Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



Mr Gibb

  20. Can I ask you about visits. I start by addressing this question to Ms Street. When a TV licensing officer visits a premises, do they ask for access to those premises?
  (Ms Street) I do hate to pass the buck but, with the Chairman's agreement, it is probably not a matter for me.
  (Ms Patel) Enquiry officers do not have automatic right of entry unless they have a search warrant.

  21. Do they ask for access to premises?
  (Ms Patel) Yes, they do but they make it clear, and most of their visiting is done on the doorstep because they need to ask questions about whether there is a television in the house. Where they need to inspect whether there is a television, for example when someone does not have a television, on a confirmatory visit, they will ask. They will not insist on entry unless they have a search warrant.

  22. They do ask people if they can enter their premises?
  (Ms Patel) Only if they have to inspect whether there is a televison in the house.

  23. What is the procedure if the recipient says he or she does not have a television and is refusing entry to their home?
  (Ms Patel) The enquiry officer will then leave.

  24. Then what do you do—give up?
  (Ms Patel) No, we write again to the particular person explaining to them why we need to make a confirmatory visit to check that they do not have a television as they are claiming. Once we have made that confirmatory visit, we then do not go to talk to that person for another two years.

  25. What if he or she still refuses to give you access to that private home?
  (Ms Patel) We would then think hard about whether we have reasonable evidence that there is the use of television on that premises, and we would then look at whether detection would be a sensible use of our resources.

  26. What do you do to find out whether somebody is using a television in a particular home?
  (Ms Patel) We use external evidence; an aerial on the house would be a give-away.

  27. And if there is no aerial, then what do you do?
  (Ms Patel) If there is no aerial, we would then look at whether we have enough of a suspicion that there is use of television and whether it is acceptable to use detection. That is a judgment I have to make, if there is not enough evidence. For example, if a person has written to us a few times before saying they have not got a television, you would probably say there is no need for detection.

  28. What does detection mean?
  (Ms Patel) Detection means we use a detector van that tries to detect whether there is a television in use at that moment.

  29. Do detector vans actually work, and they are not just some bogus thing? They are genuine?
  (Ms Patel) Yes, they do.

  30. Do you think it is right that in pursuit of your commercial interests you should be requesting entry to somebody's home for somebody who does not receive your service?
  (Ms Patel) This is about our duty to enforce. We have an obligation to make sure that we fairly and consistently enforce the regulations. Our experience shows that one in five people of those who claim they do not have a television set in fact does have a television set. I think in those circumstances we would not want to disadvantage those that pay by not checking up.

  31. You know that we have corresponded on constituency cases. I have a 92 year old resident who does not have a television and felt intimidated by being asked for entry into her home. Do you think it is right that your commercial interest could result in one of my constituents being intimidated, or feeling she is being intimidated, on the doorstep? Are you aware of any other private sector organisation or commercial organisation that does provide a service where it can ask for entry into a person's home?
  (Ms Patel) We do not ask for entry. We ask for co-operation of the honest majority to be able to check whether people have a television set when they claim they do not. It is not about our commercial interest. We do have a duty to enforce the licence fee enforcement system. We have no way of knowing—

  32. Are you saying that you do not ask for entry into people's homes?
  (Ms Patel) We do not force entry into people's homes.

  33. I never implied that. Did you say that you do not ask for entry into people's homes?
  (Ms Patel) Let me try and get this correct. When we do an unconfirmed no set visit, which is to visit someone who claims they have not got a television, we do ask to be let in to check that fact. If people refuse, we do not insist on it because we have no automatic right of entry.

  34. Do you think it right that you as a commercial organisation should be asking for entry into people's homes when they do not receive your service? Eastern Electricity do not have any right to ask me for entry into my home. I live in the south of England. What right have you got to enter my constituents' homes if they do not receive your service?
  (Ms Patel) I am saying we have a duty to enforce the law and not to disadvantage the honest majority that pays.

  35. I will not go any further with that. Can I move on to something else? In the direct debit quarterly payment scheme, what premiums are paid? It says in the report that a premium is paid. How much extra do people pay over and above the licence fee to be able to pay by direct debit quarterly?
  (Ms Patel) That figure is £5 per year.

  36. Is that right?
  (Ms Patel) Back in 2001 when we had the licence fee reviewed, we had written to all scheme members at that time to ask them to migrate to other schemes where they did not have to pay the £5 premium. Some of them did migrate on to other schemes, but others have chosen to stay.

  37. Why are you charging people extra for paying quarterly?
  (Ms Patel) The underlying principle of the licence fee payment is that you pay the fee annually in advance. For those who pay in arrears, you want to try and make sure that they have equivalent treatment. So someone who pays annually in advance should not be disadvantaged for that and the £5 was thought to be a reasonable estimate of the interest foregone for people paying in arrears.

  38. It seems to be a draconian measure to penalise people who cannot afford to pay all at once. What about the cash entry scheme; is there any premium for those people?
  (Ms Patel) No, there is not.

  39. Right, very good. Can I ask you in what year it became a requirement for people with second homes to have a TV licence in each home?
  (Ms Patel) In 1997, I believe.

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