Administering the licence fee

TV Licensing database and data management

Is it lawful for TV Licensing to process data about me without my consent?

Under the Communications Act 2003 the BBC is the responsible public authority for issuing TV Licences and collecting the licence fee. The BBC’s processing of personal data is necessary to carry out these statutory functions. The Data Protection Act 1998 sets out conditions, at least one of which must be met, when an organisation processes personal data. While a person’s consent is one of these conditions, another is that the processing is necessary for compliance with any legal obligation. TV Licensing processes personal data, on behalf of the BBC, to comply with the BBC’s legal obligation to issue TV Licences and collect the licence fee.

Under the Data Protection Act the BBC is a ‘data controller’ and determines the purposes for, and manner in which personal data is processed. Personal data held by the BBC and its TV Licensing agents for the purpose of administering the television licensing system cannot be used for any other purpose, unless it is expressly required or permitted by law.

How does TV Licensing take care of personal data?

The BBC and TV Licensing take the security of the information we are entrusted with very seriously and have a comprehensive set of controls in place to protect it. Our Information Security Strategy comprises policy, procedural, technical and educational controls, and each staff member is regularly reminded of their responsibilities.

Personal information held by TV Licensing will not be disclosed to anyone outside TV Licensing unless we are required or permitted by law to do so. TV Licensing occasionally receives requests of this nature from the police and government agencies. In assessing such requests we take into consideration the Data Protection Act 1998, Human Rights Act 1998 and the law of confidence. Generally, we will only disclose data when it is necessary and in the public interest to do so (e.g. where the data can only be obtained from TV Licensing and disclosure is necessary to prevent or detect crime).

Further information on how TV Licensing deals with personal information is set out in the TV Licensing Privacy Policy.

Note also that the BBC is not obliged to comply with requests made under the FOI Act for personal information. Section 40 of the FOI Act provides that an organisation is not obliged to comply with a request if the information requested is personal data and its disclosure would contravene the Data Protection Act 1998. The BBC has previously withheld information under this exemption on a number of occasions.

Does the BBC or TV Licensing sell my personal data to any other organisation?

No, we do not.

Is my data protected under the agreements between the BBC’s contractors and subcontractors?

Yes. The Data Protection Act 1998 requires that processing of personal data (including disclosure) on behalf of the data controller must be carried out under a written contract which requires that such processing may only be done on the instructions of the data controller. The BBC’s TV Licensing agents are permitted to disclose personal data to their employees and the employees of their sub-contractors, but retain responsibility for their compliance with the Data Protection Act and relevant contractual obligations.

Does a PayPoint retailer have access to my personal data?

If a person buys a TV Licence for the first time at a PayPoint, the retailer will ask for the person’s name and address, and verify this on a “look-up” system that gives them access to names and addresses only on the TV Licensing database.

If a person renews a TV Licence at a PayPoint, the retailer will simply process it by using the bar code on the renewal letter and will not access any personal data.

If a person makes a payment on the cash payment scheme or saves money using a TV Licensing savings card, the retailer will simply “swipe” the card and will not have access to any personal data.

Where do you obtain the information held on the TV Licensing database, and how do you ensure that the information is accurate and kept up to date?

The TV Licensing address database is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the UK today. The database has existed in its current form since around 1989. Information held on the database is continually updated to ensure it is as accurate as possible at any point in time.

TV Licensing relies on individuals to inform us if their details are not accurate or if their circumstances have changed. TV Licensing also uses external data sources like the Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File, from which updates are usually received daily (based on postal delivery points that continually change as new properties are built, and existing properties are either demolished or undergo change of use). Additionally, our enquiry officers’ visit addresses to confirm whether properties are occupied. TV Licensing also refers back to Royal Mail any address (i.e. delivery point) where there is uncertainty (e.g. where two previously separate adjoining properties have been converted into a single property).

TV Licensing makes every effort to ensure that the database is accurate and up-to-date. However, in a database of this size – containing approximately 31 million addresses – it is inevitable that some errors will occur. Once identified, these inconsistencies are corrected as quickly as possible.

What payment history information does the TV Licensing database store?

The TV Licensing database system holds details of recent payments made by direct debit, credit or debit card, cheque or postal order (partial or full); or via any PayPoint. More detailed payment records are held for people paying on cash schemes, as every payment made will be logged.

Why does TV Licensing ask for phone numbers?

In TV Licensing’s experience, many licence holders appreciate being contacted by phone in the event there is an issue with their payments. However, no-one is obliged to provide this information.

What information does TV Licensing hold on TV Licence payers?

The TV Licensing database system holds (in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the BBC’s Agreement with the Home Office) only as much information as is required for, or is relevant to, the successful administration of the television licensing system.

Does TV Licensing process the personal data of people who’ve told you they don’t have a television?

As at March 2015, around 95% of UK homes have a television set, or watch live TV on other devices. It is therefore reasonable for TV Licensing to write to all unlicensed addresses to confirm if a TV Licence is needed. TV Licensing works on the assumption that every UK household requires a Licence, and therefore we write to all addresses where there is no record of a Licence or the current licensing requirements (if any) are unknown.

