Why should failure to pay for a TV licence attract a criminal penalty?

Because the licence fee is a tax. Gordon Brown declared it to be so.

Not paying taxes is a criminal offence.

Maybe it shouldn\’t be this way but it is….

30 thoughts on “Why should failure to pay for a TV licence attract a criminal penalty?”

  1. Interesting isn’t it how one poll tax – The Poll Tax – can bring about violent mass protest whilst another poll tax – The TV Licence – doesn’t.

    Now, I know I have a cynical side to me, but an explanation that fits is that the British Left has an army of rent-a-mob arseholes ready and waiting to jump to whatever call its leaders send out. No need to think; just follow.

  2. I resent pay a license fee to watch programs that are no better than those on commercial stations, and which feed us politically correct leftie propaganda. What’s the BBC for?

  3. Ironman,
    A slight difference is that one was a tax for existing, the other for the voluntary possession of a TV.

  4. @Luke
    but isn’t possession of a TV usually counted in that parcel of essential items & services the absence of which defines poverty?

  5. It would be great if the BBC moved to the Sky subscription TV model. I would rather be given the choice – I would still buy BBC channels but it may free up the courts from chasing those who can’t or won’t pay.

  6. “the other for the voluntary possession of a TV.”

    Actually, it is for watching (or recording) live broadcasts on a TV (or similar), nothing more. You can lawfully use a TV to watch recorded materials or play games or whatever, all without a TV licence.

  7. Bis. Probably. I vacillate over the licence fee. It’s obviously an anomaly. In the meantime , I’d agree collection/enforcement should be more like utilities, where there are problems cutting people off, but it’s civil, not criminal.

  8. @ bis
    I have never owned a TV in my life (and my parents didn’t acquire one until some years after I left home). When I was enjoying my highest standard of living I was living in a flat with no TV, no car, walking to work, eating in restaurants less than once a month, using Youth Hostels for holidays – sorry I’ve forgotten the rest of the Joe Rowntree profile – and generally regarded as very well off (not just because I *had* to wear made-to-measure suits because I was too thin for “off-the-peg”).
    [I must admit that seven or eight years after we married my wife acquired a TV for our younger son to watch and that both my father and I acquired a second-hand car in our mid-forties].

  9. Luke

    Yes, absolutely right. Except when a good becomes socially “essential” then possession in reality ceases to be voluntary. The legal dodges: only ever watch recorded programmes, simply don’t own one, whilst being legitimate and viable, are too unusual to be statistically genuine alternatives.
    So it’s a tax, a poll tax.

  10. “The legal dodges: only ever watch recorded programmes, simply don’t own one, whilst being legitimate and viable, are too unusual to be statistically genuine alternatives.”

    Not nowadays, thanks to the wonder of the internet. Watching TV via ‘on demand’ websites does not require a licence. So the only negative is that you can’t watch QI at exactly the moment it goes out live. Instead you have the other 99% of the week to watch it instead. Such a hardship.

    Virtually every program and film you could think of is available via streaming sites, all licence fee free. Eventually this is what will kill the TV licence.

  11. @ Ironman
    “statistically genuine” is nothing to do frequency
    noises off: sound of damaged roof falling to the ground

  12. “Virtually every program and film you could think of is available via streaming sites, all licence fee free. Eventually this is what will kill the TV licence.”

    Possibly. But it will be reborn as something less easily avoided (a tax on Internet connections already has many supporters.. having it fund the BBC would be a PR win for them), or the BBC will end up funded by a block grant which we all pay for anyway.

  13. Basically I support any option where I am not forced to pay for the BBC’s lefty crap. So charges on gas, electricity, council taxes, etc., are all out as is tax funding.

    The only option worth pursuing is subscription model. I doubt that will bring in 5bn alone as the current license fee + sales brings in but thems the breaks in the real world.

