We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

This is actually quite fun


Let me see

An officer has been scheduled to visit to find out if TV is being watched or recorded illegally. The Officer may visit your property at any day of the week, morning or evening

And he may stand outside and knock at your door like any other member of the public. You are perfectly free to then let him in, not let him in, stand there and stare at him oddly for a time whilst making clucking noises, or suggest he undertake in biologically impossible sexual acts. Entirely your call.

We can apply to court for a search warrant to gain access to your property

Yes, you can, just as you can jump off a cliff, flap your arms, and see if you can fly. The fact that (after I have lived at this address for two and a half years) you are still addressing me as “Legal Occupier” does tend to suggest to me that I should perhaps not quake in my boots too much. Magistrates are not, as I understand it, generally terribly impressed when people apply for warrants to enter the premises of unknown people who are not known to be breaking the law in any way. Or even known people who are not known to be breaking the law in any way, for that matter. Oddly enough, I get letters from Sky from time to time suggesting that I might want to pay them money in return for television services, also. Since soon after I arrived here, they have been addressed to “Dr Michael Jennings”, suggesting that it is not actually very hard to find out who lives here. Although they have not actually been any more successful in getting me to pay them money then the TV licensing people have, they have at least been polite, and haven’t threatened me with anything. It is almost as if they think I have a choice.

An officer can take your statement under caution, in compliance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 or Scottish Criminal Law

Anything you say to the Officer may be used as evidence in court

Best not to say anything then, hey?

You risk a fine of up to £1,000, in addition to legal costs

This is why, if they do actually obtain evidence that you are watching television without a licence, possibly because your naive flatmate or one of your children let the nice man into your flat when you were not there, you should offer to pay for a television licence at once. The TV licence men get paid a commission when you do this, so it is usually not too much trouble to get them to agree to it. (Agreeing to pay it retrospectively is much better than being taken to court. This is another reason why the only people actually taken to court tend to be penniless single mothers). However, it’s generally better to teach your flatmates and children to never let vampires, politicians, people from television licensing, or census enumerators into your home under any circumstances, and make it understood that they will be punished harshly if they do.

A reminder of the law

Oooh. Bold writing.

It is illegal to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on TV without a TV Licence – no matter what device you do.

Let us know if you don’t need one at www.tvlicensing.co.uk/noTV or by calling 0300 7906097. We
may visit to confirm this.

And if they do, you are once again free to let them in, not let them in, stand there and stare oddly for a time while making clucking noises, or suggest they undertake in biologically impossible sexual acts. Once again, I wish them well in obtaining a warrant to enter your premises to verify that you are not doing anything illegal, given that there is no evidence that you are other than your claim that you aren’t. TV licensing are actually well known for paying no attention to people who tell them they do not have a TV – everyone does, after all. Let’s see if we can instead persuade your children to let us into your home so that we can prove that you are lying.

Slightly more seriously, the rhythm of these missives from TV licensing can be predicted. They start out polite, and they gradually gain more red highlighting, and become steadily more threatening. Then, after a cycle of about six, they go back to polite, and work their way up again. Only once did a man from TV licensing actually make a visit. On this occasion, there was a knock on the door of my flat at about 9am one morning. A stern voice asked “Can I have a word with you?” in a semi-threatening tone. I asked who he was. He answered “TV licensing”. I explained politely that while the stairway and corridors of the block of flats in which I live are shared by the various tenants of the building, they are not a public place, and that he was therefore trespassing, and that if he wished to talk to me he should go downstairs, shut the door to the building behind him, ring my bell, and talk to me on the intercom. I don’t know how he had got in – perhaps he had rung the bell of one of the other tenants and claimed to be the postman. Or perhaps he had been let in by the naive flatmate or one of the small children of one of the other tenants.

In any event, I spoke no more and returned to my kitchen to finish preparing my breakfast. He spoke no more to me, either. Several minutes later, a piece of paper quite similar to the one scanned above came through the mail slot in the door of my flat, explaining that someone from television licensing had called but that I had been out, that if I was watching television without a licence I was BREAKING THE LAW, and that another visit would be scheduled soon.

That was about two years ago.

42 comments to This is actually quite fun

  • George

    did you open the door or just talk to him through it?

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Michael, they need the licence fees, so that they can improve the quality of the shows on TV! Otherwise, they’ll stay as they are! The quality of British TV rests on your shoulders!