When a person notifies TV Licensing that they do not require a Licence, this is noted on our database. A stop will be put on further correspondence for two years for a residential address and three years for a business address. An enquiry officer may visit the address to verify that a Licence is not required.

No-one is under any obligation to provide us with personal information although we do request people's names in order to keep our database up to date. Enforcement measures are taken at addresses if necessary, irrespective of whether there is a name associated with that address or not, although the use of names assists us in keeping the database up to date.

Who designed the TV licensing database system and how does it operate?

The TV Licensing database system was designed by the Post Office I.T. department. The system is currently maintained by Capita Business Services Ltd, a company contracted by the BBC to administer most of TV Licensing. The BBC owns the intellectual property rights to the system.

The operation of TV Licensing involves a vast amount of data, which is stored and managed through a number of interrelated databases held by different agencies on behalf of TV Licensing. The main TV Licensing database holds details of the approximately 25 million TV Licences in force in the UK.

Can the information on the TV Licensing database be used for academic research?

The TV Licensing database can only be used for the purpose of administering and enforcing the television licensing system unless it is expressly required or permitted by law (e.g. by government agencies to detect or prevent crime). The information is therefore not available for academic research.


Mailings/letters and electronic communications

When and in what circumstances does TV Licensing send letters?

TV Licensing has a statutory duty to ensure that every address where television receiving equipment is installed or used to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on TV is properly licensed. Therefore TV Licensing writes to all addresses where there is no record of a Licence or the current licensing requirements (if any) are unknown.

Different letters are sent depending on the different circumstances and needs of addresses. The tone of all the letters are carefully considered before being sent, and are intended to cover a range of possibilities. For example, some people without a Licence may have simply forgotten to buy it; others don’t require a Licence, or may require a Licence but deliberately evade paying for it. The tone of the letters progressively becomes stronger if no response is received from an address, to encourage a reply.

Proximity London Ltd is contracted by the BBC to provide TV Licensing marketing and printing services, and sends the majority of TV Licensing letters. A small volume of letters, mainly relating to specific customer queries, is sent by Capita Business Services Limited. In 2013/14, Proximity sent approximately 51.5 million items of mail for TV Licensing. Some of the circumstances in which TV Licensing letters are sent include:

  • Reminders letters to addresses with TV Licences that are about to expire
  • Letters to unlicensed premises, emphasising the legal requirement to be correctly licensed if watching or recording television programmes as they are being shown on TV
  • Letters to individuals who are on Cash Payment or Direct Debit Plans
  • Letters to individuals who are enquiring about a refund on their TV Licence
  • Letters to individuals who have informed TV Licensing that they have no need of a TV Licence
  • Ad-hoc letters in relation to individual queries.

Please note that in addition to letters, TV Licensing also sends emails and SMSs to customers who have provided their email addresses and phone numbers and have not indicated that they do not wish to receive electronic communications. In 2014/15 approximately 9.4 million electronic communications were sent to customers.

Why does TV Licensing write to addresses which don’t use television receiving equipment?

As at March 2015, statistics from the Broadcasters Audience Research Board (BARB) show that around 95% of UK homes have a television set, or watch live TV on other devices.

TV Licensing has a statutory duty to ensure that every address where television receiving equipment is installed or used to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on TV is properly licensed. Therefore TV Licensing writes to all addresses where there is no record of a Licence or the current licensing requirements (if any) are unknown.

Therefore, as licence fee evasion takes place within the home, it is reasonable for TV Licensing to send letters asking if a TV Licence is required. If TV Licensing is informed that a Licence is not needed, then mailings will stop for two years for a residential address and three years for a business address. It is unfortunately not possible for TV Licensing to stop contacting an address on a permanent basis as situations change, for example people can move. A person can tell TV Licensing they do not have a television by using this online form.

An enquiry officer may call at the address to verify the situation. TV Licensing visit a sample of homes to confirm there is in fact no television being used as, when we make contact on these visits, a fifth of people visited are found to require a TV Licence.

For more information please see the BBC TV Licensing No Licence Needed Policy.

The BBC Trust’s March 2009 report of its review of TV Licensing states: “When dealing with [those who choose not to notify TV Licensing that they do not require a TV Licence] it is not possible for TV Licensing to distinguish between them and deliberate evaders. They will therefore be subject to the same mailings until such time as TV Licensing is notified otherwise.”

How often does TV Licensing send letters?

Every licensed address is sent a reminder letter shortly before and after the Licence expiry date, with a series of letters following if there is no response. From that point the address is treated as ‘unlicensed’ and further contact framed to elicit a response. It is often only when TV Licensing draws people’s attention to the consequences of unlicensed use of television that they will buy the TV Licence they need. The effectiveness of the letters is under constant review to ensure that TV Licensing is acting in the best interests of the licence fee payer.

What happens if there is no response to TV Licensing’s letters?

