Congratulations to the Daily Mail for exposing the unpleasant methods by which TV Licensing’s staff make people pay their television licence fees. Capita, the company that does the dirty work for the BBC, encourages its employees to use ‘ruthless and underhand tactics’ to collect the money, says the Mail. The paper offers painful examples of the victims — ‘RAF man with dementia, mum in a women’s refuge’. It could have added ‘veteran Spectator columnist’, since these activities were first exposed on this page in 2006, when I got fed up with being pursued by Capita to buy a TV licence for a flat without a television.
The Mail correctly identifies the unpleasant incentive system, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. Indeed, it unwittingly compounds the problem by referring to the licence-fee collectors as ‘officials’. They are not officials, but it is central to their bluff that people think they are. The power of the threatening letters which TV Licensing sends (I have received more than 100 and never answered any of them) lies in their implicit threat that they have legal force. They do not. You do not have to open your door to an ‘enforcement officer’ or answer any of his questions. He is just a private-sector bully of the sort the BBC would expose if it were not (indirectly) paying him.
This is an extract from Charles Moore's Notes, which appears in this week's Spectator