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Why am I being hounded like this?

Simon Heffer / London Telegraph | September 26 2006

Two or three years ago I started to receive letters from TV Licensing.

At first, they were in the tone of a polite inquiry: did I have a television and, if I did, had I bought a licence for it? Then they moved on to rebuke: we know you've got one, and we know you haven't licensed it. Finally, they were downright threatening: get a licence, or you're in big trouble.

advertisementI did nothing: I had broken no law. We have three televisions and, being a traditional sort of chap, I tend to buy a licence to watch them. I was the victim of a bureaucratic cock-up and could not be bothered to engage in a tiresome correspondence to put it right.

The letters stopped and I assumed TVL had discovered its error. It had caused us no loss of sleep, but had I been elderly and perhaps a little confused, or an immigrant with a poor grasp of our tongue, I should have been deeply alarmed at the threatening tone.

Then, the other day, the saga started up again. I received a letter which, in its degree of menace, exceeded anything yet. A Mr John Robinson, the regional manager of the Luton enforcement division of TV Licensing, wrote to me that he had received authorisation from the national division to visit my property.

"Our records show you have previously been given opportunities to purchase a TV licence but have neglected to do so," he wrote.

"It is now my duty to make you aware of the following," he went on. "My enforcement officers may visit [my address] without warning, at any time during the day, in the evenings or at weekends. They will assess whether there is evidence of your watching or recording television programmes without a valid TV licence. They could caution you, take your statement and file a report on their findings. Further, they may use detection equipment to obtain proof that a TV signal is being received on this property."

After the usual guff about legal proceedings and a £1,000 fine, Mr Robinson did at least then have the manners to say if I had already purchased a licence I needed to take no further action. That, of course, is easier said then done. I have had a licence for 14 years, yet the authority seems blissfully unaware of this. My wife rang them to explain: she held on for ages before being told she faced another 10-minute wait, so she gave up.

It gets worse, though. Our television licence expired on August 31. My wife telephoned TVL and bought a new one, using her credit card. We always used to get our licence from the village post office but that was apparently deemed too convenient by the idiots who run this arm of the Government, and post offices no longer sell them. We have not, of course, yet received a licence, but we know the transaction was completed because her latest credit card bill includes the charge of £131.50 raised by TVL.

Yet, two days after receiving the letter informing me that these fascists were about to trespass on my property, we received a different sort of threatening letter from TV Licensing world HQ in Bristol. It told me that I still did not have a licence and that I would be in big trouble if I didn't get one – this was 18 days after my wife's credit card was charged by the same TV Licensing world HQ.

What does this tell us about TVL?

Well, first, it is completely incompetent. The fact that I have always had a television licence but it seems never to have been aware of this, and cannot even work out that we have only just bought a new one, is but the latest proof of its bovine behaviour.

In discussing this problem with others, I have heard of people similarly accused who have been so confused that they have bought two licences – and then, realising their mistake, have spent months getting a refund.

Such a reaction by the innocent is unsurprising, given the neo-Nazi tone of TVL's communications. The letter that threatens an imminent occupation of my property also says: "If you do not own a TV, please call 0870 241 5941 and inform us."

If I didn't own a television, why on earth should it be incumbent on me to tell the authorities? Do the people who licence firearms expect non-firearms owners to tell them that don't have any rifles in the cupboard? How long before non-motorists have to ring up Swansea and confess that they don't own a car? Where would this insanity, this intrusion, this downright insolence stop?

My wife and I have been discussing what to do when the men from Luton walk up the drive, salivating at the prospect of catching a serious criminal. We won't let them in. Let them call the police, the Brigade of Guards and the SAS if they want to. We have broken no law: and it is up to them to prove we have rather than up to us to prove we haven't.

Or has that crucial freedom also been sold out in modern, authoritarian Britain?

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