  14. The BBC is apparently the envy of the world, so clearly there’ll be no problem funding if by subscription. If they refuse to switch to that model, they clearly don’t believe their own propaganda.

  15. @The Thought Gang: That’s the beauty of the ‘death by the internet’ process. There’s no one big event that triggers the usual ‘something must be done’ moment. There will just be a slow and steady reduction in the number of people paying the licence fee as the older generations die off, being a) less IT literate and b) more wedded to the idea that buying a TV licence is just something one does, replaced by the YouTube and Smart Phone generations, for whom the idea of everyone in the country sitting down to watch Morecombe and Wise at the same time is utterly alien.

  16. John77

    Oops! OK, you know what I was trying to say – if it’s something ‘everyone’ is using, it’s no longer really optional – so, as a statistician, could tell us what “statistically genuine” means to you and how wrong I went.

    Jim at al

    Interesting point this. Is there – question of fact – a genuine alternative way of viewing now? If so, would your reason for non-payment stand up in Court? If it does, has the tax become optional and should it therefore be scrapped?

    As to matters of taste, bias , etc: actually TV is the one area where our little island claims to be The Envy of the World do honestly stack up. And despite all its well, very well, documented problems, BBC output is just about better than anything else anywhere. I personally think the quality of output heavily corrolates with (John77: corrolates WITH? Heavily?) the funding model. The licence fee provides for much higher quality than advert-based funding. However, so does subscription. If the licence fee does prove unsustainable and Direct Grant proves politically impossible, then Auntie has no choice but to go subscription.

  17. Ironman: “Interesting point this. Is there – question of fact – a genuine alternative way of viewing now? If so, would your reason for non-payment stand up in Court?”

    You can’t be prosecuted for simply not having a licence. It has to be shown that you are receiving “live” transmissions. I received a letter recently threatening court action. I phoned Capita and warned them that if I got another threatening letter I would consider it as harassment and report them to the police. I got a letter back telling me I had been taken off their list and would not receive any more letters for at least two years. 400,000 people did more or less the same thing last year. The licence fee is going to die the death of a thousand cuts.

  18. As to matters of taste, bias , etc: actually TV is the one area where our little island claims to be The Envy of the World do honestly stack up. And despite all its well, very well, documented problems, BBC output is just about better than anything else anywhere.

    Any non-Brits want to confirm this? Or is it another case of a nation blowing its own trumpet? I meet Australians who claim their wine is the best in the world, too!

  19. @ Tim N
    Certainly watched a fair amount of French TV & both their arts output & current affairs programming are in actuality what the BBC claims & fails to be.
    One particular programme has stuck in the memory. They’d got a representative of France’s Muslim community & one from the French far right in the studio & conducted an hour long debate between the two. With a genuinely unbiased moderator who went to great pains to show no favouritism to either side. The whole thing was conducted in a polite & orderly manner & by the end the two debaters had hacked out several areas of agreement. It just wasn’t the sort of thing the BBC could stage. It’s not in their DNA. The Nick Griffin/Question Time fiasco is more their style.

  20. It just wasn’t the sort of thing the BBC could stage. It’s not in their DNA. The Nick Griffin/Question Time fiasco is more their style.

    That’s striking at the core weakness of the Beeb – its soft left bias. Anywhere that isn’t reflected, they are actually quite good. Compare the coverage of Syria, say, with their coverage of Israel & Palestine. Similar team, same organisation, utterly different quality.

  21. Ironman: yes, this is entirely possible and entirely legal. I haven’t owned a telly for a few years now. I watch a lot of iPlayer and its cousins. No licence fee to pay here, and I just bin the TVL letters unless I want a laugh.

    I forget the source but I am sure I read somewhere that people in my age bracket (30 and under) are far more likely to do this than older generations.

  22. A few other thoughts.

    I’m never going to tell Crapita to stop sending me letters. I don’t know how much each letter they send costs them, but the more I can cost them, the sooner the telly licence will die. If they want to waste more time and money sending someone round for a nice chat, I’ll be very obliging.

