Gappy-toothed TV Licensing PR harlot Matt Thompson appeared on BBC Radio Leeds yesterday.
Thompson, who is employed by two-bit PR agency Finn Communications Ltd, featured on Richard Stead's show. Leeds-based Finn was awarded the £300k TV Licensing propaganda contract for the North of England on 1st April 2014 (no joke).
At one point Thompson was questioned about the status of TV Licensing, but he couldn't quite choke out the admission that it's the BBC's militant revenue generation arm. Instead he pissed around with some half-arsed piffle about TV Licensing being a consortium of different companies.
A transcript of the segment appears below:
Richard Stead (RS): Just indulge me for a bit please Matthew.
So do you prefer Matt or Matthew?
Matt Thompson (MT): I'm easy actually.
RS: Are you?
MT: It used to be Matt, but actually as I grow older I prefer Matthew now.
RS: Because I just jumped straight in there with a Matt there. I do apologise.
I'm of that age where I used to see these adverts - or infomercials as they would be - on the BBC, with this van driving around, and if I remember correctly there was like a mini satellite dish on the top.
Or then you'd see another one where it was set in a block of flats, and there was a gentleman walking with a handheld device that was...
MT: Yeah, yeah.
RS: I must admit, I have never seen a TV detector van. How do you find out if someone hasn't got a TV licence? And do these vans really exist?
MT: Okay, so tackling that question starting from the top, it's worth saying that the vast majority of people are correctly licensed. So there's 25 million licences in place.
There's a very small minority, around 5%, who are evading - actively evading the licence fee - and obviously we're working very closely with them, to ensure that are aware of their responsibilities and when they need to be correctly licensed. And if you are caught without a licence, and you're watching live television, then you may well face prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000. So it is very serious.
We use a number of different ways to detect those people who are evading the licence fee. Primarily we have a database of 30 million addresses in the UK, and that tells us at the click of a button exactly who's licensed and who's not. And it's really important to say, we only focus our attention on those people who aren't. And what we'll normally do is send through a letter to them, to ask what their situation is. If we don't hear back, then it is likely that an enquiry officer might pay a visit just to find out what the situation is.
RS: Will he be in a van with a satellite dish on the roof?
MT: We do have a fleet of detector vans.
RS: Do you?!
MT: It isn't a myth. So they do exist.
RS: Really? I've never seen one. Never seen one.
MT: Well, I guess for obvious reasons they're not particularly obvious.
RS: Do they have like a cloaking device? Kind of like on the movies?
MT: I couldn't give away too much in terms of their appearance (see one here)...
RS: Oh, you cunning monkey.
MT: ...but they do exist. There is a fleet of detector vans, which is in operation across the UK.
Obviously enquiry officers, they also have handheld devices, which again enables them to ascertain if somebody is watching live television. And it's worth pointing out again - it doesn't matter about the device. So if you're watching on an iPad, or you're watching on your mobile phone, if you're watching live we can still detect that. There's no issue there regardless of the technology or platform you're are using.
RS: We've got a question about that: "Technology has moved on so much, what if you watch programmes on iPlayer or 4oD?" Is that 4 on Demand?
RS: Those kinds of watch-again facilities that you can get, like you say, on a phone or a tablet, you still need a licence?
MT: So, it all comes down to "live". If you're watching them live - so as they're screened - then yes, you do require a licence to watch them.
If you're watching them a week after they were screened and they're no longer live, then there's no issue there. But it's all down to live, regardless of device, it's down to if you're watching live television, as it's screened - and this isn't just for example a live sporting event, it could be Eastenders at 8 o'clock tonight for example - if you're watching it as it's broadcast, regardless of the device - so if you're watching it on your iPad, mobile phone, it doesn't matter - if you're watching it live then you do require a licence.
RS: What if I only watch ITV.
MT: You still require a licence. If you're watching live programmes on ITV, then you require a licence.
RS: Who gets discounts?
MT: So there are a number of concessions in place. So the over 75s get a free licence, but it's really important that they get in touch to let us know that they have reached 75. We can obviously make sure from that point onwards that they're able to ascertain their free licence.
If they're 74 and not far off turning 75 they can get a short term licence as well, but again we just need them to get in touch and they can do by giving us a call 0300 790 6112 or go through the website, tvlicensing.co.uk.
So you can do all of that through the website: you can let us know if you don't need a licence, you can let us know if you do need a licence and we can also look at any discounts. And there are further discounts as well.
RS: We'll repeat these details throughout the hour, so don't worry if you do miss them.
What for example - and I'm trying to think of a hypothetical situations and things here - what for example if you're 75/76, but the missus or the husband or whatever is 72 and the licence has always been in their name. Do you have to change it into your name?
MT: Change it into your name, but you would get a free licence. There's no issue there.
RS: As long as one of you is (over 75)?
MT: Absolutely, no issue there at all. All we'd ask is that people let us know. Obviously we've got this huge database of addresses. It's really important that people help us. We don't want to hassle anybody at all, but obviously if we do send a letter through to find out your status, if you can let us know - give us a call, go through the website, or get back in touch with us by letter - then that helps us to maintain our records, but ultimately we want to work with people. We don't want to prosecute wherever possible. We'd much rather people just came forward and paid for the licence.