  • Dave Walker

    I had some issues with the TV licensing people (Capita at the time, I think) a few years ago; the long and short of it is that I was due to go to the US for a couple of months starting the day my TV licence expired, so I figured I could go, get a new one when I got back, and thus save myself some money in not paying for TV I wasn’t in a position to watch anyway.

    I got back to find some nasty letters on my doormat. There were two points in particular I was able to respond to, both down to matters of wording on the licence.

    1. The licence is “to watch” television, not “to own” a television. I wasn’t watching television at home for those 2 months or so, as I was in California; I had the relevant stamps in my passport, and didn’t mind producing them as evidence.

    2. The licence says it “expires on” a date, not that it “must be renewed by” a date. Therefore, I went overseas and let the licence expire, as I didn’t need one while I wasn’t here (see above). On getting back, I’d was happy enough to buy a new one starting from then, so that I could legally start watching television again.

    It worked just fine.

    In all honesty, I don’t mind paying the BBC some money from time to time, if it helps keep Radio 4 going. However, strictly speaking, I should be able to assert the right to attempt to decode and extract information from any electromagnetic radiation traversing my property, for free.

  • Dave Walker

    Hmmm – another observation on the fact that the form is addressed to “Legal Occupier”.

    Does this mean that squatters don’t have to buy a television licence, on top of all the other liberties they’re seemingly allowed to take with other people’s property?

  • George: No, I just spoke through the door. There is a slot in the door that my mail comes through – the postman buzzes the doorbells on the individual flats one by one until someone lets him in, and then he puts the mail through the slot in each door – and this also makes it relatively easy to speak to someone on the other side of the door without opening it.

    Dave: With respect to “The Legal Occupier”, I’ve wondered about that too. I recall that the census form last year was addressed simply to “The Occupier” without the word “Legal”. In that case, we were all obliged to fill in the form, legal occupation or not.

  • RAB

    I have a few issues with the BBC Licensing twats too. I got one recently that said that I did not appear to have a License and continuing in the same manner as the letter above. Well I pay by standing order, so I scrawled “Check your records again, you morons” across the missive and sent it back. I have heard nothing further.

    Though it is not a lot of money, and I can afford it, I increasingly wonder why I bother to continue to pay. I hate the left wing and AGW bias, pro EU crap etc they pump out from dawn to dusk, and although I am frequently abroad, though not as frequently as Mr Air Miles Jennings (christ who is! 😉 ) I find I cannot access their iPlayer while there, even though I’ve bloody paid for it!

    Not only that but they run bloody adverts for the fuckin iPlayer service all the time telling us that we can catch up with ALL their programmes when we, in fact, can’t. They show Dad’s Army repeats every week for instance but they, and a raft of other progs never get onto iPlayer. I feel like suing the bastards under the Sales of Goods Act, but they would probably defend themselves by pointing out that the theft of my money via the Licence fee, under threat of arrest and imprisonment for non payment, does not constitute a legal sale (no more like a protection racket) wouldn’t they? 😉

    Godammit! I think I’ll cancel the standing order and see what happens. I still have an almost 360 degree range of fire here.

  • Sam Duncan

    “It is illegal to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown without a licence.”

    Interesting wording. The BBC likes to imply (although I don’t know if it’s ever been said outright) that you “need” a licence for iPlayer if you don’t have a TV. Are programmes on iPlayer (or, for that matter, ITV/STV Player, 4OD, or Demand 5) “being shown” after they’ve been broadcast over the air? I’d argue not. The internet is not TV, and they’re no more “being shown” than DVD boxed sets are.

  • Josh

    I’m pretty sure iplayer doesn’t require a license (you don’t need to sign anything that says you have one, and I couldn’t find anywhere that said you had to have a license).

    I don’t have a license nor do I own a TV. Receiving those letters from the BBC can be quite fun.

    Hope your comments get spread widely and people realise that if they want, it would be relatively easy to not pay the BBC tax. For their sake they need to develop a better way of raising funds. For our sake, we need to stop funding them.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    We’re celebrating V.D. here, so I’ll send lots of air-chocolate to all the libertariennes out there, or would that be libertarianas? Oodles extra to Alisa for all our correspondence here, and to make up for all the times I forgot.
    I wonder, though, if I should eat all that air-chocolate myself? I wouldn’t want anyone to become a chocoholic! That’s the excuse I’m giving here for not giving real chocolate to anyone! (I had to eat it all myself! you would have loved it!) So use the air-chocolate responsibly, and exercise your imagination afterwards! Lots of (tough) love!!!

  • James

    Better not try that with the Cat license people. They have a van that can detect a cats purr from over a mile away. Even more for a particularly happy cat.

