It's been a quiet couple of weeks in TV Licensing land, hence our recent drought of blog posts.
Sure, there has been a few more YouTube videos, but they haven't brought any enlightenment into TV Licensing's operations, so we've decided not to blog about them. It would be very easy to generate a few unsubstantiated "goon watch" type posts, but our standards are a little higher than that. We've got a few irons in the fire for later on in the month, but today we're considering a Freedom of Information request submitted to the BBC by TV Licensing critic Martin Milan.
TV Licensing is a trading named used by the companies that enforce and administer the TV licence fee on behalf of the statutory Licensing Authority, the BBC. Capita Business Services Ltd. holds the TV Licensing field operations contract and employ the vast majority of staff acting under the TV Licensing name. It is important to note that the BBC, as Licensing Authority, is ultimately responsible for all matters relating to TV Licensing.
Towards the beginning of September Martin asked the BBC a few pertinent questions about the honesty and integrity of those it contracts to undertake TV licence administration and enforcement work. The honesty of TV Licensing employees has been a major focus of ours, as they earn commission based on the number of prosecution statements they collect - they are effectively incentivised to nab as many "evaders" as possible and face disciplinary action if they fall short of steep performance targets.
We have previously discussed the proven criminal lengths that some TV Licensing employees have gone to in order to collect a fat month-end commission cheque. As recently as today the national media has voiced similar concerns about the way TV Licensing employees are financially rewarded. The past year has also raised serious questions about how TV Licensing presents evidence during the search warrant application process and in open court.
Martin sought to establish how much of an interest the BBC paid in the dishonest conduct of some TV Licensing employees acting on its behalf. Having faced a recent barrage of negative publicity about its own gutter standards of honesty and integrity, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the BBC might be concerned about any wrongdoing by its TV Licensing foot soldiers. Apparently they're not that bothered at all.
He posed the BBC the following question: "Do you require contractors to notify you in circumstances where they have had to take internal disciplinary action against an employee for matters pertaining to dishonest conduct?"
The BBC's Louise Wright, who we have previously tussled with on several occasions, came back with the following response: "I can tell you that, although the contractual requirement to notify applies only where Capita is requesting for staff to be authorised for enforcement activity, we are generally notified informally of disciplinary incidents and actions as they arise. However, such reports are made verbally and are not recorded and therefore I can confirm under section 1(1) of the Act that we do not hold information relevant to such disciplinary proceedings."
Given that a very low proportion of Capita TV Licensing staff are employed for "enforcement activity" (e.g. swearing evidence in court, operating detection equipment) it follows that the BBC maintains no official record of dishonesty complaints made against bog-standard, door-knocking visiting officers - the very people who are feverishly collecting prosecution statements in order to up their own income. The BBC has previously revealed that these door-knockers, the very people with most opportunity and motive to diddle the system, are not routinely subject to DBS criminal record checks when they enter employment.
We should also add that we find the BBC's response that it fails to maintain written records slightly implausible. Are we meant to believe that if Capita phones up the BBC and says "Fred Bloggs the visiting officer has been pocketing payments on the sly" the person taking the phone call doesn't at least jot that information down on a notepad? Are we meant to believe that they memorise, word for word, everything Capita tells them in such a report? That seems a bit far-fetched, even for an organisation as dysfunctional as the BBC (although they apparently, and unbelievably, weren't aware of the TV Licensing thug that snatched at the Hartlepool door handle until we told them about it).
It is a matter of grave concern that the BBC is apparently so disinterested in complaints about TV Licensing dishonesty that no official system is in place to monitor or record them.