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Two-thirds of TV Licensing prosecutions at one London court targeted women

Doorstepped by the 'inspectors'

By Gareth Corfield, 2 Mar 2017

Exclusive Two-thirds of TV Licensing prosecutions in a London court were brought against women, according to an exclusive analysis of court data by The Register.

We analysed three months of listings data from the City of London Magistrates’ Court in the UK. Of the 62 individual defendants who appeared in court charged with not paying the TV Licence over that period, two-thirds – 42 – were female.

The average age of all defendants was 38, with the youngest aged 20 and the oldest aged 60. Of the few defendants who gave their occupations, medical and childcare roles were most prominent.

Most defendants were said to have admitted to watching live TV without a licence for about a month, on average, though almost all in court pleaded not guilty.

A Capita TV Licensing spokesman claimed to The Register: "The government’s own independent review of TV licence fee enforcement found no evidence to suggest that activity is unfairly and intentionally targeted at women. When TV Licensing visits an unlicensed property, a statement is taken from any responsible adult who answers the door.”

One defendant identified in The Register's analysis was a 20-year-old woman living in a £400,000 house in Surrey who gave her occupation as “carer” when a Capita salesman doorstepped her.

The Perry Review mentioned above (PDF) revealed at paragraph 38 that 70 per cent of TV Licensing prosecutions in 2014 were brought against women, while in the same year 68 per cent of fines imposed for non-payment were levied against women.

Caroline Levesque-Bartlett, who campaigns to end the TV Licensing fee, told The Register: "TV Licensing have been bullying people, and women even more so, for a long time. The David Perry Review brought this gender imbalance to light to Parliament in July 2015, and nothing has changed since."

A recent Daily Mail investigation uncovered evidence that Capita TV Licensing’s door-to-door sales people were offered cash bonuses for coercing people to pay up on the doorstep – or for gathering enough evidence to start a court prosecution against non-payers.

Capita holds the BBC contract for TV Licensing enforcement. Its tactics include heavy use of court prosecutions – a 2012 study found that more than one in 10 of all cases handled by magistrates’ courts was caused by TV Licensing – and door-to-door salesmen, styled as “inspectors”, who carry out doorstep interviews under criminal caution with people accused of not paying the TV licence fee.

Information recorded by the salesmen is used to mount prosecutions if TV-watchers don’t immediately sign up to a payment scheme.

The Mail found that Capita operates TV Licensing as a high-pressure commission-based sales environment. An undercover reporter who was interviewed for a TV Licensing job was told: “We will drive you as hard as we can to get as much as we can out of you because we’re greedy,” and he was offered up to £15,000 in bonuses per year if he caught 28 licence fee evaders per week.

BBC director-general Tony Hall later wrote to Capita asking for assurances that it was not targeting “vulnerable people”.

Critics have consistently highlighted the coercive tone of Capita’s mass mailings posted to people it thinks haven’t paid the TV licence. Recent examples include the phrases “Official warning: we have opened an investigation” and “Remember – you must call us now if you want to stop the investigation”.

A copy of the TV Licensing Prosecution Code leaflet seen by The Register includes the phrase: "It is highly likely that you will be prosecuted ... [if] we have needed to use detection equipment". Such equipment does not exist.

It is illegal to watch live TV in the UK as it is broadcast or streamed over the internet, or to download BBC iPlayer programmes, without a TV licence. The licence will cost £147, up from the current rate of £145.50, starting from 1 April.

It is not illegal to watch catch-up TV from non-BBC networks and it is not illegal to own a TV without a licence, provided it is not used for watching live television.

Capita earned half a billion pounds when it won the TV Licensing contract in 2002, with the BBC netting £3.7bn a year from licensing fees alone. ®

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