If no response is received from an address, the tone of the letters progressively becomes stronger to encourage a reply. Sometimes a stronger message is required for people to comply with their legal obligation. The address will also be listed for a visit from an enquiry officer to enquire about the licensing requirements.

TV Licensing does not presume that anyone is committing an offence and the letters have no implication for those who don’t require a TV Licence. However, a robust message needs to be communicated to persons evading the payment of the licence fee. This includes highlighting that the penalty for licence fee evasion upon conviction could be a fine of up to £1000 (or £2000 in Guernsey and £500 in Jersey). The BBC Trust’s report of its review of TV Licensing states its quantitative research showed “a majority of those without a television could accept that it was reasonable for TV Licensing to continue to send standard mailings where the householder had not notified them of their status...the Trust supports the continuation of TV Licensing’s working assumption that households who do not notify TV Licensing of their status should continue to receive standard mailings”.

The BBC Trust’s March 2009 report of its review of TV Licensing states: “When dealing with [those who choose not to notify TV Licensing that they do not require a TV Licence] it is not possible for TV Licensing to distinguish between them and deliberate evaders. They will therefore be subject to the same mailings until such time as TV Licensing is notified otherwise.”

Who approves TV Licensing letters? Who authorises the visits by enquiry officers cited in these letters?

All letters sent are approved by the BBC TV Licensing Management Team.

Authorisation to visit means that an enquiry officer will be assigned to visit homes where no response has been received to mailings. Capita Business Services Ltd is contracted to undertake these visits.

How much does it cost to send TV Licensing letters?

TV Licensing writes to unlicensed properties to check if a licence is needed. We do not make public success rates of mailing campaigns but can confirm that all campaigns generate substantially more revenue than they cost.

TV Licensing’s costs of collection, including for communications and postage over the last five years is available at the Financial Information section.

TV Licensing minimises postage costs by sending letters in bulk using postage rates purchased competitively wherever possible. The exact cost of sending a letter depends on when and how the letter is sent.

The cost of sending a TV Licensing mailings by post comprises print and fulfilment, which is carried out by Proximity (who sub-contract to Communisis Group); and postal services, which are contracted to Communisis. Information in respect of the constituent elements of printing and fulfilment and postage is commercially sensitive and is exempt from disclosure under section 43(2) of the FOI Act.

How many letters did TV Licensing send in 2014/15?

In 2014/15 TV Licensing sent approximately 51.5 million items of mail, which included letters to addresses:

  • where the occupier informed TV Licensing that they did not require a TV Licence (969,016 letters)
  • where a valid TV Licence was due to expire shortly (2,340,000 letters)
  • that paid for the licence fee under a Direct Debit Plan (2,237,731 letters).
How many TV Licences were purchased as a result of reminder letters being sent and how much revenue did this generate?

In 2014/15 approximately 3,667,466 TV Licences were purchased by persons in premises which received reminder letters and/or emails. It is not possible to calculate how much licence fee revenue this generated because this figure:

  • is an estimate of the number of TV Licences purchased as a result of these letters, and includes concessionary and black and white licences
  • shows only licences purchased over the period specified, and doesn’t account for future purchase of licences which may occur as a consequence of receiving these letters
  • doesn’t account for the fact that not every Licence is paid in full, e.g. where individuals cancel their direct debit.
Are your mailings direct marketing, and if so can I opt out of it?

No. Section 11 of the Data Protection Act 1998 provides individuals with the right to prevent direct marketing. This provision does not apply to TV Licensing’s letters because they are not advertising or marketing material. A TV Licence is not payment for a service. It is a legal permission to install or use television equipment (e.g. a TV set, computer, laptop, tablet, mobile phone, games console, digital box or DVD/VHS recorder) to watch or record television programmes as they're being shown on TV. Section 363 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to do so without a valid TV Licence. The BBC is the public authority responsible for television licensing, and administers this through its agents who use the BBC trade mark “TV Licensing”.

How many reminder letters has TV Licensing sent over the last ten years?

The number of letters classed as reminder letters sent during the last ten financial years is as follows:

  • 2014/15: 7,715,137
  • 2013/14: 7,963,393
  • 2012/13: 7,926,285
  • 2011/12: 7,861,141
  • 2010/11: 7,995,414
  • 2009/10: 7,714,469
  • 2008/09: 7,752,366
  • 2007/08: 7,528,901
  • 2006/07: 8,629,874
  • 2005/06: 9,704,619
How often does TV Licensing amend its standard letters?

TV Licensing changes its standard letters for a variety of reasons on a regular basis. For example, changes of substance to the letters have been made to reflect:

  • Changes in the TV Licence fee.
  • The fact that individuals can no longer pay for a TV Licence in the Post Office (other than in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man).
  • Changes to some TV Licensing policies.
  • Changes to test new copy and creative formats.
  • Changes to reflect the updated methods of communication with TV Licensing available to customers.

Evasion

What is the official evasion rate?

