back to article BBC's TV detector vans to remain a state secret

The Information Commissioner has ruled against a request to force the BBC to reveal the inner workings of its TV detector vans. Although most detection is done by database the Beeb still claims to maintain a fleet of vans which can tell if a particular address contains a TV. If you buy or rent a TV or buy a PC tuner card in …


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  2. Trevor Watt

    If they had them and they workrd then they would WANT us to know!

    So they don't have anything that works then? That is how it looks from their statements.

  3. Dale Richards
    Black Helicopters

    There are no detector vans...

    "the broadcaster refused to give further details because if it did so it would damage the public's perception of the effectiveness of TV detector vans"

    Says it all, really.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    no title

    If the vans were effective we'd have adverts along the lines of a jet black humvee-style detector van that follows someone home from work when smashes into their living room shouting "YOUR TV IS NOT LICENSED TO RECEIVE BROADCAST TRANSMISSIONS" in a monotone robot voice.

    If the BBC don't want me to watch TV without paying a license, they shouldnt broadcast it into my house without my permission. (stupid I know, but fuck em)

    Anyone remember the DVLA advert where a black rack tower follows a bloke home and is told "you cannot escape" the database. The funniest thing is that the advert was serious.

  5. Anonymous Coward


    They probably dont want the public to know that they can only detect the old CRT tellys and are useless against modern tellys...

    that's between me and you, right?

  6. Lucifa
    Black Helicopters

    detector vans are a joke

    When i moved about 400miles across country i kept getting letters telling me that me old address had a TV "detected" and i would be taken to court - dispite the fact there wasn't even electricity at the old house let alone a tv!

    It took dozens of phone calls and the eventually threat of lawyers to get them off my back.

  7. Conrad Longmore

    Threatening letters

    One of our local newspaper journalists wrote about this not so long ago.. basically the whole system seems to revolve around sending threatening letters, which is exceptionally annoying if you don't have a TV. I'm currently selling a property which is empty, and although the TV licensing people have been told this, they STILL send threating letters promising legal action.

    Anyway, a link to the story is here:

  8. Nick


    Thats unsurprising, but I do find it funny that releasing the details around the van's would 'alter the publics perception' ergo, yeah, we've got some transit vans, but they don't really work with modern telly's, freeview/freesat/cable or streaming TV services.

    I still think its a shame that the Beeb didn't design themselves around a subscription service when freeview launched - then you could have the choice once analogue was switched off whether to use the BBC services or not.

    Oh, and if I ever came to power, it would be called the TV Tax, not TV licence.

  9. Mark
    Black Helicopters

    Is detection really that easy nowadays?

    I understand that it was straightforward to detect a good old analog TV with a CRT, because all that HT circuitry would ring like a bell and radiate a lot of EMF. I really don't think it would be quite so easy for a van on the street to spot a low-power USB stick tuner plugged into a laptop up on the 4th floor, for example.

  10. Gerry

    Licences - bah

    Of course, one can write to them by recorded delivery saying "no I do not receive television broadcasts so I do not pass go and do not need to pay £200 (whatever)" They will "remove" you from the database and promptly start chasing "The Occupier" (twisting the DPA no doubt, however...)

    Not anonymous because I still don't need a licence

  11. JakeyC

    It's what they don't tell you

    The very fact that they are withholding the information indicates that

    a) the myth of 'detector vans' is greater than the reality so they're in no rush to change that perception


    b) any genuine ability to detect TVs in use is easily defeated when you know how it works, so they'll hope they can keep it quiet for as long as possible

    It's the sign of an outdated organisation (TV Licensing) desperately clutching at what little revenue they still can before they realise it's just not going to work any more.

    With mobile content, on-demand services and the like, the line between what they can and can't restrict to licence-payers is becoming increasingly blurred. There simply won't be enough licence inspectors to check up on everyone with a mobile, laptop, sky box etc.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    They do work

    Having worked with people that developed some of the equipment that goes into these vans (although not in the same department) I can tell you that they do work.

    They had a test van that just looked like an old camper van and they have been known to park it outside the house of one of the people in the team and tell him the next day what he was watching!

    I'm not going to go into details (for the same reason the FOI was denied) but I can tell you two things:

    1) They don't work in any of the ways that you are likely to come up with unless you are already in the business

    2) They do work pretty well and without some reasonable knowledge of the workings, you probably couldn't prevent them detecting your set

    Posted AC because I'm probably not even allowed to say that much!