  • ThePresentOccupier

    One a month for the past 17 years. The patterns repeat themselves; in the past 3 years I think I’ve seen about 8 “We have opened an investigation” threat messages.

    I’ve tried taking it up with the ASA before now as the demands (with menaces) masquerade as legitimate bills, which they are not. ASA decided not to pursue it, but it was worth a shot.

    It is still Capita running the show.

  • Corsair

    My late mother has been receiving these letters for two years! As her executor, I wrote to them to inform them of her death, but the veiled threats still keep arriving at her (empty) flat.


  • APL

    Sam Duncan: “Are programmes on iPlayer (or, for that matter, ITV/STV Player, 4OD, or Demand 5) “being shown” after they’ve been broadcast over the air? I’d argue not.”

    I’d agree. When you demand a video stream across the internet, it is not being broadcast.

  • Jim

    You do not need a licence to watch ‘On demand’ services such as Iplayer, and the BBC admit as such on their website:


    A more interesting point is whether you need a licence to watch live programmes that are not being broadcast to the UK. Many sports are available live online that you cannot watch at all anywhere on ‘normal’ terrestrial or satellite TV. Under those circumstances I would argue you do not need a licence to watch them either.

  • pf

    I have been receiving and ignoring these letters for the past 7 and a half years. Nothing else happened.

  • Paul Marks

    Every year I tell myself I am not going to pay the television tax – and every year I pay it.

    Your courage shames me Mr Jenings.

    I am ashamed of my weakness.

    When (once in a Blue Moon) I do watch a BBC show it is full of errors of fact (not just opinion – hard fact).

    Yet when I complain (and jump through all the hoops to do so) all I get is (at best) “you are the only person to have complained about this matter” – as if that was a defence.

    No I have no excuse for my cowardice.

    I should not pay a special tax to this lying bunch of leftist shits (the BBC), and yet I do.

    I repeat – I am ashamed of my weakness.

  • Miv Tucker

    The letter also implies a completely non-existant relationship between you and the licence people: You have not responded, THEREFORE we have to take action.

    It’s the same sort of argument that used to be (probably still is) used by, eg, striking hospital porters, etc: The government will not cave in to our demands, THEREFORE we have no choice but prevent all emergency surgery.

    There is no obligation whatever on the recipient to respond to these letters, and, quite apart from the extremely cogent analysis presented in this blog, this fact alone should show what incredibly shaky ground the TV licence people are standing upon.

  • Peter

    TV Catch Up re streams live TV on the web and therefore is delayed by a minute or so. I believe that this is ok to watch without a license. You can also login to sky player to watch all your channels and so don’t need a sky box or TV any more. It also seems to be slightly delayed so I would argue is not broadcast.

    When my TV packs up I am thinking of just getting a projector to connect to the laptop.

  • Alisa

    Miv Tucker, how is this different from a case where it were a matter of income tax or anything similar?

    The letter also implies a completely non-existant relationship between you and the licence people: You have not responded, THEREFORE we have to take action.

    As far as I can see, the relationship is very much existent, even though it is forced on one party by the other. What am I missing?

  • PeterT

    Some of you courageous people might find it fun to run circles around TV licensing. But for those of us who have no appetite for this, and those of a handwringing bent, being hounded by these people is not pleasant.

    I agree with the ‘never answer the door’ technique, although its a sad reflection on our society that we need to resort to this. After all, it could be a neighbour short of sugar.

  • terence patrick hewett

    These people under their various manifestations have been sending this stuff to me for 20 years: on the odd occasion that anybody calls I just laugh and sneer at them and explain that I don’t own and never have owned a tv and never will own a tv: it never makes any difference they still keep on sending the stuff. Do what I do and bin their letters un-opened with the rest of the junk mail.

  • Shaun Bourke


    The BBC is a private UK Corporation operating under Royal Charter, as such it would not have the power to tax a private individual’s personal property.

    I would imagine the first place to challenge this tax, ‘licence fee’, is to demand in court that the BBC show standing to impose and collect this tax.

  • Miv Tucker

    Hi Alisa,

    I’d argue that it’s dissimilar to an income tax demand or a letter from HMRC.

    If the HMRC writes to you, they’re writing to a named person, and with reference to a specific NI number (or whatever), not just taking a shot in the dark at the “legal occupier”.

    And there is a statutory obligation to pay taxes. I don’t know for sure, but I can imagine that there is also somewhere a statutory duty to reply to HMRC correspondence.