The latest official evasion rate for the United Kingdom is between 5%-6% of all licensable places (for the 2014/15 financial year). We report evasion as a range to reflect the fact it is calculated using a number of input figures, some of which are estimates. This was on the advice of the National Audit Office.

The official evasion rate estimates the percentage (not the number) of all premises (not individuals or households) evading the licence fee in the UK. It is calculated for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport using a model that compares the number of licences in force to external statistics on the number of households and other licensable places in the UK.

The UK official evasion rate from 2008/09 to 2014/15 is set out below:

 
Financial Year Evasion rate *
2014/15 5% - 6%
2013/14 5% - 6%
2012/13 5.5%
2011/12 6.0%
2010/11 5.3%
2009/10 5.0%
2008/09 4.8%
2007/08 4.5%

*Historical evasion, as at 31 March each year, restated using latest assumptions. The data used to estimate the evasion rate does not mature for several years, particularly the information on the number of households. This means that the evasion percentage can be revised after it has been reported because better information has been received.

The official evasion rate does not distinguish between households and other types of premises (e.g. businesses, hospitals, educational or military establishments) and cannot be broken down beyond UK country level because the external statistics required are not available. Premises in which TV equipment is installed or used without a valid TV Licence – i.e. premises which evade the licence fee.

How many households watch television without a valid TV Licence?

The latest official evasion rate for the United Kingdom is between 5% - 6% of all licensable places (for the 2014/15 financial year). We report evasion as a range to reflect the fact it is calculated using a number of input figures, some of which are estimates. This was on the advice of the National Audit Office.

Information is not collated in a form that would allow us to calculate the number of households (out of all licensable premises) watching television programmes without a valid licence. While it might be possible to estimate this figure, this will require the commission of a bespoke report analysing the TV Licensing database. It would not be possible to do this work within the appropriate limit set by Regulations made pursuant to section 12 of the FOI Act. The BBC is not obliged to comply with a request if the cost of doing so would exceed this limit, which is £450 (the equivalent to two and a half days work at an hourly rate of £25).

How much in licence fee revenue is lost because of evasion?

In 2014/15 TV Licence fee evasion represented between £195 million and £234 million in lost income to the BBC.

What is the rural/urban breakdown of evasion figures?

We don’t collate information in a form that would readily allow us to breakdown evasion figures into rural/urban areas. While it might be possible to estimate this figure, this will require the commission of a bespoke report analysing the TV Licensing database. We estimate that it would not be possible to do this within the appropriate limit set by Regulations made pursuant to section 12 of the FOI Act. The BBC is not obliged to comply with a request if the cost of doing so would exceed this limit, which is £450 (the equivalent to two and a half days work at an hourly rate of £25).

How many people haven’t renewed their licence?

The information requested here is exempt from disclosure under section 31 of the FOI Act.

Have people been caught watching television programmes using equipment other than television sets without a TV Licence? If yes, how many? How many of them have you prosecuted, how many are subsequently convicted and what was the average fine imposed?

People have been caught watching, without a valid TV Licence, programmes shown on TV receiving equipment that are not television sets. Other information requested here is exempt from disclosure under section 31 of the FOI Act.


Enquiry officers

Who employs enquiry officers?

Enquiry officers are engaged by Capita Business Services Ltd (“Capita”), a company contracted by the BBC to administer the television licensing system under the BBC trade mark “TV Licensing”.

How much are enquiry officers paid?

The BBC doesn’t hold information on how much enquiry officers are paid. This is a matter between Capita and enquiry officers. We can say that enquiry officers receive a salary with incentives.

In what circumstances do enquiry officers visit an address and what information do they collect on the visit?

If no response is received to enquiry letters from TV Licensing, an enquiry officer will call at the address to determine the licensing requirements. The aim of the visit is to enforce the law and enable TV Licensing to remove premises which do not require a TV Licence from their enquiries, to allow resources to be concentrated on those who do require one. If the enquiry officer confirms that no television receiving equipment is in use or installed to receive television programmes, this information will be noted on the TV Licensing database and further standard letters will not be sent. TV Licensing will then only contact the address occasionally to check that circumstances haven’t changed.

What law authorises enquiry officers to request access to my home? Can I refuse to let them in?

The Communications Act 2003 imposes an obligation on the BBC to issue TV Licences and collect the licence fee. The BBC must ensure that it fulfils its responsibility to the vast majority of households who pay their licence fee, by enforcing the law in respect of those who intentionally evade paying it. TV Licensing uses a range of activities to raise awareness about the requirement for a TV Licence, remind people to pay, inform them of ways to pay, and to deter people from evading the licence fee.

Enquiry officers do not have any legal powers to enter your home without a search warrant granted by a magistrate (or sheriff in Scotland). They (like other members of the public) rely on an implied right in common law to call at a property as far as the door, while going about their lawful business and making their presence known. Enquiry officers must explain to the occupier of the premises why they are visiting, be polite, courteous and fair, and abide by rules of conduct.

You have no obligation to grant entry to an enquiry officer if you don’t wish to do so. If refused entry by the occupier, the enquiry officer will leave the property. If enquiry officers are refused access, then TV Licensing reserve the right to use other methods of detection.