  13. MarkJ

    What exactly consitutes a TV?

    Back in the good old days, a TV was an analogue tuner and a CRT. Picking either/both of them up from a few yards (we are talking pre-metric) away whilst not exactly trivial, was possible. A TV composed of a LCD and a UHF ADC is a lot harder. Proving that the two components are in fact a working TV is harder still, whereas formerly any CRT in a domestic situation was almost certainly a TV tube.

  14. Damn Yank

    TV Licensing??

    You have to pay a license fee for over-the-air television??

  15. Tim Spence

    Empty vans

    They've given the game away in the response: "the broadcaster refused to give further details because if it did so it would damage the public's perception of the effectiveness of TV detector vans"

    Which I read as "if the BBC reveal what's inside these things, they'll prove once and for all that all is in the back is a guy with tea making facilities and a few newspapers."

    Surely if there was lots of very effective technology inside these vans, they would say so? As a result, their "no comment" attitude is just as damaging as any potential actual comment would be.

  16. Richard

    Bullshit-o-meter gives a strong reading, Sir

    "After answering part of the request the broadcaster refused to give further details because if it did so it would damage the public's perception of the effectiveness of TV detector vans."

    Mainly because they don't do anything. They are nothing more than a fear-inducing device to make you think "shit... they're detecting in my road.. I better do something quick!".

    Let me explain the flaw in a TV detection van. The supposed principle is that any piece of reception equipment will re-transmit the signals its received after demodulation. This is true, however the nature of those transmissions is unstable.

    The reason you can "tune" any radio device is because the signal is on a carrier frequency. By modulating this carrier (amplitude for vision, frequency for audio) you can encode the information. The point is, the information is always around the carrier frequency in one way or another.

    Now, demodulate that signal and you're left with the raw information. The frequency jumps about wildly, the amplitude is unstable, there's practically nothing to lock on to. The best you can hope for is the presence of a sync signal, at a fixed rate of 50Hz for vertical or 15kHz for horizontal. But realistically, these could be anything from background noise to mains hum. You're just not going to be able to accurately deduce the reception of a video signal.

    Meanwhile, there's the transmission strength issue. As anybody whose played with a science fair electronic set knows, even with 9V of battery behind it, you don't get more than a few feet unless you have a serious mast handy and a decent power transmitter. The maximum voltage is (or should be) around 1V inside a telly, before its seperated into bits for assembling the picture. This isn't going to transmit more than a few centimetres from the television.

    Anything that is higher than this won't be a proper TV signal, and comes under the same heading as background noise.

    So, in short, TV detector vans are pretty impossible to work unless televisions have a built-in "find me evading licensing here" beacon. The vans are a scare tactic. The BBC/TV Licensing have a database of all addresses with licence. Anyone who doesn't fit this gets a visit from TVL agents, who think they have police powers. They have in the past turned up at people's houses who have nothing even close to a telly, and told them straight faced "you have a television because we've detected it - now pay your licence fee!".

    Oh and of course, if you call your local neighbourhood bobby to resolve the issue, they will take sides with the TVL. I'm afraid the BBC is most definitely on the corrupt organisations list, along with the police, the court system and the government.

    -- Richard

  17. Stuart Halliday

    Won't it be great....

    ..if MythBusters were to pop over to the UK and test this myth out?

    It's easy to detect a TV if it's in front of you, it's not so easy if it's in amongst 100 other TVs or up high in a multi-story flat.

    Much easier to have a empty van with a fancy looking aerial on it with the words "BBC Detector Van" blazing on the side. Darn sight cheaper too.

    Odd that no person has ever posted (not even anonymously?) that they've been in a working detector van. Have they all been sworn to secrecy all these years?

  18. It'sa Mea... Mario

    I call Bullsh*t!

    If they really worked and we *knew* that then why would people stop buying a licence?

    It's believing that they probably don't work that is gonna encourage folks not too get one i'd say.

  19. Master Baker

    TV License, don't you mean TV Tax...

