20 June 2011
Dear Mark, Request for Information – RFI20110690
Thank you for your email, received 16 June 2011, requesting information under the terms of the Freedom
of Information Act 2000.
Before I respond to your questions, it may be helpful if I first explain the nature of the relationship between
TV Licensing and the BBC. “TV Licensing” is a trade mark used by companies contracted by the BBC to
administer the collection of television licence fees and enforcement of the television licensing system. The
majority of the administration of TV Licensing is contracted to Capita Business Services Ltd (which
undertakes the majority of the administration of the TV Licensing system), with the administration of our
cash related payment schemes contracted to iQor UK Limited. PayPoint Network Ltd and PayPoint
Collections Ltd are contracted to provide over-the-counter services. Marketing and printing services are
contracted to Proximity London Ltd as are public relations and advertising services. The latter are
subcontracted by Proximity to Fishburn Hedges Boys Williams Ltd, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO Ltd and
PHD Media Ltd. The BBC is a public authority in respect of its television licensing functions and retains
You have requested the following information:
1. Whether the BBC relies on legislation or common law in its letter writing to unlicensed households?
2. Whether the BBC relies on legislation or common law in its "home visits" to unlicensed households?
3. In the case of (1) above, a description of the activities permitted by legislation or common law that the BBC
4. In the case of (2) above, a description of the activities permitted by legislation or common law that the BBC
Part 4 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to install or use a television receiver to watch
or record any television programmes as they're being shown on television without a valid TV Licence. Part
4 of the Communications Act does not refer specifically to writing letters to unlicensed households or to
making visits to unlicensed households. Part 4 does however state that the BBC will issue TV licences and
collect the licence fee. It also creates a power for a search warrant to be granted to any person authorised
by the BBC or Ofcom. Search warrants are granted so that evidence may be found (or not) of the
commission of an offence under section 363 of the Communications Act.
The fact that the activities you refer to are not specifically provided for does not mean that the BBC has no
power to undertake them. Case law has established that a statutory power will be construed as impliedly
authorising everything which can fairly be regarded as incidental or consequential to the power itself and
this doctrine is interpreted widely by the courts.
These activities will fall within this principle. Every public authority dealing with public money must act
efficiently. In addition, the BBC Charter requires that the arrangements for the collection of the licence fee
are efficient, appropriate and proportionate. It would not be an acceptable policy for TV Licensing to make
no checks on those who tell us that they do not need a television licence. This would lead to an increase in
the number of people making false claims, thereby increasing crime and decreasing the amount of revenue
Further, the provisions of section 366 themselves require that the BBC makes enquiries such as this. A
search warrant will only be granted where the court is satisfied that there are:
a) reasonable grounds for believing that an offence under section 363 has been or is being committed
b) that evidence of the commission of the offence is likely to be the on the premises stated and
c) that one or more of the following conditions is satisfied.
The relevant conditions that must be satisfied are:
a) that there is no person entitled to grant entry to the premises with whom it is practicable to
b) that there is no person entitled to grant access to the evidence with whom it is practicable to
c) that entry to the premises will not be granted unless a warrant is produced.
The BBC can only satisfy these conditions if it has sought to communicate with the individual and has
sought to gain entry to the premises without a warrant.
5. Notwithstanding the above, please can you confirm what obligation(s), if any, unlicensed households have to
co-operate with your enforcement process.
I have interpreted “cooperation with your enforcement process
” as referring to both TV Licensing mailings and
to visits from TV Licensing visiting officers.
In terms of TV Licensing mailings I confirm that individuals are not obliged to respond. As we are legally
obligated to ensure all those who need a licence have one, we write to unlicensed properties to ask
whether a licence is required. If no response is received we have no way of knowing whether a licence is
required or not. I would add that the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) estimates 26.8
million private domestic households (approximately 97% of households) in the UK own televisions. TV
Licensing therefore has, prior to sending out any letters, good reason to consider many unlicensed
households do in fact require a TV Licence.
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 occupant of a property has no obligation to grant entry to an
enquiry officer. If refused entry the enquiry officer will leave the property. I would note however that if
enquiry officers are refused access or an occupant withdraws the right to visit, then TV Licensing reserve
the right to use other methods of detection. 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.
6. The BBC has made the following statement in various responses regarding licence fee enforcement: "This
responsibility was expressly confirmed by the Home Office in 1991.”. Please can you publish the content
of that confirmation by The Home Office, together with its context and the name and authority of the
Home Office official who agreed it..
In 1991 the BBC took over the responsibility for managing licence fee collection and administration from
the Home Office. The transfer of functions to the BBC was set out in a March 1991 document, a copy of
which is attached. Please note that due to the age of this document some references are now out of date.
Please also disregard the highlighting in Clause 3 of the agreement.
In accordance with section 1(1) of the Act, I am able to confirm that the BBC does not hold the additional
information you have requested, specifically the name and authority of the Home Office who agreed it. Your appeal rights
This enquiry has been dealt with under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, as indicated above. If
you are not satisfied that we have complied with the Act in responding to your request, you have the right
to an internal review by a BBC senior manager or legal adviser. Please contact us at the address above
explaining what you would like us to review and including the reference number given at the start of this
letter. If you are not satisfied with the internal review, you may appeal to the Information Commissioner,
whose contact details are as follows: Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane,
Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF; telephone: 01625 545700; www.ico.gov.uk.
Dan McGregor Senior Policy Adviser, TV Licensing Management Team