Saturday, 26 August 2006

TV Licensing has serious issues

(Note for non-Brits reading this [if any]: in the UK we are required, if we want to watch broadcast television, to pay a licence fee of £131.50, which goes to support the BBC – BBC TV has no commercial advertising, except for other BBC programmes. You have to show that your TV is physically incapable of receiving broadcast television to avoid it.)

When I moved into this flat, I bought a TV licence using the TV Licensing website. I did not notice at the time that it had ‘auto-corrected’ the address I entered. This house, an early-20th-century end terrace, was split into two flats by the landlady in 1999 (based on the details from the Council Tax website). The landlady, and all the rental documents, refer to my upstairs flat as ‘17A’. However, the council, for council tax, refers to it as ‘First Floor Flat’. (Actually looking at it right now, the Council Tax website I linked above shows ‘1st Flr Flat’ – they clearly also have a stupidly short field length.)

When I moved my credit cards, I wasn’t aware of the council’s designation, so I used ‘17A’, and that’s what I entered on the TV Licensing website as well. Most UK websites have a gazetteer – a lookup of house number and postcode to pick the correct full address, and this one is no exception. It expanded the street name and town correctly, but dropped the ‘A’, so my licence is actually for number 17, which according to the council, no longer exists. The landlady calls the downstairs flat number 17.

Earlier this year, I decided to get a PVR (Humax PVR9200T, very good thanks). I ordered it with my credit card, and as usual when buying from a new supplier, they insisted it was sent to the card address (i.e. 17A). Whenever you buy TV equipment, this is reported to TV Licensing. Ever since then, I’ve been getting demands to buy a licence for 17A – which I can’t, because the website won’t accept it!

I’ve tried to change the address. You can still edit the address after it’s been expanded out on the change of address page, and I’ve tried that, but the ‘A’ is still dropped.

I’ve sent them letters. They’ve ignored them.

I’ve tried to phone them. They have an automated change of address system. It’s unusable. I’ve tried to leave a phone message. You get about 30 seconds, which is far too little to actually explain the problem. I’ve asked to be phoned back – they haven’t. I’ve tried to be put through to an agent – I just get disconnected.

I’ve sent emails through their website. They’ve been ignored or lost.

What’s actually almost more annoying is the lackadaisical attitude they’ve taken. I bought the PVR in February. I guess when I haven’t had a reply to one of the many attempts to contact them and get this corrected, I’ve been overoptimistic and assumed that they’d sorted it, whereas silence actually means I’m being ignored.

Today I’ve sent two more emails, one using the contact form and the other directly to the email address shown. Hopefully one of them will be processed this time, before the bailiffs come round.

I can’t even try to buy another licence (I’d lose about £40 because this licence still has four months to run, but that’s worth less to me than all this hassle), because I still can’t enter the correct address!


Richard said...

From previous experience, the TV Licensing database is very, very, stupid. When I was at University, each individual room in the hall of residence required a TV licence - indeed they would generally do a sweep of the hall within a couple of weeks of the start of term. Anyway, at some point in the past someone had mistyped the address of my room, so I would always get two demands.

My impression is that although they use the PAF database to locate addresses, they'll quite happily take addresses that aren't in the database, and then assume that these non-existent addresses are occupied by TV Licence dodgers.

Mo said...

I've had similar issues with TV Licensing. Try discovering that they had an incorrect address for you originally (because of the PAF auto-correction; note to anybody using PAF: the documentation says that it's inaccurate—if in doubt, take the user's word for it), then moving house, then changing your name.

Apparently they have the correct address for me now, though the wrong name (but as it's per-address, that's not a big deal, really), but I don't actually have a physical license document to show for it, because they've never sent one to a place that I live. In fact, all I have is the initial confirmation e-mail and the monthly direct debits on my bank statement. Oh, and the fact they've stopped sending me those worthless red letters, which is usually a hint that they think the address is licensed.

Mind you, it's a BBC-owned company outsourced to Capita. That's about all you need to know.

Anonymous said...

I dumped my TV because I felt that the fee was too much for too little. I received a refund on 9th May for unused portion of DD payments. I'm now receiving abusive, threatening letters re non-payment of licence fee.
After reading other's experience I'm not sending and e-mail, instead I will send a recorded delivery letter, as this has worked when I've had same hassles with non-existent debts with other utilities. let's hope it works!