    I got red lettered by these twats so I phoned them up. I made it quite clear that I don't own a tele and don't intend buying one ever, since I have a projector and 6 foot screen for my xbox and dvd player etc. The lady was very nice and updated 'my account'. The best she could do was a 3-month update, which means that in three months I'll start getting letters again. I hate the way that you have to prove that you don't have a tele - it should be the other way around. And they're so aggressive about it too. "If you don't pay up you face a massive fine and buggery in prison by bigger-boys...." They don't give a flying fook if their information is incorrect.

    BTW is there anyway to get your name taken off the BBC's TV license database? If you don't own a TV then why should your name remain on there?

    Next time I won't respond to the letters at all. I'll wait until they send someone to the door... I'll open it wearing a mankini and I'll do an Alan Partridge on them - sit down, lift both my legs up so they can see my dinner and cry out "search me search me".

  20. Alistair

    Out of date

    I believe it is quite possible to pick up EM emissions from an old-fashioned CRT set using a directional antenna array, thereby proving its use and location once some triangulation has been done. I think it is even possible to see the picture, as there used to be some security fears over computer screens being read remotely.

    But your modern LCD or plasma jobbie is a different beast altogether. I think you'll have a hard time detecting one of those.

  21. Jimmy Floyd
    Thumb Up


    Those who campaign against the licence fee usually trot out one of four wobbly arguments:

    1) "It's too expensive (but I pay for Sky)"

    2) "I never watch BBC (but I pay to watch adverts on Sky)"

    3) "We should have a choice over what we pay for (but, in reality, I'm too stupid to make decisions for myself because I prefer paying to watch utter dross followed by adverts on Sky)"

    4) "I work for Sky."

    So, with apologies to those who genuinely don't have a TV, I much prefer the option of bullying those who would see the end of our venerable, valuable though occasionally flawed BBC and turn British TV into the unwatchable 'experience' like what the Yanks have.

    It's about quality over quantity, people.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    this is the title

    In the current climate, given the existence of a database of adresses, why bother putting anything more than a clipboard, driver, and a nice flask of tea (tartan flask, of course) in the things. Yes, it's possible to detect tv's that are plugged in and powered up, but why bother. Come to think of it, whilst I used to see the odd "detector van" stooging around as a kid, I couldn't honestly remember the last time I cast eyes on these mythical beasts.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How to avoid paying for a TV license

    Its really quite simple - I've been doing it for years!

    Don't have TV - yep thats all.

    A DVD player, a PC, a console or two and a nice large LCD TV to use them with. True I could plug in an aerial and watch TV if I really wanted to - but I don't - I can't stand the majority of the trash that is on these days - those seasons I do like I simply buy boxed sets once they come out.

    I get hassled by TV licensing true - but if you know the rules of the system then they are not even allowed to knock at your door - all you need to do is to write to them and "Withdraw implied consent" for them to visit your home. They will then need a court order to be able to come to your house.

    Given I live on a private road they can't even come down that with their detector vans - however as I said I am doing nothing illegal, I have in fact informed them of exactly what I am doing - ie watching DVDs and they acknowledge this is legitimate, though a few years ago it was a different story.

    TV licensing likes to assume you are guilty until you buy a TV license - I personally find this offensive so insist they play by the letter of the law and use every rule out there to make it harder for them at a minimum of effort for me.

    There is plenty of info on line about what they can and cannot do - but the main thing to remember is they have no rights of entry without a court order - if they knock on your door I suggest you treat them the way you would a double glazing salesman.

  24. Kyle


    The licence fee is always an awkward one. I'm in favour of it in principle - it's not that expensive and it funds some great programming (especially if you compare it to the programming the Irish system funds for a not dissimilar amount of money per household per annum). Thus enforcing it is something I'm also in favour of.

    However, I do wish that the paying public had more say in what the money gets spent on. I'm not talking about the Paxman-style criticism of some of BBC Three's lineup for example (although God knows that he had a point when he questioned the merits of programmes like "My Man-Boobs And Me"), but more on cash wasted on twits like Jonathan Ross. I don't have any objection to paying for a licence, but it's irksome to see so much of the money it raises spent on some waste of space. At least with the likes of the Mighty Boosh the budgets are small and they can recoup cash via DVD sales...

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward



    "After answering part of the request the broadcaster refused to give further details because if it did so it would damage the public's perception of the effectiveness of TV detector vans"

    another way of saying

    "After answering part of the request the broadcaster refused to give further details because if it did so it would have to admit that TV detector vans are ineffective" ?

