Blank cheque 

1 June 2002

Once a year, a reminder that it is time to renew my Television Licence lands on the doormat.

Now, whatever your opinion may be about the cost or the use of the Licence Fee, to have a television, legally you must have a licence.

SABC pushes the TV licence

I certainly do not enjoy some of the programmes that are broadcast today, but not everything broadcast is aimed at one viewer, and I would not like to lose my televisual friend in the corner of the room due to a row about money. So I wrote out my cheque for £109, and remain a licensed viewer for another year, although many viewers are becoming accustomed to paying “just over £9 a month”.

This year, I wondered exactly what my licence gave me as a viewer with a colour television set and colour portable. So, for the first time, when the licence arrived I read it, rather than filing it immediately as is my normal practice.

So, what do we get for our money?

At first sight, not a bad deal. The requirement for a licence is for anyone who has, whether in use or not, equipment capable of receiving or recording television programmes. There is no restriction on the number of receivers or recorders. It also permits the use of a portable television in a car or caravan, provided that the television is not being used at the home location at the same time. In effect, this means that owners of static caravans have to view the premises as second homes and pay for separate licences if the family use both simultaneously. However, if internal batteries power the television in the caravan, this restriction does not apply.

What prohibitions are contained in the licence conditions?

If you rent out part of your home, the lodger is responsible for obtaining a licence for his/her own room(s).

Any other matters?

Well, yes, there are. Just because you have paid for a television licence, you are not guaranteed a good picture. You are subject to inspection at any time by officers to view your licence and reception equipment, although you may refuse entry without a warrant. The said equipment must not cause interference to others. And your licence conditions may be amended or revoked at any time in writing to you.

Is this a good deal?

The only way that you can review this is to look elsewhere. How do other countries operate the television licence?

Let’s go to South Africa, take a look at their licence regulations and compare them with ours.

I expect cost is the first comparison, so let’s look there. In the UK, paying on an annual basis will set you back £109; paying monthly is just over £9 per month, which works out at almost the same as the annual figure. In South Africa, the annual figure is 208 Rand (around £14), or R21 (around £1.41) per month, so it is actually cheaper to pay annually. South Africa also has concessionary licences for anyone over 70 years of age provided that they are not living with anyone economically active, dependent or otherwise. Anyone receiving welfare or disability grants is also eligible for a concession.

South Africa’s regulations on lodgers are identical to our own, as are the requirements to have a licence when reception equipment is owned. They also have inspectors with broadly similar powers to those here.

But there, differences of emphasis appear. Here we are accustomed to buying a television in many different ways ­ in a supermarket, ordering one from a large chain, via the Internet or from a small independent. We don’t give it a second thought. In South Africa it can be different. It may be a cheaper licence than the UK, but the rules can appear more stringent: borrow a television, you need a licence. Sell one and may be asked to prove it.

Our licence may be more expensive, but we generally don’t have to jump through the licence hoop in advance. In South Africa, the television shop, whether for a new or second hand set, has to fill in a return for every set sold which requires not only your name and address but also your television licence number. So if this is your first set, before purchasing the television you have to purchase either a one-month or annual licence. Unless the dealer sees the licence, he cannot release your television to you.

In the UK, the dealer is similarly required to inform the licence bureau of all sales of televisions to be checked against existing licence holder records but the new unlicensed purchaser is given several weeks to obtain the document before the postal reminders start.

In South Africa, the television service is much younger and many new customers are buying a television set for the first time. In the UK the majority of dealer transactions are set renewals for existing licence holders.

In South Africa dealers pay the same rate as householders to cover all the sets for sale on the premises. If they then use a television and video to advertise or demonstrate other goods for sale, a separate licence is required.

If you have completed all of the forms, paid the fees and then decided that television is not for you, a sworn affidavit giving the reasons for cancellation is required before a refund can be obtained.

Can you imagine this system working in the UK? But image the low licence fee…?

Next year, when the licence reminder lands on the doormat, I won’t read the small print. I’ll merely write the cheque and file the Licence as usual.

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A member of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
Liverpool, Monday 8 July 2024