TV Licensing and Court fines.

Every day this particular page of our website receives more views than any other page and this is not surprising given that TV Licence fines last year accounted for over 10% of all criminal prosecutions with 3,500 cases being heard each week in the Magistrates Court. Of the 180,000 people convicted, over 70% were females and the vast majority of people were classed as “vulnerable” (ie:  out of work, on benefits, single parent or in receipt of ESA or DLA etc).

How does the BBC know whether I require a TV licence?

The BBC contract with a private company called Capita Business Services Ltd (using the BBC trade mark “TV Licensing”) to collect TV Licenses. Last year, Capita sent approx  21 million reminder letters. If you fail to pay following a reminder, an Enquiry Officer (employed by Capita) will make an unannounced personal visit  to the property and astonishingly, last year 3.8 million such visits were made…many of them  on a  Sunday !!

Do I have to let a TV licence Enquiry Officer into my home?

Enquiry officers do not have any legal powers to enter your home. Instead, they  (like other members of the public) rely on an ‘implied right in common law’ to call at a property and to knock at the door. Enquiry officers must explain the purpose of their visit.  However…. it is important to know that you have no obligation at all to allow the Enquiry Officer entry into your home and if you ask him to leave, he must do so immediately.

What will happen if I let the TV licence Enquiry Officer into my home?

If the TV Licensing Enquiry Agent visits he will ask a set of questions to whoever answers the door and they should enquire whether the person is an “appropriate person” to interview ( ie: an adult who lives in the house). They will be trying to find out if that  person has been receiving TV without a licence. If they suspect that this is the case, he has a duty to caution the individual concerned of their legal rights before taking a Prosecution Statement/Record of Interview  and he will then ask the interviewee to sign it. If it is decided to prosecute, this document will form the basis of prosecution evidence. It is important to be aware that there is no legal obligation to provide a statement to the Enquiry Officer.

It is not uncommon to hear reports of people “volunteering ” to pay the TV Licensing Agent a sum of money to purchase a licence during such a visit. If payment is accepted the Enquiry Agent will make it clear that this payment does not prejudice any subsequent prosecution case (e.g. even if the occupier pays for the licence, they could still be prosecuted for the offence).

For the Prosecution Statement the Enquiry Agent will want to know personal details (name, address etc) and details as to whether the individual is “vulnerable” (out of work, on benefits, single parent or in receipt of ESA or DLA etc) or whether employed.

Will I need to go to Court?

You do not have to attend court but you must ensure that you respond to the summons and complete and return the Means Enquiry Form.

If TV Licensing  decide to take you to court, this will be in the Magistrates Court and the prosecution (TV Licensing) must lay its case to the court within 180  days (6 months)  of the date of commission of the offence. This will normally be the date on which the Prosecution Statement (TVL 178) was signed. If this deadline is missed, the case cannot proceed.

Capita TV Licensing bring the prosecution on behalf of the BBC and will provide the court with the name and address of the defendant as given on the Prosecution Statement (TVL 178). The court will then send a summons to that  person and the case will normally be scheduled to be considered in the Magistrates Court approx 4-6 weeks after this. Sadly, from a great number of enquiries on this subject, the fact remains that barely anyone bothers to either respond to the summons or to complete the attached Means Enquiry Form. To demonstrate this, we received notification recently of a court hearing where 37 cases were considered by the Magistrates. None of the debtors attended the hearing but more seriously, only 2 debtors responded to the summons and submitted a Means Enquiry Form!!

We cannot stress upon anyone reading this page  the importance of responding to the summons and completing the Means Enquiry Form. The reason is outlined in detail on a separate page here.

How much is the fine for using a TV without a licence?

As outlined above, Capita TV Licensing submit ‘bulk applications’ to the Magistrates Court and over the space of approx 1-2 hours the court will typically consider approx 50 cases. The following information has been compiled from one particular ‘TV Licensing hearing’ that took place in July  2015 and where the ‘Capita Court Presenter’ requested that the Magistrates consider 37 cases. Of these, twenty seven defendants were in the bracket of unemployed, on benefits, widowed, receiving DLA or single parents. The Magistrate set the following level of court fine:

In twenty two of the cases the court imposed  court fines of £55 with a Victims Surcharge of £20 and costs of £90

Three debtors who admitted to the Enquiry Agent that  they had used a TV without a licence for more than 6 months had court fines imposed of £82.50.

The two debtors who had bothered to respond to the summons by pleading guilty were given reduced fines of just £35 for  ‘early mitigation’.

With the remaining ten defendants, the court presenter stated that they were all ’employed’ and accordingly, they received a significantly higher fine of £200 together with a ‘Victim Surcharge’ of £20 and ‘Costs’ of £90.

As outlined in this example, if a debtor responds to the summons and completes a Means Enquiry Form the level of fine will be reduced.

TV Licence fine…I did not receive a summons.

There can be many reasons why a defendant had not received a summons. As an example, TV licensing have 6 months in which to “lay the complaint” at the Magistrates Court and in that time, many people may have moved address, relationships/marriages may have broken  down and post may have gone astray. If you had not received a summons then consideration can be given to completing a  Statutory Declaration. If accepted, all enforcement of the court fine will cease. If you had been unaware of the court fine please read  here .

The procedure for applying for a Statutory Declaration is outlined  here.

Note from Bailiff Advice.

If you have received a letter from either Marston Group Ltd,  Collectica Ltd, Swift Credit Services or Excel Enforcement Ltd in relation to a court fine or, if you require guidance  with a Statutory Declaration, you can email a question to us using our popular Question page.  Alternatively, you can contact us by phone. Details are on our Contact page.

A simple overview of the new Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 can be read here.