  26. Iain

    Two points

    "After answering part of the request the broadcaster refused to give further details because if it did so it would damage the public's perception of the effectiveness of TV detector vans"

    It would surely only be damaging if it proved they didn't work? So they obviously don't.

    I'm not sure of the legal basis, but it would seem to me if I was challenged in court for no tv licence I have a right to defend my case by examining the workings of detection equipment, just as when challenging a speeding offence caught on camera.

  27. Neil

    Waiting for the first idiot...

    To say something like "But TVs only RECEIVE - they don't TRANSMIT so TV Detector vans can't possibly work!"

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Of course the vans are just scams

    They wouldn't keep pestering people who don't have a TV if they were real

  29. Chris Richards
    Thumb Up

    Ok then...

    "it would damage the public's perception of the effectiveness of TV detector vans"

    That's just saying "there's nothing in then, which we don't want people to know otherwise they won't be worried into paying their licence fee"

  30. Adam
    Thumb Down

    It's a myth

    Handheld detectors are the clipboards the "enquiry officers" carry and the detector vans are the minibuses they are carried round in. That's what I reckon anyway.

    I don't have a TV so I don't have a licence and I keep getting these "enquiry officers" knocking on my door. The licence is enforced like a protection racket; don't pay for one and you get threatening letters and people knocking on the door.

  31. michael

    wrong attuide

    "The BBC supported its claim with evidence that a growing number of people are dissatisfied with paying the licence fee"

    so there responce is to be secritave and defncive about it

    yer that will work

  32. Joel Stobart

    Crazy Talk

    "Requests for authorisations for the use of detection equipment must be made in writing to the Head of Sales and Marketing or anyone holding a more senior role within the TV Licence Management Team of the BBC" .... like the janitor, seriously the guy responsible for authorising requests that fall under RIPA is the S&M guy. That there is blue-pie-in-sky thinking.

    "the number of detection devices and how often they are used will change the public’s perception of their effectiveness." .... so there is only one

    "the technical elements of the detection devices would leave open the possibility of people analysing them to find weaknesses to evade detection equipment"... and the information we do retrieve is buggy and flawed.

    TV licensing's database is simply the PAF so that's flawed too.

  33. Martin Milan
    Thumb Down

    Oh really?

    Look here Auntie - before making nice little generalised slurs about sites discussing the current licensing arrangements, take a moment to question whether or not you have the balls to actually risk naming one and having a constructive debate. If the answer is no, then sod off...

    In this instance though, I'll save you the trouble... You're referring to - the only major site with user participation on the topic. Yes, there are some people on there discussing evasion - but there are also a good many people who whilst remaining within the law, discuss the failings in the current arrangments. I'm used to be in the latter category, and resent your implication that I might be in the former...

    Repeats have gotten so numerous in our schedules now that I think there is ample scope for a discussion as to whether Auntie is fit to be left holding the baby...


    (Muppetman from the site, though I don't pretend to speak on their behalf...)

  34. Ewen Bruce

    Vans? Wot vans?

    Anyone ever seen a van? Anyone ever had a vist from the 'enforcers'? If yuo have, let this guy know .

  35. A J Stiles

    Not difficult

    It's not exactly rocket science. Television receivers are superhets (and therefore contain a local oscillator). Some of the LO signal couples into the antenna cable. Television antennas are highly directional, and have just enough bandwidth to transmit at the LO frequency.

    Now, if the detector van's receiver was a superhet -- and, since this is the most sensitive kind of receiver, it's unlikely to be anything else -- then you could theoretically build a TV detector van detector, which would cut off the power to your TV when it detected the detector van's own local oscillator! But in order to do this, you would need to know the intermediate frequency used by the detector van's receiver, in order to work out the local oscillator frequency that you were looking for.

    What I want to know is, WHY did the Government not mandate card readers on ALL digital receivers from the beginning of the switchover? Then the BBC could have broadcast their programmes scrambled, and anyone without a viewing card would also be without pictures. That would surely have been the fairest way to do it. It's inconceivable that nobody from the industry would have mentioned this possibility during the initial consultation, so on what grounds was it blocked?

  36. Alan Brookland

    Self-fulfilling prophecy?

    "After answering part of the request the broadcaster refused to give further details because if it did so it would damage the public's perception of the effectiveness of TV detector vans."