Enquiry officers may apply for authorisation to use detection equipment if they are refused entry on to premises. TV Licensing may also apply to a magistrate (or sheriff in Scotland) for a search warrant. However, this is only done as a last resort and when a senior manager and a legal adviser considers that there is good reason to believe that an offence has been committed.

What happens when an enquiry officer visits a home?

The enquiry officer must explain why they are visiting, be polite, courteous and fair, and abide by rules of conduct. Enquiry officers do not have a legal right of entry to a person’s home without a search warrant, and if refused entry to premises they will end the visit. If permitted by the occupier to enter the premises, the visit is normally very quick. The officer simply takes a brief view of the main living areas to verify whether or not television receiving equipment is installed or in use.

Why do enquiry officers visit the homes of persons who have already advised TV Licensing that they do not use television receiving equipment?

TV Licensing visit a sample of homes to confirm there is in fact no television being used as, when we make contact on these visits, almost a fifth of people visited are found to require a TV Licence. Please see the No Licence Needed Policy (PDF 82 kb opens in a new window) for more information.

In what circumstances can TV Licensing access my property without my permission?

TV Licensing can only enter your home without your permission if authorised to do so under a search warrant granted by a magistrate (or sheriff in Scotland). A magistrate (or sheriff in Scotland) has discretion to grant a search warrant for authorised persons to search premises suspected of illegal activity in respect of TV licensing. It is an offence to intentionally obstruct a person exercising the warrant (see section 366(8) of the Communications Act 2003). TV Licensing will be accompanied by the police when executing a search warrant.

Are enquiry officers required to abide by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act Codes of Practice (‘the PACE Codes of Practice’)?

When conducting an interview, enquiry officers shall have regard to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 or Scottish criminal law. Before interviewing individuals, enquiry officers caution them on their legal rights. Enquiry officers then record the questions asked and answers given in a written record of interview and ask for a signature to confirm the record of interview is accurate. No caution is issued in the Channel Islands.

What rules govern records of interview made by enquiry officers?

Enquiry officers may interview an individual they suspect to have committed an offence under the Communications Act 2003 but only after they have cautioned that person i.e. informed them of their legal rights, including that they have the right not to answer any of the questions. This is in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 or the Scottish criminal law. An officer is obliged to make a written record of that interview and an individual has the right to refuse to sign the record or to ask for corrections to be made if they believe that it is not an accurate record of the interview.

Do enquiry officers have the same powers as police?

No. Enquiry officers are not the police and do not have police powers.

Enquiry officers have regard to the PACE Codes of Practice or Scottish criminal law (depending on where the address is) when questioning people.

Does TV Licensing check enquiry officers with the Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly the Criminal Records Bureau) before they start work as enquiry officers?

All enquiry officers are employed subject to the production of a standard Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) disclosure certificate when they start and thereafter every 3 years.

TV Licensing evaluates any convictions disclosed against the role applied for before progressing with the application. Each application is considered on a case by case basis. Disclosure of certain convictions would mean that a person would not be employed as an enquiry officer within TV Licensing.

How do you monitor the conduct of enquiry officers?

Enquiry officers must abide by rules of conduct that require them to act professionally and politely at all times. TV Licensing uses various measures to ensure that officers are fulfilling their duties appropriately; this includes assessing the feedback received from people visited. If a complaint is made about an enquiry officer’s conduct, TV Licensing will investigate the complaint and, depending on the outcome of the investigations, take appropriate action.

What are your rules of conduct for enquiry officers?

The rules of conduct require enquiry officers to:

  • Prove their identity, be polite and explain why they are visiting
  • Only enter a property if they are given permission
  • Always leave the premises if asked to do so
  • Conduct a cautioned interview if necessary and make a written record of that interview, signed by the interviewee, making sure the interviewee is aware of the consequences of signing the record
  • Neither threaten nor intimidate.
How do I know if someone is a genuine enquiry officer?

All enquiry officers carry an identification card with the TV Licensing logo that shows their name, photo, job role, unique identification number and card expiry date. A telephone number will be provided by the enquiry officer on request so that their identity can be verified by TV Licensing.

Do enquiry officers receive equality training as required by equality legislation?

Yes. All enquiry officers engaged by Capita Business Services Ltd must undertake equality training within the first 12 months of their work.

Are visits by enquiry officers carried out on Sundays? At what time of the day do enquiry officers visit households?

Enquiry officers currently visit addresses on Sundays. The time of the day at which enquiry officers visit homes is exempt from disclosure under section 31 of the FOI Act.

How many complaints have you received about enquiry officers making visits?

In 2014/15 we received 1,339 complaints about visits by enquiry officers. To place this in context, we made 3.9 million visits over the same year.

The table below outlines the number of complaints about enquiry officers making visits over the last eight financial years:

Year No. of Complaints
2013/14 1,099
2012/13 1,013
2011/12 696
2010/11 404
2009/10 522
2008/09 292
2007/08 537
2006/07 275
How many visits by enquiry officers have resulted in no further action?

