experience living here in the Fens, I would say that many local people have diametrically opposed views to the political class on every one of these issues.
    Eventually, of course, there will be a cause celebre and the people will rise in revolt.

  13. Paul Buddery
    April 27, 2008


    The question for me is: will a Tory government start to unravel this nonsense? We know where you stand, but are you one of Albert Jay Nock's Remnant, or are you part of a wider movement that believes that the size of government and its powers are too great.

    My fear is that the difference between the incumbent and waiting governments is only in the ways that they want to regulate and intrude into people's lives.

  14. cherie79
    April 28, 2008

    Nothing to do with TV John although I totally agree in a multi channel age it is high time the licence was scrapped. What do you think about this, I am a 65 year old widow, my husband died in an accident last January2007. I sold my house, or so I thought, and arranged to move in December as I did not want to be in my house for the anniversary and arranged to move near my son. The sale fell through but I too late to change my plans and I had to take a mortgage, fortunately not too big, to proceed. My buyer eventually found another buyer and then, due to the mortgage crisis that failed too. I called the local council to see what happened if I failed to sell within the six month exemption period for council tax. To my utter horror I was told that I would have to pay full council tax – for an empty house and using no services. Surely this cannot be right, I have found out it is not illegal but to pay two lots of council tax would take half my income. I can understand not wanting empty houses but this is totally different, it is not my fault and I am already paying insurance, power and a neighbour looks after the house. I was told, rather rudely that it was just too bad and that there were a lot of people in that position, not even a single person bill but the whole for no one! I am now considering selling to a property company at a considerable loss. Given the current mortgage famine there may be a lot more caught in this trap. I did ask my local MP, just told it wasn't illegal and maybe could appeal on compassionate grounds, not exactly helpful from a Conservative MP. When did this law come in? I thought it used to be 50% if you were paying council tax elsewhere.

    Reply: The Labour government is keen to tax "empty houses " and second homes, and so are cash strapped Councils.

  15. Freeborn John
    April 28, 2008

    I spent one of my student summers (1986) working in the souvenir shop at Liberty state park in New Jersey. It was bicentennial year and the park’s main attraction, the statue of liberty, was the centrepiece of celebrations. A lot of the American tourists coming into the shop would hear my British accent and we would get chatting. I remember one guy telling me that America was the land of the free because you were made to pay for TV in other countries. I was a rather affronted by the remark at the time and still think it is the least likely definition of liberty I ever heard; but many times since I have felt there to be more than a germ of truth to his redneck philosophy.

  16. Donitz
    April 28, 2008

    John,I read with interest your comments on the refurbishment of your inherited property.

    I have refurbished several buildings over the years and often taken the following action.

    Council Tax

    An unoccupied dwelling that has been unfurnished since its reconstruction or since the completion of any structural alteration or repair. Exempt for up to 12 months.

    An unoccupied dwelling left unfurnished since the last day of occupation. Exempt for up to 6 months from date the property first becomes unoccupied and unfurnished.

    25% discount for single persons allowance.

    TV Licence

    I do not open letters or reply as these are computer generated and any replys are ignored. I File under Bin.

    Ignore all threats as you have not commited a crime as you do not have a television set within the property.

    If you are lucky enough to meet a licence inspector at the vacant property, show him/her the living room under refurbishment. He will remove you from their database until you next purchase a television and give the property address to the retailer you purchased the set from.

  17. Nigel Packer
    April 28, 2008

    I have been through this experience of harassment from the TVLA with the various threats in the letters they regularly sent out. We had people calling at the house and trying to gain access with surveys and videos they wanted us to watch and comment on. Eventually these threats stopped.

    I have recently received an unsolicited TV licence request form in my business which I left unopened on my desk. Last week a man in a suit tuned up to inspect my premises to see if we had a TV. I was a little annoyed as I explained we are here to work not watch TV! During the time he filled in his forms I asked about the internet and the live streaming that was broadcast by the BBC of News 24 and other programmes. He informed me that if you watch live broadcast you must to have a licence but if you pause the broadcast for a few seconds than start running it again a licence is not required.

    These live broadcasts are nothing more than entrapment by the BBC for the online viewer and should be stopped. Surely the BBC can put a 10 second delay on the broadcasts and then internet viewers would not become criminals by default. The proposal by one comment to nationalise the BBC is long overdue and it would make the BBC compete in the open market.

  18. APL
    April 28, 2008

    Well said Mr Redwood.

    Mike: "My personal choice would be to fund the BBC through general taxation or government grants, …."

    If I might take issue with this idea. The BBC should not be reliant nor connected to the british government in any way whatsoever. The world service however, might be a justifiable central government expendititure.

    I think that if the next conservative government is to have any chance of success, the BBC must be the very first organisation that is dealt with. It is *that* important for domestic political plurality.

    In my opinion, the best way to do this is to give the BBC six months to convert their licence payers into subscribers to the BBC domestic service. After which time when digital television is rolled out the terrestrial signal will be switched off and those without a subscription will find the digital signal encrypted.

    By the way, the BBC doesn't need ten (or however many it has) digital channels, it could cut back to the old two; BBC1, BBC2 + one (perhaps). There are so many repeats on those channels that they do not represent value for money. The digital channels all broadcast the test card throughout the day and anyway and their audience share is miniscule.

