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Legal loophole being used by hundreds to keep TV Licensing from their door

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 15/04/2016

A licensing inspector
A licensing inspector

Hundreds of people here are rebelling against the TV licence by banning the BBC's enforcers from visiting their homes.

More than 400 households used a little-known legal loophole to block inspectors in the last year.

They removed the "implied right of access" to their front doorstep, effectively threatening to sue licence fee collectors for trespass if they continue to turn up.

The practice is entirely legal and described by anti-TV licence campaigners as "a useful tool" in avoiding the £145.50 fee. But TV Licensing warned addresses that removed right of access were "prioritised for detection".

Anyone who watches TV as it is being broadcast must have a licence. The maximum penalty for non-payment is a £1,000 fine.

Justice Minister David Ford wants to decriminalise non-payment, but he has been blocked by Westminster.

The Belfast Telegraph has previously reported on the extraordinary lengths taken on behalf of the BBC to force people to pay.

In the 12 months to last April, more than 10,000 people were summoned to court for not having a licence. This represented a quarter of all cases received by magistrates courts.

The BBC also fires out up to 3,500 letters every working day in Northern Ireland, threatening people with large fines if they do not cough up.

A total of 2,377,737 threats were sent to addresses here in just three years.

This newspaper has also reported previously how anti-terror spy laws were being misused to trap licence fee-dodgers.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, introduced in 2000 to safeguard national security, has been deployed to detect TV licence evasion.

People have also reported being harassed by enforcers acting on behalf of the BBC.

Actress Keira Knightley previously revealed how she was "hounded by TV licence people" even though she did not own a television.

Now it has emerged that hundreds of fed-up homeowners are rebelling by banning collectors from their doorsteps.

The BBC said 408 requests were received from addresses in Northern Ireland last year withdrawing right of access for licence fee collectors.

TV Licensing staff are employed by private firm Capita on the BBC's behalf.

Although they are described as "enforcement officers", they do not possess any official powers of arrest and cannot enter homes or search property without permission.

TV Licensing's rules of conduct state: "TV Licensing can only enter your home without your permission if authorised to do so under a search warrant granted by a magistrate (or sheriff in Scotland).

"A magistrate (or sheriff in Scotland) has discretion to grant a search warrant for authorised persons to search premises suspected of illegal activity in respect of TV licensing."

Active Resistance to the TV Licence, an online campaign group, said search warrants were possible but very rare.

A spokesperson said: "Withdrawal of implied right of access (WOIRA) is a useful tool for people who are likely to be intimidated into signing confessions.

"But it isn't a magic wand that will completely stop all contact from TV Licensing. If TV Licensing can't knock on a door to try conducting enquiries, they might consider an application to a court for a search warrant.

"These are very rare and very few are granted each year. Although part of TV Licensing's 'deterrent' strategy is to make people believe they are more common than they really are.

"To get a warrant, TV Licensing has to prove that live broadcasts are being watched.

"They also need to prove that there is no way they will be allowed to conduct their enquiry without a warrant.

"A WOIRA will automatically satisfy that second condition, which is why we don't recommend it to everyone.

"WOIRA can be useful to people who feel intimidated by the aggressive, commission-driven sales tactics TV Licensing adopts, but it could increase the likelihood of a search warrant application."

However, TV Licensing pointed out that a standard TV Licence costs £145.50 - less than 40p per day - and delivered good value for money.

"The fee you pay provides a wide range of TV, radio and online content, as well as developing new ways to deliver it to you," it stated online.

"In addition to funding BBC programmes and services, a proportion of the licence fee contributes to the costs of rolling out broadband to the UK population and funding Welsh Language TV channel S4C and local TV channels. This was agreed with the Government as part of the 2010 licence fee settlement.

"The licence fee allows the BBC's UK services to remain free of advertisements and independent of shareholder and political interest."

A TV Licensing spokesperson said: "Of 700,000 households in Northern Ireland, 408 requests were received last year to withdraw the right of access for enquiry officers to visit.

"These addresses are prioritised for detection so that we can check if a licence is needed."

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