There are no visits that would result in ‘no further action’. Outcomes include the following:

  • Confirmation there is no television receiver at the premises in which case TV Licensing will not contact the premises for two years for a domestic address and three years for a business address.
  • Remaining on the list of premises for a return visit.
  • Setting the premises for detection for a search warrant.
  • Prosecution.
How many enquiry officers do you have working at X location?

This information is exempt from disclosure under section 31 of the FOI Act.


Detection

Why do you use detection?

As the responsible public authority for television licensing the BBC must ensure that collection and enforcement initiatives are effective and efficient, and use of detector vans is an integral part of this process. The BBC has a duty to ensure that those who fail in their obligations to become properly licensed are caught. Detection is only used when other, more cost-effective enforcement methods have been exhausted.

Do detector vans exist?

Yes. Use of detector vans is governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (British Broadcasting Corporation) Order 2001. This legislation sets out how investigatory powers are to be used, in compliance with human rights, by the BBC. The legislation is available online at www.legislation.gov.uk.

What law authorises the BBC to use detection equipment?

The BBC may, in certain circumstances, authorise under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (“RIPA”) and Regulation of Investigatory Powers (British Broadcasting Corporation) Order 2001 (“the RIPA Order”) the lawful use of surveillance equipment to detect unlicensed use of television receivers. The legislation is available here.

What process does the BBC follow when it authorises the use of detection equipment?

Detection equipment forms part of TV Licensing’s anti-evasion strategy. The BBC’s power to grant authorisations is found in section 27A of RIPA and the RIPA Order. Persons who can authorise the use of detection equipment for the purposes of section 27A are the head of sales or head of marketing within the BBC TV Licence Management Team, and any person holding a position within the Team which is more senior to these positions. In practice the head of revenue management and the head of marketing and a head of communications and policy undertake this function.

The RIPA Order prescribes matters the authorising officer must consider in assessing an application. The authorising officer must be satisfied that it is necessary, and proportionate in the circumstances of the particular case, for preventing or detecting certain offences under section 1 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 or for assessing or collecting sums payable in respect of TV Licences.

How many applications for authorisation to use detection equipment have been made, and for what type of equipment?
How many applications were granted or refused? For those authorisations granted by the BBC, what was the outcome?

The information requested here is exempt from disclosure under section 31 of the FOI Act.

How is the BBC’s use of its powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (“RIPA”) scrutinised?

In respect of its powers under RIPA, the BBC is subject to the independent oversight of the Office of Surveillance Commissioners (“the OSC”). The BBC must satisfy the OSC that any use of detection equipment is lawful. The BBC also conducts a bi-annual internal audit of records relating to the use of RIPA. Furthermore, TV Licensing has a comprehensive assurance plan in place to ensure the continuous maintenance of standards around the application of its policy and processes in respect of the use of RIPA.

How many people have been convicted of not having a valid TV Licence based on evidence obtained from using detection equipment?

The information requested here is exempt from disclosure under section 31 of the FOI Act.

How many detector vans and other detection devices does the BBC have?
How often are the detector vans and other detection devices deployed?
What are the technical specifications of the detector vans and detection devices?
What information does the BBC have relating to the use and effectiveness of detector vans and detection devices?
How many times, and on what dates, have TV detector vans monitored X location, in the last X years?

The information requested here is exempt from disclosure under section 31 of the FOI Act. Some of the information exempt under section 31 was also exempt from disclosure under section 42 of the FOI Act, as it was legal advice covered by legal professional privilege. Our decision to exempt information under section 31 has been upheld by the Information Commissioner. The ICO decisions are available here:

Decision Notice FS50154106, 16 October 2008
Decision Notice FS50137475, 19 May 2008

How much does it cost to use detection equipment, including staff costs?

The TV Licensing Costs of Collection chart in the Financial Information section provides a breakdown of TV Licensing’s top-line costs and itemises collection costs (including call centres, field force, detection and over the counter services).

Detailed information on the cost of using detection equipment is exempt from disclosure under section 31 of the FOI Act.

How does detection equipment work?

TV Licensing has a range of detection equipment at its disposal as part of its anti-evasion strategy.

Detection equipment is only used at addresses that don’t have a TV Licence.

More specific information on how detection equipment works, including its effectiveness and technical specifications' is exempt from disclosure under section 31 of the FOI Act. Our decision to exempt information under section 31 has been upheld by the Information Commissioner. The ICO decisions are available here:

Decision Notice FS50154106, 16 October 2008

Decision Notice FS50137475, 19 May 2008

Decision Notice FS50476136, 25 March 2013

How effective is detection at identifying evaders compared to other detection methods?

We don’t have information comparing detector vans to other anti-evasion methods because there is no need to make this comparison.

By way of background, detector vans are part of a suite of tools, summarised below, used by TV Licensing to detect evasion.

Key to the TV Licensing operation is the TV Licensing database. This lists all the addresses in the UK which hold a valid TV Licence as well as those addresses which don’t.