  19. John of Enfield
    April 28, 2008

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    It is the Orwellian threats on the TV Adverts that annoy me. “WE KNOW WHERE YOU ARE”. How can a democratically elected government even allow such treatment of the populace? And NuLab is surprised that 75% of us don’t want ID Cards. We will then presumably get adverts saying “WE KNOW WHERE YOU ARE ALL THE TIME”. Thank goodness that technology is rapidly making the BBC redundant. Next up: A Window(s) tax!
    Note also that none of this level of effort is applied to stopping perpetrators of voting fraud.

  20. Simon_C
    April 28, 2008

    Even when you do have a license, they still hassle you.
    My other half bought me a PVR for christmas, quite early as it happens.

    Some time in December the TVLA decided to write to her saying she needed to buy a TV license even though the address was licensed. It seems their computer system thought that a different surname meant the old occupiers must have moved out.

    To make matters worse, I accidently opened the letter (a household letter from the TVLA, I just didn't read the to address) so it spoiled the present too. We're waiting for the inspector to come round, and then we'll staple the license to his forhead….

  21. harry
    April 28, 2008

    John, here's a policy suggestion.

    Fund the BBC from the National Lottery and end the licence fee.

    This would be very popular with working people who buy lottery tickets and watch the BBC. Currently lottery money is distributed by the great and good on things like restoring the Royal Opera house. Talk about a regressive tax.

    Also, perhaps a percentage of Lottery money could go to services for children and young people, related to the number of lottery tickets sold in a region. Again working people and their children would benefit.

    1/3 BBC and public broadcasting
    1/3 Childrens services eg playgroups, youth clubs
    1/3 other causes. Sports and Arts.

    The BBC funding would be less than what it raises now. But surely their could be some savings what with new technology and making lefties redundant.

  22. Bazman
    April 28, 2008

    Sky TV is the alternative system and you can keep it.

  23. Mousecatcher
    April 28, 2008

    I definitely agree with another poster who has said the letters should be binned. They don't mean anything. We've never had a television in our home and have had countless silly letters over the last two or three decades. Only twice in all that time has an inspector come to the door: the first occasion I told him he couldn't come in and he said OK, and the second time he got as far as the hall and then seemed to lose his nerve and left, covered in confusion!

    Readers may be interested in this site which shows, and comments upon, the various letters the owner of the site has received. Also some interesting stuff about detector vans.

  24. David Gillies
    April 29, 2008

    The BBC is incorrigible. Simply ending the current licensing system would do nothing to root out the systemic infection of transnational progressivism that is its core. No, I am afraid that I must concur with Dr Sean Gabb in this: one of the first actions of an incoming government that is truly committed to liberty and the defence of Enlightenment values must be to simply shut down the BBC and dismiss its staff on the spot. Razing Television Centre, The Mailbox etc. and sowing the ground with salt would probably be unnecessary, but it couldn't hurt.

  25. David R
    April 29, 2008

    John, Great Blog.

    My thoughts:

    The BBC is perverting democracy in this country. It should be broken up and privatised. Sell off the radio stations to different buyers. Replace the licence fee with a subscription model and then float the TV division on the stock market.

    Also sell off C4.

    Not only would this be good for democracy and broadcasting, but it would surely provide a significant windfall for the Treasury.

    However I'm no policy expert so I could be completely wrong!

    John you are an expert, so can you expand your thoughts on the rethink you believe is necessary?

  26. Stuart Fairney
    April 29, 2008

    "shut down the BBC and dismiss its staff on the spot"

    Oh, please yes, have SKY on hand to cover it.

  27. Dr Dan H.
    April 29, 2008

    A solution I have heard of for this sort of thing is to give the TV Licencing people written notification that you have no TV, then when the letters inevitably continue, ask the police to step in.

    Current law states that you have a right to be free from harassment, and this harassment can come in any form, including threatening letters.

    What will normally happen is that you tell the police, the letters continue and you complain once more whereupon the police have a quiet word with TVL and the letters stop coming. There's nothing quite as effective in stopping a bullying public body as the prospect of having an even bigger bully come round to see them.

  28. Jon in Southamption
    April 29, 2008

    Living under the "Boot of Auntie", people are sick to death of it.
    The entire BBC is made up of socialist cronies…its far too big to be funded by general taxation.
    PRIVATIZE, the only sensible thing the next goverment could do, simple!!
    But…I sometimes get the impression that the BBC's a dictatorial entity over and above the elected government, so it'll be tough for the next
    Conservative Government to carry out the wishes of the electorate and abolish the TV license, forcing the BBC to seek funding from its subscribers, rather than growing fat on taxation.

  29. Sao Paulo
    May 1, 2008

    The BBC is just a liberal/left mouthpiece that should be shoved back in the dark ages with it's fans.

  30. […] I used to get this type of crap from the WA DOL about cars that did not run. Well, everything except for the “inspectors”. When I heard from a constituent complaining of persecution by the TV licensing authority, who not believe him when he told them he did not have a television, I was sympathetic and took up his case. The response I received from the Authority was typical of this government’s revenue arms – inflexible, and determined to raise the maximum cash it can from the long suffering public. As usual I did not take the matter to the press, as the issue came to me in confidence and many constituents do not want their personal details splashed across the local – or sometimes the national – newspapers. […]

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