Looking through our visit logs this morning we came across several visitors arriving on the search term "do TV Licensing always prosecute?"
It's a good question and one which is no doubt uppermost in a lot of people's minds - particularly those, dare we say, who are on the wrong side of TV licence law.
Before proceeding, as is customary with our blog posts, a quick reminder of the actual law as it stands today. A TV licence is required for those properties where equipment is used to receive TV programmes at the same time as they are broadcast on a normal TV channel. A TV licence is not required to watch previously shown programmes on non-live catch-up services like the BBC's iPlayer. Anyone who watches "live" broadcast TV programmes should be correctly licensed to do so.
So, back to the question at hand: do TV Licensing always prosecute?
Except from TV Licensing court briefing.
Now for the longer answer is. One of the archaic quirks of English/Welsh/Scots law is that for all an offence may have been committed, a prosecution should only ensue in the interests of justice. There are certain circumstances where TV Licensing might technically "nab" an evader, but choose not to prosecute because it is not in the public (or their own) interests to do so.
Information we've accumulated over the years tells us that people in the following circumstances are unlikely to face prosecution if caught receiving TV programmes in an unlicensed property:
- Genuine non-residents (e.g. casual visitors).
- Babysitters or tradespeople.
- Anyone under 17 years old.
- Anyone with a serious illness or disability.
- Anyone lacking mental capability.
- First-time evaders who subsequently buy a licence (and keep up payments as appropriate).
It is important to note that even in the examples mentioned above TV Licensing will often begin the prosecution process, only to abandon the prosecution once the circumstances become clearer.
TV Licensing regularly abandon prosecutions in order to avoid potential embarrassment or legal problems further down the line. An example of this might be where there are clear errors, omissions or contradictions on the completed TVL178 Record of Interview form, as discussed previously in the case of Tony.
A statistic to consider as we draw this article to a close. According to the BBC there were 312,715 evaders caught in England and Wales in 2007 (BBC FOIA ref: RFI20080413). The corresponding Ministry of Justice figures reveal that only 120,908 (38%) of those were actually convicted (MoJ FOIA ref: FOI/62333/09). In other words, far fewer than half of those TV Licensing catch evading the fee end up being prosecuted.
If in doubt, claim you're the babysitter!