We arrive at the Flat for the start of a couple of days’ break in torrential rain, and have to sit in the car for several minutes before venturing out to make a dash for the door.
Among the post is the first of a new round of messages from our friends at TV Licensing. As they correctly state, it’s some time since we informed them that there was no television in use at this address. (They forebear to mention the series of letters I exchanged with them and my MP at the time, which I imagine are still on file.)
They then continue:
Our standard practice ensures that a routine visit will be made to confirm that no type of television receiver is being used at this address. This visit should not take any longer than a few minutes.
If you are still not using television or equipment such as a DVD or video recorder, set-top box or PCs used to receive TV programmes as they are being broadcast on TV, you needn’t take any action – just expect a brief visit from us soon.
In other words, because I do not have a TV Licence, I am assumed to be a criminal and they claim the authority to enter and search my house. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty does not apply. The ordinary civil right not to have one’s property entered and searched without a warrant does not apply. My statement as to the situation is not accepted, implying that I am a liar – an insult for which not much more than 100 years ago any gentleman would have challenged the offender to a duel.
I suppose that if or when this “brief visit” happens – on the remote chance that they might find anyone at home – I could refuse them admission without a search warrant. But according to Bryan Appleyard (No Hiding Place, Sunday Times, 15 April 2001) a warrant is “always automatically granted” by magistrates in these cases, even if there is no actual evidence that the law is being broken. Not possessing a TV Licence is apparently evidence enough.
So what happens? Do I submit to an agent of TV Licensing entering and searching my home? And when he finds no television set, examining my laptop to see if it’s capable of receiving TV programmes? I can’t imagine many things more violating, unless it’s to have them search the place after being forced to get a warrant, when for all I know they might be so pissed off they would actually confiscate the laptop to search it back at their office. (Would a warrant give them that power? Why not, if they apparently have the power to come and search my house without one?) If I simply give in and let them in, am I not colluding with the erosion of our civil liberties? In Blair’s Britain, this is one little bit of what living in a free democracy entails.
Wikipedia, TV Licensing in the UK