For those addresses where we have no record of a TV Licence and no recent information about whether a Licence is needed, a letter is sent to the occupier enquiring about their situation. Many recipients may not realise they are unlicensed or may hold a Licence for a previous address, while others may not use television or may be deliberately avoiding payment. Where an address is unoccupied, a temporary guard from enquiries is applied until the address becomes occupied. Those who do not obtain a Licence or do not reply to our enquiries will continue to receive enquiry letters. If no response is received, the address will be listed for a visit from an enquiry officer.

If visiting proves unsuccessful, detection equipment may be deployed at the address.

In exceptional cases TV Licensing may consider applying to a magistrate (or sheriff in Scotland) for a search warrant to search the premises. This only happens when there is good reason to believe that unlicensed use of television is occurring and other enquiries are obstructed.

What training do you provide staff who use detection equipment?

All staff authorised to operate detection equipment are required to attend and successfully complete training that covers the operational and legal aspects of using this equipment. They must pass a practical assessment before they are allowed to operate detection equipment unsupervised. Refresher training is provided every 18 months. Further training is provided on an ad-hoc basis when a need is identified or procedures/equipment changes. This training is provided in-house by Capita.

How often is the equipment tested, by whom and at what cost?

Detection equipment is tested daily, prior to use. Van-based detection equipment is sent to the manufacturer for testing every 12 months. We don’t hold information on the specific costs of testing. These costs are subsumed within the broader payment by the BBC to the companies contracted to administer and enforce the TV licensing system.

What patents do you hold on technology used in detector vans?

We do not hold copies of patents on the technology used in detector vans.

Have you used detection equipment at my address?

The information requested here is exempt from disclosure under section 40(1) of the FOI Act as it is personal information.

When requesting personal information about yourself you will need to make a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act 1998. You must supply us with the information we reasonably require to locate the specific personal information you seek and pay a £10 fee.

Note that exemptions under the Data Protection Act apply to Subject Access Requests. In deciding whether to provide you with information, the BBC will take into consideration whether disclosure of the requested information would prejudice its ability to prevent and detect crime or to apprehend or prosecute offenders in relation to TV licensing.

Is it safe to use detection equipment in public? What health and safety assessments have you done on these devices?

From a technical point of view the detection equipment used by TV Licensing is similar to other surveillance equipment. The public are not subjected to any increased risk from the presence of such devices. Therefore no information is held by the BBC on such health and safety assessments.


Search warrants

In what circumstances does TV Licensing apply for a search warrant to search premises suspected of using television receiving equipment without a valid TV Licence?

An application to a magistrate (or sheriff in Scotland) for a search warrant may only be made when there is good reason to believe that an offence has been committed, evidence of the commission of that offence is likely to be found, and conditions regarding access to the property warrant the granting of a search warrant.

Search warrants are only applied for in cases where the evidence means that it is likely that a television is in use. TV Licensing is open regarding its policy that it will only apply for a search warrant as a last resort. Search warrant applications are considered scrupulously before they are submitted. As a matter of law, a search warrant cannot be granted unless there are reasonable grounds for the application.

What happens when TV Licensing executes a search warrant?

We exercise search warrants in the presence of police officers. Our policy is that enquiry officers will not force entry to an address if the occupier is not at the property. Rather, we would return at another time. We note however that accompanying police officers may themselves force entry if they deem it necessary.

How many search warrant applications have been made by TV Licensing, to which courts, and how many were granted?

This information is exempt from disclosure under section 31 of the FOI Act.

Our decision to exempt information under section 31 in relation to the number of search warrants that have been granted has been upheld by the Information Commissioner. The ICO decision is available here:

Decision Notice FS50476136, 25 March 2013

What is TV Licensing’s policy on search warrants?

Our policy regarding search warrants is to:

  • ensure sufficient evidence of an offence to justify an application for a search warrant being made (as a last resort in cases where other options have been exhausted)
  • apply for a search warrant where sufficient evidence is obtained
  • ensure that search warrants are executed with respect for people and property and in accordance with the directions of the court.

The BBC contracts Capita Business Services Ltd to carry out television licensing enforcement activities, including applying for and executing search warrants. A search warrant may only be issued at the discretion of a magistrate (or sheriff in Scotland) in accordance with strict legal requirements.

What law authorises TV Licensing to apply for search warrants?

Applications for and the exercise of search warrants are authorised under section 366 of the Communications Act 2003.

The Communications Act 2003 imposes a duty on the BBC to issue TV Licences and collect the licence fee. The BBC must ensure that it fulfils its responsibility to the vast majority of households who pay their licence fee, by enforcing the law in respect of those who intentionally evade paying it.

TV Licensing can only enter your home without your permission if authorised to do so under a search warrant granted by a magistrate (or sheriff in Scotland).

TV Licensing may also apply to a magistrate (or sheriff in Scotland) for a search warrant. However, this is only done as a last resort and when a senior manager and a legal adviser considers that there is good reason to believe that an offence has been committed.