    Isn't that just going to achieve the very thing that they were trying to avoid?

    "We can't tell you that they're just full of old wire clothes hangers and cardboard boxes, because then you'd think they don't work..."

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Vans with spinning roofracks

    I can confirm the existence of them - after TV Licensing sent me my licence (paid for by direct debit) and in the same post a letter telling me that I needed a licence or I'd have to pay a fine, I ignored the letter (there was no free way to contact them - their error not mine, why would I want to pay to tell them their database is rubbish) - a chap duly turned up in a spinning roofrack mobile.

    He insinuated that he had the right of entry (he doesn't) and harrassed my other/better half for over an hour. Eventually I came home, told him to clear off and to make an appointment with me by letter. At no point had he asked to see the licence, so it wasn't shown to him.

    He did go away and I got an appointment alright - at the magistrates court.

    Defending myself, and taking along the last 15 years worth of TV licences and bank statements showing I was still paying - I predictably won the case (and costs), remarking "if it's all in the database, then clearly the database is rubbish" - much to the amusement of the bench.

  38. John

    technically quite easy

    Cathode Ray Tubes (remember them?) give off alpha particles (electrons) and miniscule amounts of X-rays.

    Alpha particles don't travel far outside of the vaccuum of the CRT. A few centimetres of air is usually enough to stop them.

    X-rays can travel quite a bit further, and can go through walls don't ya know, but I believe the amount of X-rays given off is very small indeed. Enough to be detectable from outside a building? I don't know - perhaps someone else does.

    Of course there are other kinds of emissions from televisions - even the modern flat ones. Light, and sound in particular are technically quite easy to detect even without sophisticated equipment. If the enforcement officers possesses, oh, eyes and ears there's a good change he'll notice the flicker even through your drawn curtains, and when you open the door to him he's likely to reason the Eastenders theme tune he hears isn't coming from the radio in the bathroom.

    So what kind of kit do they need in the vans? Kettles and teapots probably. And the harnesses for the unicorns right enough.

  39. Rande Knight

    Black Ops

    Probably want to hide that they only have 2 vans and 6 employees in the 'fleet', and the rest funds the BBC black ops projects.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    when I used to get sent to the Isle of Man, I was told by the locals that when the TV van came off the ferry (easy to spot because of antennas on the roof), people would just switch off the TV and goto a mates place or the pub. When word went around that the van had left, normal service would be resumed.

    @laptop on the 4th floor. As long as it's not plugged into the mains, you don't need a license.

    AC - cos I'm a coward !!

  41. Steve

    They really could detect TVs, but

    Some say the vans detect the leakage from the HF aerial cabling or wiring within the display unit. This assumes there is enough signal to detect and that it isn’t swamped by a neighbour’s setup; this is unlikely to work well IMO.

    Others say that the picture displayed a CRT can be remotely regenerated by detecting the visible hf flicker coming from a room (thanks to the modulated beam intensities, this is very easy to do). Of course, pictures from LCDs or plasmas can’t be regenerated.

    Me? I think the operators merely sit in their van and watch the intensity of light emanating from a room. They probably claim a match if the intensity and colours change in sympathy with what is being broadcast.

    So my advice: close your curtains if you feel the need to watch a TV without paying the license tax.

    I don’t own a license; thankfully I genuinely do not watch TV (I don’t think the program quality is worth the tax for it); instead I get VOD from t’internet :c)

  42. Anonymous Coward

    @ they do work

    of course in the old days they had a 1in 4 chance of guessing the correct channel so saying they can tell what you were watching isn't much.

    I wonder if tinfoil wallpaper (a househat) would prevent detection??

  43. Roger Greenwood

    Used to work

    20 odd years ago they used to detect either line flyback or IF signal (using RDF antenna to confirm location). Pretty easy for any amateur into RF (as I was at the time). TV's have always been "noisy" and very badly screened. Today's digital jobbies are unlikey to be much different, just different signals to choose from.

  44. Aaron

    They never called around

    I used to never watch my tv, it wasn't connect to an aerial it only had a games console on it. The TV licence people wrote to me saying I needed a licence so I called them explained my setup and they said that shouldn't need a licence but they would send someone around to check, 3 years later no one had turned up yet.

