Saturday, 5 March 2011

BBC Harrassment

I have had a letter at work from the BBC, or at least the arm of the Beeb that trades as "TV Licensing".

It seems that they have assumed that, as an office, we have web access.  This at least is true.  Therefore, they reason,  as it is now possible to view live TV programs on the web, we must need a TV licence for our office.  Unless we prove otherwise...

Now that is odd, because the (very) little bit of legal training that I have did mention something called the burden of proof.  Something about the person who wishes to assert something being the one who has to prove their case.  Yet there is nothing in the BBC's letter which contains even the remotest indication that anyone in our office has been watching live TV via the web.

Instead, there is a form for me to fill out, which looks very like a witness statement, being rather legalish and with a space for my name, address, and so on, in which I can tick one or more boxes to explain on what basis I think I don't need a licence.  There is a stern warning that if this is not complied with and a licence is not purchased, then they will commence an investigation into us.  Indeed, it warns that an investigation is likely even if we return the witness statement, in order to ensure that our statement is true.

That is odd, as well.  I do not recall the BBC having any power of entry into my office.  So presumably the investigation will consist of a man with a yellow jacket and a clipboard standing at my door, angling for an invitation in, and haranguing me until I admit something.

The whole letter is threatening in tone; it is written from an assumption that we have broken the law, that I am an habitual liar, and that we need to be brought into line.  The references to investigations following if we do not buy a licence are horribly close to demanding money with menaces.

I was sufficiently insulted by the letter that I declined to respond using their form.  Instead, I have written a curt letter back to them in the name of the firm, stating that a licence is not necessary for the premises.  We shall see what happens.  My staff have been briefed that if an investigator turns up, he is not to be invited in and that I will speak to him outside.

If he insists on taking my time looking round the office, I will ask for him billing details and give him a client care letter setting out my hourly rate.


  1. We had much the same. its the tone of the thing that is so offensive.
    Told them we didn't watch tv here.

    They wrote back basically saying fine. But we're watching you!

    Haven't had another letter since.

  2. we're watching you!

    How sinister. So the "BB" in "BBC" standards for "Big Brother" rather than...

  3. I get snotograms from these people every three months or so. Fortunately, my house is furnished with a suitable receptacle. When one of their officials appeared, I told him he wasn't coming in without a warrant. Heard nothing since.

  4. I hardly dare ask what the C stands for...

    Brian - Clipboard Man will get exactly the same response from me.

    Bill - yes, the tone is unnecessary and insulting. If I get the "we're watching" letter, I may reply saying that I'm watching them, too, and require proof from them that they are not harassing me... in the absence of proof I will of course be starting an investigation...

  5. in the absence of proof I will of course be starting an investigation...

    Well, you have at least got evidence that they are harassing you - they haven't got evidence you are watching TV, so your case should win before their's does.

  6. I can't remember where (or when) but the TV licensing quango did admit that they couldn't enforce the rule that people watching live TV via the iPlayer should have a license. Something to do with the law saying having receiving equipment but viewing via the internet is not a receiving radio frequency TV signals.

    Whatever the case, they can't enter your premises without a court order no matter how much they argue otherwise.

    They also do the FUD thing with the TV detector vans. Yes there are vans. But no they don't detect TVs. They just drive them around various areas to make it look like they're doing something.

  7. I wonder if they are sending this out to all local and central government offices? And if not, why not? They have computers, after all...

  8. SadButMadLad: "I cant remember where (or when)..."

    I can:


  9. I looked into the law. The Communications Act 2003, section 368 allows the Secretary of State to define what is meant by a "television receiver", and he has done so in the form of the The Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004, which sets out the definition that a “television receiver” means any apparatus installed or used for the purpose of receiving (whether by means of wireless telegraphy or otherwise) any television programme service, whether or not it is installed or used for any other purpose.

    The "or otherwise" after "by means of wireless telegraphy" means that non-rf receivers such as an Internet terminal count as a TV receiver if they are in fact being used for that purpose. The "whether or not it is installed or used for any other purpose" means that I can't claim that I installed the desktop PC for them to do their work on it; if they use it as a TV receiver then I needed to have bought a licence.

    It is, as you might expect, all sewn up. (Apart from the lack of any evidence that we use the PCs as TV receivers, the main reason for which is, of course, that we don't...). They have the right to demand you get a licence for watching TV on a PC. They can't detect it, but they can't detect normal TV sets either.

    Julia - don't give them ideas. You know who'll have to pay for the licences... and once they have the licence all productive work will sto... oh, wait...

  10. Forgot to add - a reasonable letter from a decent organisation would have pointed that out, politely. It would not have required me to spend half an hour googling the maze that is UK law in order to check their claims.

  11. Poor timing.

    They really should have despatched those letters on April 22nd.

  12. Also had one for a premises that we lease to Royal Mail.
    It was addresses to Royal mail but instructed the landlord to pay for TV.

    There are no TVs or PC's there. Its a storage unit.
    And Royal Mail pay for a blanket licence that allows them to have TV's radio in any of their properties anyway.

    These agencies don't do much research.

  13. What needs to happen is this: HMG states that as a matter of policy the licence fee will be replaced by general taxation. Once this has been done, HMG announces a 95% cut in the direct funding of the BBC, in conjunction with an instruction that the tax-funded budget will be handed out to pay for specific programmes or schemes and that any broadcaster will be free to apply for the funds.

    If we are to have state-funded TV it may as well be done sensibly.

  14. What about employing a pensioner aged over 75, for say an hour a week? They get a free TV licence and at the same time you could demonstrate that you are not infringing the age discrimination laws. If the pensioner was disabled, belonged to an ethnic minority and female, think of all the other PC requirements you could meet in one person.

  15. BQ - Oh dear...

    BE - That's actually a good idea. "Doing things sensibly" would (admittedly) be a novel approach to government, but one I think we should try. I dread to imagine the squeals from the vested interests, though.

    EP - a cunning idea! (although I don't actually want my staff watching TV when they're meant to be working...)