A magistrate (or sheriff in Scotland) has discretion to grant a search warrant for authorised persons to search premises suspected of illegal activity in respect of television licensing. It is an offence to intentionally obstruct a person exercising the warrant (see section 366(8) of the Communications Act 2003). TV Licensing will be accompanied by the police when executing a search warrant.

Prosecutions

Do you prosecute people for not having a valid TV Licence?

Yes. TV Licensing will prosecute if it is in the public interest and there is sufficient evidence to do so. Anyone who watches or records television programmes as they're being shown on TV without a valid TV Licence runs the risk of prosecution.

What is a record of interview?

A record of interview is a written record taken by TV Licensing enquiry officers when they interview, under caution, a person they suspect has committed an offence under the Communications Act 2003. A record of interview is offered to be signed by the individual they have questioned to confirm that the record is an accurate account of the interview.

When conducting an interview enquiry officers must have regard to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act Codes of Practice (‘the PACE Codes’) or Scottish criminal law (depending on where the address is). This means enquiry officers have a duty to caution the individual concerned of their legal rights before interviewing them.

How many licence fee evaders are prosecuted and convicted of not having a valid TV Licence?

The BBC does not hold official statistics on the precise numbers of people actually prosecuted for evasion of the Television Licence Fee. For England, Wales and Northern Ireland, these figures are retained by both the Ministry of Justice (“MOJ”) and individual magistrates’ courts and can be requested using the following address - Data Access and Compliance Unit, Postal Point 6.25, Floor 6, 102 Petty France, London, SW1H 9AJ.

However some MOJ statistics have been published online.

www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmhansrd/cm100330/text/100330w0058.htm#10033134011432

www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/311455/cjs-outcomes-by-offence-2009-2013.xls (Click the ‘Offence’ drop down menu and scroll down to number 191 to see the relevant figures)

For Scotland, figures are available from the Crown Office Scotland and can be requested from the following address: Criminal Justice and Disclosure Team, Crown Office, 25 Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LA.

While the BBC does retain informal statistics on prosecution and conviction figures for England, Wales & Ireland, this information is indicative only and has not been verified against the official figures.

How much are they are fined? How many people actually pay their fines?

A fine is a matter solely for the court to impose and collect, not TV Licensing. The Ministry of Justice and each magistrates’ court in which the proceedings take place hold the official statistics on the number of convictions, and fines imposed and collected. Please contact them about this information. Information on the locations of the magistrates’ court in which proceedings take place is also available from the Ministry of Justice.

How many people are imprisoned for licence fee evasion?

A person cannot be sentenced to imprisonment if convicted of an offence under section 363 of the Communications Act 2003. The maximum penalty for not having a valid TV Licence is a £1000 fine (or £2000 in Guernsey and £500 Jersey). The court may also order the convicted person to pay for TV Licensing’s costs in the proceedings. However, a person may be imprisoned by the court for failing to pay the court fine.

Would you prosecute a person at an address that uses TV receiving equipment without a valid TV Licence, if that person doesn’t live there?

TV Licensing’s activities are carried out in accordance with specific policies and guidelines, which set out the criteria for prosecuting evaders. One of these criteria is that a person who is charged with a TV licensing offence must be an adult who resides at the address, or is the landlord or person responsible for licensing a television receiver at the premises. For example, a genuine visitor or babysitter at the premises will not be prosecuted.

What happens to the money collected from fines paid by persons convicted of licence fee evasion?

The court may impose a fine of up to £1000 (or £2000 in Guernsey and £500 in Jersey) on a person convicted of an offence under section 363 of the Communications Act 2003. Fines are a matter for the court alone to impose and collect and dispose of, not the BBC or TV Licensing.

How much do you spend on prosecuting people alleged to not have a valid TV Licence?

Enforcement activity is carried out by Capita Business Services Ltd using the BBC trade mark “TV Licensing” on the BBC’s behalf. A chart showing TV Licensing’s costs of collection is available in the Financial Information section.

 

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Latest press releases

TV Licensing: Check your details online to make sure your licence isn’t at the wrong address
Wed Sept 19 2017
When the cost of the Licence Fee was fixed at £145.50 in 2011, TV Licensing wrote to Direct Debit customers letting them know their licence would be automatically renewed and they would not receive any contact from TV Licensing as long as they kept up their payments.
TV Licensing launch radio trails aimed at students
Fri Aug 29 2017
TV Licensing has launched new radio trails on BBC Radio 1, 1Xtra, BBC Radio 2 and the Asian Network). The trails are part of a campaign encouraging students to make sure they are covered by a TV Licence in their student accommodation if they plan to watch or record live TV or watch or download BBC programmes on iPlayer.
Students going mobile as they leave TV sets behind
Tue Aug 15 2017
A change to the law last September means students are now more likely to need a TV Licence to watch on mobile devices. A TV Licence is needed for watching and recording live television, and since September, watching or downloading BBC programmes on iPlayer. This applies to laptops, mobiles or any other equipment.
 
 

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