    My preferred solution is to mutualise the BBC as a consumer co-operative. Obviously it would then offer subscription television. This is the solution which annoys the most people, so it must be the most correct. I worry about how radio would be funded, but not enough to stop me supporting mutualisation.

    There is a price, above zero, at which I would happily pay a subscription, or pay-per-view, for iPlayer. On my more moral days, I feel slightly guilty that I am getting a service free of charge. But I’m never near my chequebook at the time…

  23. Surreptitious Evil

    I think I share your analysis of the BBC’s soft-left bias – when it is applied and when it isn’t.

  24. No, nope, nada. Or, in the traditional language of this blog – utter and complete cock and bollocks.

    The criminality of not paying the TV licence is nothing to do with tax evasion. And it wasn’t Gordon Brown who declared the TV licence to be a tax, it was the Office of National Statistics (much to Gordon’s budgetary chagrin).

    In January 2006, when the ONS reclassified the TV licence from a service charge to a tax, it had been a criminal offence to install and use television reception equipment without purchasing state permission since 1st June 1946. The same regulations, as most recently amended in 2010, apply today. The ONS reclassification was “solely for the purpose of producing National Accounts and the statistical products based on them” and did not alter any TV licensing laws.

    The main reason the BBC still exists is because so many people are ignorant of the facts surrounding it. Tim, your post is another example.

    BTW, this current hype about the hundreds of thousands of prosecutions is merely battlefield preparation for giving the BBC the ability to prosecute outside of the courts. It will soon enjoy “fixed penalty” type powers, with defendants having to challenge in court if they want to risk worse punishment.

    Eventually, the TV licence will be replaced with an internet access levy of some sort. There is no way this swarm of rent-seeking bastards will jump off this gravy train.

    And they’ll succeed in this because the British people are a dull set of happily whipped dogs.

  25. Any non-Brits want to confirm this? Or is it another case of a nation blowing its own trumpet?

    I’ve never heard a non-Brit say ‘damn, I wish we had the BBC here, it’s the envy of the world’. Rather like the NHS, only Britons who live in Britain seem to think everyone else wishes they had it.

    We do get ‘Are You Being Served’ on the PBS station that comes over the border, but otherwise we really don’t watch anything from the BBC because the US and Canadian shows are better. Even the new Doctor Who became tediously politically correct and boring after a few seasons.

  26. @ Ironman
    Yes, I understand, I just felt that I had to make a fuss in case you or anyone else fell into the tempting fallacy that statistics is only about large numbers.
    The phrase that most closely resembles yours is “statistically valid” which means that there are no mathematical errors or logical fallacies (such as comparing apples with pears). e.g. only the other day I saw that the DWP in assessing the “Future Jobs Fund”, which was voluntary, decided not to compare the frequency of volunteers obtaining jobs with that of those of their age-group who did not volunteer because volunteers were obviously keener and/or more able, so they compared them with *the whole of* the next age-group up – who had not been given the option so was a mixture of volunteers and non-volunteers. So if you assume that there is a difference between volunteers and non-volunteers it is statistically invalid to compare volunteers with a mixture of the two.
    If you had said “statistically significant” (which has a range of meanings) I shouldn’t have even blinked as that would acceptably sloppy use of English. People like me are, or appear to be, rather less than 1% of the population, and most tests use either 5% of 1% as a level of “statistical significance”. Even better would have been to simply describe us as “insignificant, statistically” which sounds more polite than simply “insignificant”.

  27. @ Mike Power
    Yeah, well done!
    A couple of decades ago (pre-Capita) I got a series of letters threatening me with prosecution if I did not pay a licence fee. I answered the first couple politely, pointing out that I did not have a TV so didn’t need to pay. The third or fourth time I got annoyed and, after saying that I had never owned, and no intention of owning, a TV, threatened to report them to the police if they continued to harass me. It worked.

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