    However, there’s no obligation to own a TV set, and I seriously doubt whether the TV people have any power to make you answer their letters.

    By the same token, there’s no obligation to own a car or a dog, but the DVLC and the Post Office do not constantly bombard all (apparent) non-car or dog owners demanding to see their licences or prove the non-need for same.

    And there is a separate civil-liberty / privacy issue: if the licence people want to build a database of all TV / non-TV addresses, I suppose that’s their privilege, but that doesn’t impose any responsibility on me (or anyone else) to help them.

    Which is why I never respond to them, even to say I don’t have a TV, and much as I’d like to tell them to FO and MYOB.

  • Dead Dog Bouce

    I had a gentleman turn up one morning from TV Licensing last year. I was out of work, unshaven, and dressed for DIY.

    I told him I didn’t watch TV and he was most understanding. He said in that case, I should notify the head office.

    I said that I considered the BBC an evil organisation, and anything I could do to reduce funds available to it was a good thing.

    No-one else has turned up.

  • John K

    Can’t the BBC Detector Vans discover who has a telly? I remember the adverts from the 70s, which purported to show that they could tell if you were watching Kojak without a licence. These seem to have disappeared in recent years. Surely the BBC, a respected public body, couldn’t have been bullshitting us? Say it ain’t so.

  • Alisa

    Miv Tucker:

    but the DVLC and the Post Office do not constantly bombard all (apparent) non-car or dog owners demanding to see their licences or prove the non-need for same.

    But they legally could, if they just felt like it, couldn’t they?

    In any case, it now occurs to me that the answer may be lying in Shaun’s comment:

    The BBC is a private UK Corporation operating under Royal Charter, as such it would not have the power to tax a private individual’s personal property.

    I didn’t know that. I live in Israel, where our founding “fathers” (I’d rather be orphaned) apparently modeled our system on the British one, with one difference: to the best of my knowledge, the IBA is a governmental organization.

  • David Gillies

    If I ever had to live in the UK again, one of the few things I would have at my disposal to make life bearable would be not owning a TV so I could tell the license people to get stuffed. I’d have a bloody great monitor so I could watch DVDs, mind.

    It’s part of a generally good policy: not to interact with agents of the State except in the most vestigial manner and under the most exigent of circumstances. Otherwise it only encourages them.

  • pete

    I just ignore the letters.

    They have no effect on me.

    I’d ignore electricity and gas bills too if the suppliers were as toothless as the BBC at getting income or restricting supply of their product.

  • @Paul Marks:

    I agree that the British as a nation (not just yourself) need to “Grow a Pair” with respect to TV licensing.

    In 2009, I served a “Letter before Action” on the BBC’s Director General due to the continuing harassment received from these “TV Licensing” (a Brand Name of the BBC) idiots and their hired goons from Crapita.

    “Dear Mr. Thompson,

    It is with the deepest regret that I have to write to you to protest in the strongest possible terms about the continued harassment that I am receiving from the BBC’s revenue collection agents (“TV Licensing” the majority of the administration of which is contracted out by the BBC to Capita Business Services Ltd)

    I am the legal owner of the property at 123, Market Street, Woodsey Newtown WN1 1AA. The property does not contain any devices for the receiving of television broadcasts from the BBC or any other broadcaster. Despite notifying the BBC revenue collection agents of this fact in September, I continue to receive threatening letters and unwarranted visits, neither of which are requested nor required.

    Although I am not currently resident in the UK, I find the continual stream of threatening letters and visits to the property to be harassment and I demand that the BBC and its agents CEASE AND DESIST this harassment with immediate effect.

    On 17th November 2009 at 19:48 an agent of the BBC allegedly visited the above property and finding the property unoccupied, left an intimidating letter. This letter essentially stated that they had been to inspect the property and would keep returning until they were satisfied that I was telling the truth when stating that no television receiving equipment was in operation at the property. I find the presumption that I am in violation of the law at best insulting and at worst libellous.

    In light of all of the above, I have no option but to inform you that I am withdrawing any and all “implied right of access” to the BBC and its agents with immediate effect. Any breach of this will be treated as criminal trespass and harassment. I have also instructed the contractors working at the property to call the police if any attempt is made to gain entry to the property. I would advise you that this includes the private road which leads up to the property.

    For the avoidance of doubt, you should consider this as a “letter before action”. Any further harassment from the BBC or its agents will result in legal remedies being sought. Please provide acknowledgement of this letter as soon as may be possible so that this matter can be resolved swiftly and without further recourse.

