by Tom Carpenter, Deputy Editor, C24

A comment and opinion article

Imagine my horror yesterday morning when, dehydratedly fighting my way out of my room in typical, randomised panic, I stumble upon a small, unassuming brown envelope. One that bore the Tick of Terror. The TV licensors were coming.

You may have noticed that TV licensing has been getting more aggressive over the past couple of years. Although I was aware I was not prepared for the crimson, underscored caps that red-blooded their way into my attention. 'OFFICIAL WARNING' it read, 'Your address is scheduled to receive a visit from our National Enforcement Division’

The letter went on to inform me that, as there was no valid TV licence for the address ‘Staircase 15 Room 21’ and I had not ‘responded to their warnings’, the NEDs would soon be paying me a visit. I remember the ‘warning’ well, a coolly-worded letter telling me I was ‘under investigation’ and instructing me to call their (0870 – more on this shortly) number so I would kindly inform them that I did not own a television and they could kindly cease their investigation.

I did not, and do not, own a television, but I was going to do no such thing! It galled me that not only was there an apparent presumption of my guilt but also that it was my job to disprove it! To add injury to insult, the number is a revenue-raiser. A common sum for the owners of 0870 numbers to be paid is 2p a minute1. A quick look at the DFES website tells us that in 2005/6 there were 1.87 million home undergraduate students. Given this, and assuming that, oh, 50% of them were intimidated enough to call, each spending 5 minutes on the line, the Bristol-based companies collective stood to gain £93,500. These calculations are crude but they paint a damning picture. This figure only represents the money received by the company, of course – 0870 calling costs are higher and for students using mobile phones, the amount of money spent professing their innocence would have been staggering.

Let me take a moment to illustrate the tone of the letter:

“…official warning…enforcement division…as you have not responded to our warnings…this visit and its consequences…when our officers arrive at your accommodation…let me remind you that…committing a criminal offence…our officers on the ground…they will confirm the situation when they visit…”

It is a threatening whisper, a clipboard claw hammer, the smallness of you faced with peerless authority. And I don’t like it one bit. They have managed to combine the shadow of the police state with the shamelessness of the free market.

This is not the worst of it, though. The purposes and nature of these intimidatory tactics are not as bad as the means. The second letter arrived, as with the first one, under my door, not in my pidge. Presumably the college came to some arrangement where the scouts delivered them; I don’t know. What concerns me is the implication, “we know where you live”. People who have done nothing wrong are being made to feel as if it is their duty to prove it. Guilty until proven innocent. TV Licensing, contracted by a public body, has resorted to bullying. This simply isn’t good enough. Bring on the NED!

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