RS: Neil says "Why are the TV licence department so aggressive in correspondence? If they think you have no licence they leave letters that say we know who you are". Firstly, is that true?
MT: Right I've not heard of that I must admit, but tones of letter do vary and I think it's worth saying that whilst the vast majority of people are correctly licensed there is a small minority who are persistently evading. And we do need to make sure that the tone of the letter is such that it is very clear on the consequences of not being correctly licensed, so we just try to be very clear.
If somebody does receive a letter, and for example they have a licence and they've received it in error, please do let us know. If you let us know, you won't receive any further letters for a good number of years, but we do need to update our files. It's really, really important that people work with us.
RS: I think you've answered the question but just to give Neil his full platform there, he goes onto say "It also contains language like you are on our list etc. Why take this attitude? It must worry old and infirm people and makes the TV licensing department sound like third-rate gangsters".
I think to be fair you have answered his point, but that probably shows the extent of how Neil is concerned by maybe the attitude that he perceives that perhaps you take in pursuing people who you think don't have a licence.
MT: It is really useful feedback. I would say that tone varies in accordance with number of letters sent through. So clearly for starting at the beginning it's a polite enquiry, but after a while we do need to make sure that people are aware and I guess we need to use language as such that is very, very clear - it highlights the consequences in such a way that people are not in any doubt. But we never mean to cause offence. I think that is really, really important to say. We just want to I guess help people be correctly licensed and make sure they understand the consequences of not being correctly licensed as well.
RS: Alan in Pudsey has sent us a text. I think this is going to fall into the category of "I can't answer that". I'm pretty sure it is, but I think it's worth reading out as an example of something you can't answer.
"It has been reported that some BBC executives are being paid more than the Prime Minister. Is this an appropriate use of licence payer's money?"
MT: Yeah, unfortunately it's one I can't answer. I can't speak on behalf of the BBC.
RS: That's the BBC Trust?
MT: It is. That's the BBC. I'm obviously representing TV Licensing and TV Licensing has a very specific role which is collecting the licence fee as effectively...
RS: Are you part of the Government? Are you a Government department?
MT: Erm, no. We're under a trademark (of) consortium of different companies that are responsible for collecting the licence fee. So I couldn't answer that question in terms of BBC exec pay unfortunately. That would be a question for the BBC.
RS: Shaun is in Gildersome. Shaun you're through to Matt. What's your question?
Shaun: Apologies if I'm duplicating something. As I was ringing in there was something starting off in conversation, which may have superseded my question.
RS: Don't worry.
Shaun: But anyway. If a person in a household is 75+ and they get the free licence but their partner is 70 or whatever, but younger and ineligible for a free licence, and they're in the house on their own watching TV when your guy arrives and knocks on the door, does that person commit an offence, or because they're living with their partner does that qualify because there's somebody in the house all the time eligible for a free licence.
MT: Hi Shaun. Thanks for your question. So I guess the key thing to say is it all comes down to if you're correctly licensed.
So you're quite right in saying that if you're over 75 you're eligible for a free licence. What you do need to do is get in touch with us to let us know that you've turned 75. We can then obviously update our records and make sure we've got you down as a free licence. It isn't an issue at all that your partner may be 70 and in the property by herself whilst your not there watching TV. That's no issue. You're covered. If you're over 75 you have that free licence, but you need to let us know so we've got you down - we can issue that free licence - but it isn't an issue if your wife of partner of 70 is watching TV in that property. You are correctly licensed.
Shaun: It was a hypothetical question, because thankfully I'm not 75 but I have to pay a licence, which I do. But it was just one of those things where there can be anomaly and people aren't sure if they qualify because they're younger than the person living in the house who's got a free licence.
MT: I would say move it (the licence) into the name of the person who qualifies for that free licence, then absolutely you're covered. But all of the time, if you're ever in doubt just contact TV Licensing. Either give us a call or go through the website. There's lots and lots of detail on the website. It really is fantastic and it covers all of those sorts of questions as well. And it is a good question and it is one we get asked quite commonly actually.
RS: Shaun thanks for your question. I appreciate that.
You can call us on 0345 303 3333 and we will give out that phone number. Without making broad brush generalisations I'm quite keen to do that, just in case perhaps people who are 75 and over don't have internet access. I know what you're saying about... I'm very aware that perhaps somebody might say... and you sometimes wonder don't you, that if you're not computer savvy then perhaps you miss out on one or two things.
MT: Absolutely, and I guess we'd say that there's the opportunity to pick up the phone. We do get hundreds of calls each and every day. That's great.
RS: Give us the number. Give us the number.
MT: The number is 0300 790 6112. And we'd welcome your calls, but at the same time we're set up so that if people want to go through on the internet there's no issue there, if people want to write to us again there's no issue. We need to be as accessible as possible to everyone.
RS: That was Matt in his best possible radio voice and I'll get him to do that three more times before midday.
Phew. Thank goodness for that. There we're a few other little bits, but my keyboard and ears have suffered enough abuse on this post already.
I'd invite readers to pick through Thompson's comments and see if they can spot any of the many flaws and inaccuracies in what he said.
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