Database at TV Licensing 'relies on moaning Brits'

Brits we've wrongly asked for cash must get in touch to say they've already paid - so the e-database at the heart of our operation can be updated, TV Licensing has declared.

Despite the majority of its administration being run by Capita, the IT services expert, the group's database relies on your protestations for the accuracy of its 28 million records.

Its central machine also churns out demand for payment if someone other than licence-holder buys a TV, or recordable DVD player - regardless of whether the address is already licensed.

Buying a set top box on Monday, a PCTV on Tuesday; a recordable DVD player on Wednesday, a video recorder on Thursday and a TV card on Friday would, in theory, generate five mailings in under a week.

Writing the Mudlark column in The Financial Times, Clay Harris reflected, "The [authority's] system does not seem to have progressed beyond the ancient situation when retailers had to report each sale of receiving apparatus."

Responding to the criticism, a TV Licensing spokeswoman yesterday told Contractor UK: "Any retailer selling or renting out TV equipment is legally obliged to notify TV Licensing of customers' names and the address where the equipment is to be installed."

Under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1967, vendors of TV equipment are bound to inform the authority, irrelevant of how the device was bought, or where the device was sold, she added.

The group did however concede that some demands for payment often end up at addresses that are already in compliance – though the 'false communication' allows e-records to be updated.

"We appreciate that in some instances this may result in mailings to licensed addresses and this is reflected in the wording of the mailings," the spokeswoman said.

"However, because there may be more than one flat or bed-sit at each address, we do need to confirm if the individual is covered by a valid licence. We therefore ask those who receive a letter to co-operate with our enquiries, enabling us to update our database."

In line with its Big-Brother-style advertising, TV Licensing implied a tough approach often yields better results for its business aims – to administer the collection of fees and enforce the TV licensing system.

Its website states, "We also use technology to identify and visit people who we believe are using a TV without a valid licence."

The spokeswoman elaborated, "Unfortunately, if a licence is required, some people will only buy one once they have been warned of the consequences of being unlicensed. Some of our letters, therefore, contain messages that are designed to deter a possible evader.

"However, we don't presume that everyone is guilty of committing an offence," she added." TV Licensing does try to ensure that non-viewers are not overly troubled by our enquiries, and that they don't cause unnecessary upset."

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