Dear Debbie Beckett,
I recently received a letter from you. It said ‘TV Licensing’ on the envelope. I don’t have a TV, but I know from friends that the occasional letter isn’t unexpected. As I don’t have a TV I’m pretty sure this doesn’t apply to me. I opened it, out of curiosity, though. I’ve lived here for nearly 3 years and I’ve never had a letter from you, and I wondered what was inside.
Well that’s a surprise. I know you need a license to own a firearm. I know you need a license to keep a boat on the Thames. Or for a shop that sells alcohol. I know that if I buy a gun or an inland boat or a shop, I’m going to need to pay the authorities to own, use or run it.
I’ve heard of ‘unlicensed firearms’, ‘unlicensed boats’ and ‘unlicensed premises’. I’ve not heard of an ‘unlicensed property’ though. I suppose it’s logical that if I don’t have a TV license then that makes it an unlicensed property. But the wording is awkward, like I’m using my property without permission. Like I’ve done something wrong. I’ve not done anything wrong.
I know that this letter is intended to be intimidating and that you have no PR battle to fight and nothing to lose. But it’s just rude, especially for a company (Capita) working for a public body (the BBC Trust).
I’ve written a tune, Debbie. It’s not a very good tune, but I ask for a license fee for every home in which it is played. I regret to say that you have been living in an unlicensed property for quite some time, and playing my tune without a license is serious business. I know that you may never have actually played the tune. But you’re still unlicensed, technically. If you inform me that you haven’t ever played the tune and don’t intend to, then that’s fine. But until you do, your home is unlicensed.
But maybe I’m wrong. The letter then says
WHATEVER YOU’RE WATCHING,
HOWEVER YOU’RE WATCHING IT,
YOUR HOME NEEDS A TV LICENSE.
This is genuinely news to me. I don’t watch live broadcast because I don’t have a television (or use iPlayer for that purpose). I do, however, watch YouTube and iPlayer catch-up and occasionally 40D. I watch them with my computer. Therefore I must need a license. I’m not even being pedantic, that’s what your letter says.
I’ve never talked to TV Licensing before. This is the first time you’ve written to me. And it starts with an assumption of guilt and a lie.
I unfolded the letter.
The biggest thing on the page after that is a big call-out circle.
Please license your home by 23 July 2013
From what I know informally, I don’t think I need one. But that big headline suggests that I do. Here is a clear thing I need to do and a deadline before which it must be done. Immediately to the right of that, in bold:
Our investigation starts from 23 July 2013
That sounds criminal. Like a police investigation. I feel like you’re trying to intimidate me into paying something that I don’t think I need to pay, but which the large type at the top says that I do.
So to the text.
This address doesn’t have a TV License any more.
It never has. It has never needed one.
That means that it’s currently against the law to watch or record programmes as they’re being shown on TV : whether you’re using a TV set, computer, mobile phone or anything else.
The crucial bit being ‘as they’re shown’, live. I don’t watch things live. There’s no explanation that if you watch stuff non-live that you don’t need one. I can imagine people being confused by that.
Of course, we want to help you get licensed so you can enjoy TV legally.
I don’t have a TV and you haven’t even asked me if I have or suggested that I might not. Just a presumption that I currently do have one and that I’m doing it illegally. It’s not nice to presume people guilty until proven innocent.
If you don’t need a license we’d like to stop writing to you. Please let us know …
At least a suggestion that it’s possible for someone not to need one. But no explanation of what circumstances might comprise that state of affairs.
so unfortunately, if we haven’t heard from you by 23 July 2013, your address will be passed on to Luton Enforcement Division for investigation
That sounds official and scary. Also a subtle use of the passive voice as though it’s out of their hands, the machinery of the Kafka state will be set in motion.
All in all, a grubby letter, Debbie. The grubby bits:
- ‘Unlicensed property’ — so is yours, one way or another
- ‘WHATEVER YOU’RE WATCHING, HOWEVER YOU’RE WATCHING IT, YOUR HOME NEEDS A TV LICENSE’ — a lie
- ‘we want to help you go get licensed so you can enjoy TV legally’ — presuming guilt
- ‘Our investigation starts from 23 July 2013’ — sounds scary
- ‘Your address will be passed onto Luton Enforcement Division’ — sounds scarier
- ‘Please license your home by 23 July 2013’ — an unreasonable request for money you are not entitled to
If LinkedIn is to be believed, you are a real person working at Capita, not just a made-up name, so props for that.