I don't watch any TV so I don't need a licence, but cancelling it is unexpectedly difficult
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Cancelling my TV licence
I get a letter
In July 2017 I received a letter from the TV Licensing organisation telling me they'd be taking £147 from my account on the 1st of August. I had set up a "Direct Debit" arrangement with my bank many years before which allowed them to do this, and had forgotten all about it.
When my kids were small, and later in their teens, a lot of TV was watched in my house. We used to watch all the over the air channels, and when things started to move towards digital in the UK I bought a PVR (aka DVR) which converted the Freeview channels into a signal for my analogue TV, and also recorded stuff on demand.
I watched some TV after I retired in 2009, but by 2013 with my kids having left home (to all intents and purposes), and the quality of what was available having fallen to a record low, I stopped.
When this letter arrived I realised I'd been paying for this licence to watch TV for several years without using it.
I throw out my TV
The old analogue, CRT TV sitting in the corner of my room (and the associated Freeview PVR) had not been turned on for 4 years, so it was time for them to go. So I took my TV to the recycling centre with the help of my son. The PVR will be hacked for useful components.
I cancel my licence
Next step was to stop paying this annual licence. The letter told me what to do. I discovered I fulfilled all the requirements listed there:
- I never watch or record programmes as they are being shown on TV
- I never download or watch BBC programmes on demand
- I don't do this on a TV, desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, tablet, games console, digital box or DVD/VHS recorder.
I called the number on the back of the letter and cancelled.
The guy I spoke to said I'd get a letter of confirmation soon. I asked if they'd cancel the Direct Debit or whether I should. He advised me to cancel myself, so I did it immediately.
I get my confirmation letter
A number of days later I received a letter entitled (rather oddly) "Your No Licence Needed confirmation". It told me my no licence was valid from July 2017 and expired July 2019.
The letter did point out that I might receive a visit to "confirm that a licence isn't needed".
A friendly leaflet accompanying the letter contained the question and answer:
Can I be prosecuted for watching BBC programmes on BBC iPlayer without a licence?
Yes. From 1 September 2016, you risk prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000 plus any legal costs and/or compensation you may be ordered to pay.
I get an urgent letter from TV Licensing
On the 12th August I received a letter from TV Licensing which asked me to call them urgently because my bank had declined a Direct Debit payment request.
I called on the 14th August and was told that this was a mistake and the letter could be ignored.
However, to get this answer I had to navigate 4 menus and give my details to a robot. Of course the person I eventually contacted asked for the details all over again! This made me wonder if the robot is there for any purpose other than to be a deterrent to callers. The same goes for the 4 menus.
I get a phone call from TV Licensing
On 17th August I found a message on my answering machine asking me to call TV Licensing. I did so, and navigated the 4 menus again. This time the robot asked for my licence number, but since I reasoned I didn't have one I gave it the reference number of my no licence. That didn't work.
It then asked for my postcode, street name, house number and payment details. It confirmed the address stuff but when I said I didn't pay for a licence it passed me to a human.
The lady I was speaking to then asked for my name, address, postcode, etc. I asked why I was being asked for this again having just given it to a robot. Apparently these weren't passed through because I "failed" to answer all the questions properly. That's odd because the same happened last time when I got the questions "right"!
This time it turned out that the problem was that my no licence had been cancelled. No reason was given.
I asked why, if a thing I had carefully set up with the expectation of it remaining in place for 2 years had been cancelled, I hadn't been notified. I didn't get an answer.
It seems that TV Licensing has one of the worst systems for managing its "customers" on the planet. I told the representative that this was my opinion while I was on the phone.
I'm wondering what's next in the saga. Will it be the "heavies" at the door (I'm not obliged to let them in without a warrant, I discovered), a legendary TV Detector van outside my house (I'd like to see one and take a picture of it), another spurious money demand or unexplained loss of my details?
However, although it has been bad, this story did give me something to write and talk about for HPR so it's not all bad!
Comment #1 posted on 2017-08-24T03:38:50Z by Frank
This makes commercials look good.
Comment #2 posted on 2017-08-24T16:05:47Z by Dave Morriss
I see your point, but...
I see where you are coming from, but although dealing with bureaucracy like this today seems like a scene from Terry Gilliam's film "Brazil" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_(1985_film)), the tyranny of modern advertising seems to me to be completely horrific.
As a boy I read the science fiction story "The Tunnel under the World" by Frederik Pohl. In it the protagonist finds himself in a world filled with "loud all-pervasive advertising jingles" (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tunnel_under_the_World).
That image has stuck with me all of my life, and has motivated me to avoid the dreadfulness of advertising in all of its forms - on TV, in cinemas, on the Internet and everywhere else I can.
Comment #3 posted on 2017-08-25T16:07:20Z by Beeza
The almost mythical TV detector vans did once exist (not that many people ever saw one). They could detect the interference sent out by the electromagnets on a CRT but, contrary to the propaganda, they could never tell what channel you were watching. If you lived in a block of flats they were all but useless at working out who did and did not have a TV.
When home computers became commonplace, each with a big CRT monitor, the TV detectors were scuppered as they couldn't tell the difference between a TV and a PC.
Now that we all have LED or LCD screens for our TVs and computers the concept of a reliable detector device, able to distinguish between the two is outdated. The UK TV licensing authorities rely on cross referencing addresses with license registrations to detect possible miscreants.
Comment #4 posted on 2017-08-26T13:07:09Z by Tony Hughes
Cancelling my TV licence
Thanks for the show, makes me think I should do one about a situation I'm arguing with Virgin Media at the moment, I totally get your frustration potentially boiling over to anger sometimes particularly after you have had to wait 4-5 minutes to get through the auto menu to speak with a 'human' only to be asked all the same questions again. And they wonder why we hate customer service desks so much, more like customer wind up desks I think.
Comment #5 posted on 2017-08-26T22:05:36Z by Dave Morriss
Thanks for the input
I'd enjoy seeing a TV detector van, but, as you say, they belong to an earlier time. Funnily enough the old TV I threw away was potential detector fodder, being a CRT. Your analysis of the situation clarifies it very well; talk of detectors was mainly propaganda.
Good luck with Virgin Media. It seems that the vast majority of companies have implemented such revolting front-end systems these days.
As an aside, I long ago decided not to have anything to do with Virgin Media after they were revealed as being involved with a company called Phorm to perform deep inspection of Internet traffic so they could inject targeted advertisements. Other UK ISPs were also involved, such as BT and TalkTalk. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phorm for details.
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