    John Galt Esquire”

    Never had a peep out of them since.

  • Tanuki

    Having received a number of such letters, each more and more threatening/accusative, I finally found out the ‘Freepost’ address of TV-Licensing and wrote to them saying that further communications would be viewed as actionable under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 – and furthermore thay any implied common-law right-of-access to any employee of “TV Licensing” or their agents [specifically Capita] was hereby revoked.

    Just as a finisher, I ‘offered’ them a parking-charge rate of £1000-per-instance for any TV-Licensing/Capita representative applied to my land and that any further correspondence from them would be viewed as a formal acceptance of this offer.

    That was three years ago. So far, they’ve left me alone.

  • George

    Michael, this slot in your door that acts as an outside/inside interface sounds an interesting idea, I wonder if it will catch on.

  • Snag

    We’re celebrating V.D. here

    Blimey! People used to keep quiet about that sort of thing.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Well, this is the age that tells you to let it all hang out, isn’t it Snag? Soon there’ll be a TV show about it, no doubt! It has even spread to India, I hear. I wonder what Saint Valentine would make of all this?

  • Brad

    When I was in the UK, I had a license for the first year and dropped it because I didn’t actually watch any live TV. I received quite a few of these letters, with the same dancing around the law.

    While TV Licensing make it easy to acquire a licence online, they wanted me to pay them (via an 0845 number) to tell them to go away. So I just ignored them.

  • Brad

    (hit “post” early, meh)

    I like how a company with revenue of £2.7*10^9 and 35k employees doesn’t have anybody intelligent enough to change the form letter based on whether an address is in Scotland or rest-of-UK.

  • Paul Marks

    The BBC was indeed created as a private company.

    However, with the active approval of its manager (John R.) it was taken over by the government – this was considered a great honour (the idea that is a honour to be taken over by the state has roots in Germanic philosophy and was brought to this island, by various thinkers, in the early 1800s – yes as early as that).

    The fact that it keeps a corporate structure is, legally, meaningless.

    One might as well say that the Bank of Enland is a private corporation (state owned since 1946 – and really under state control since it was created, by Act of Parliament, in 1694).

    French televlsion and radio used to be under democratric control – i.e. when a diffent party won an election the old presenters (and producers) were cleared out and new ones (pro the new President) were put in.

    However, under President J.C. this practice stopped – he allowed the leftists of the previous regime to stay in place.

    This was a move away from “political control” (i.e. democratic control) towards the Anglo-German idea of an “independent state”, i.e. something owned by the state but NOT under the control of the elected politicians.

    Actually I think this “independance” is actually WORSE than direct political control.

  • Michael, this slot in your door that acts as an outside/inside interface sounds an interesting idea, I wonder if it will catch on.

    I find it quite effective. I can talk to people on the other side of the door if I really need to. Most useful things can come through the slot. For the larger items, I find that there are one or two postmen I can trust sufficiently that I will open the door. Meanwhile, I can sit inside and access the world through the wondeful tubes while sitting in my pyjamas. (Obviously, I cannot watch TV, as I do not have a licence). I only ever come out when I need to put out the garbage or when I am on my way to Trans-Carpathian Ruthenia.

  • Sunfish

    I only ever come out when I need to put out the garbage or when I am on my way to Trans-Carpathian Ruthenia.

    Can you call a guy a shut-in when he has as many frequent-flier miles as the next seventeen of us?

  • Plus ca meme chose…

    “Now, Mr Haddock, the complaining witness in this case, received a letter from the prisoner demanding money. The letter was printed in ink of a bright red colour…

    Rest of the story at


  • @Staghounds:

    Although dated (coming from the 1930’s) the case of Rex versus Puddle touches all of the right pounds.

    Worth a good laugh anyday, still smiling.

  • James Waterton

    If this seems to be a stupid question, please accept my apologies because I am completely unfamiliar with the way in which the BBC bills its customers.

    At the bottom of the letter Michael posted, the final bullet point gives you the option of declaring that you have no TV via a website. Ok, they do somewhat menacingly state that they may visit to check on the veracity of your claim. But does telling them you don’t have a TV get them off your back to some degree?

  • Sorry to disappoint you James, but the only effect I found (prior to threatening legal action on the BBC’s Director General) of completing the idiotic ‘No Need for a TV License’ form was that instead of these threats coming addressed to ‘The Legal Occupier’, they started coming directly addressed to me instead.

    Net effect of completing the web form was the square root of fuck all.