    They do this and wonder why people who do dodge paying when they don't even bother to check. I since bought sky and the playtv so now have a licence, who knows maybe I will get someone calling around to check tomorrow.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The cat is out of the bag

    "After answering part of the request the broadcaster refused to give further details because if it did so it would damage the public's perception of the effectiveness of TV detector vans. The ICO agreed that if the deterrent was lost some people would not pay their licence fee."

    So they are saying they would prefer not to admit that TV detector vans don't actually exist...

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    woooooh its the magical detector van

    There is no detector van. My brother worked for BT when used to garage them there and they sat in the back of them on hot days. A few years later I went to a huge bonfire celebration and one of the magical mystery vans had been left parked outside. Suffice it to say, 20,000 odd people got to have a good look at the two benches - and nothing else - inside.

    The BBC gather license fees by mailing every citizen in the country and issuing veiled threats. That is why they are going to lose their license fee arrangement very soon, they have annoyed too many people with their tactics. They have no huge database either. Oh, and for what its worth, if you owe the license fee and are avoiding it, don't answer the door to a postman.Its a favourite disguise of the TV license fee gatherers.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Legal disclosure?

    I don't understand why the specific technology has not been disclosed as part of a legal action. After all I I was being taken to court on the basis on being detected, I would get full disclosure of exactly how the technology works. If you cannot prove the detector van did what you said it did, the evidence is invalid.

  48. JohnG

    Many years ago..

    From what I read many years ago, the equipment in the vans was supposed to detect the RF radiated from local oscillator in the receiver.

    However, I am not convinced as these guys were forever coming to my parents' house asking about a TV because there were a couple of aerials on the roof installed in the 1960s (of the Band I and Band III types). My dad would let these jokers in and show them every room in the house to demonstrate that they really didn't have a TV.

  49. Mister_C

    Ah, the Database

    That'd be the same database that issued my wife with a "we have no record of a licence" threatener within a week of sending a renewal reminder to the bloke that had been renting the house. Fortunately, mentioning the DPA and incorrect data stopped them that time.

    At risk of getting close to cross-posting, the word "barratry" has been mentioned in another comments thread. Anyone feel wicked enough to updated the wiki to include "modus operandi of the Beeb licence people"?

  50. Frank

    @DamnYank re.TV Licensing

    Yes we do. The TV license fee is collected by an agency and passed on to the BBC to fund its operations. This is a long standing arrangement going back to the early years when the BBC was the only TV broadcaster in the UK. Later over-the-air broadcasters adopted the advertising payment model resulting in TV programmes being interrupted about every 20 minutes by adverts.

    There have been court cases where people have successfully claimed that since their TV was incapable of receiving BBC transmissions, then they did not need to pay the license fee. These cases are very rare and usually involve technically capable defendants who have modified their TV sets. Most people just pay up and accept that what they actually get for their license fee is reasonable value (this opinion is open to great debate and argument).

  51. michael cadoux

    TVLA myth?

    "Although it is technically quite easy to detect a working TV, many people believe the vans only exist as an imaginary deterrent."

    Whose comment is that? If true, then surely it's in TVLA's interest to release the info to disabuse "many people", and hence increase deterrence?

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sites like this one...

    "It also pointed to "a number of blogs and forums dedicated to people who are dissatisfied with having to pay the licence fee.""

    Ah, they mean the number of people who are still hounded by the TV Licence people who don't even want one anymore?

  53. Sceptical Bastard

    An agnostic bites a shill

    Like others, I take this passage:

    "...the broadcaster refused to give further details because if it did so it would damage the public's perception of the effectiveness of TV detector vans. The ICO agreed that if the deterrent was lost some people would not pay their licence fee..."

    to mean either that the vans don't work or work inefficiently and unreliably. If the vans were fully effective, they'd be less mealy-mouthed in my opinion.

    As for "They do work" by an AC. Yeah, right. I always believe shills, especially ones who spout shit like: "I'm not going to go into details ... they don't work in any of the ways that you are likely to come up with unless you are already in the business..." Oh, you're 'in the business', eh? You have secret insider knowledge denied to us mere plebs? You reckon all the techies who read El Reg are too stupid to figure it out?

    I don't know whether it is easy or difficult to reliably detect a television set from several yards away. I don't know how you differentiate a glass CRT computer monitor from a glass CRT television. I don't know whether or not it is possible to detect a TV card in a computer from outside the premises. But, judging by the quotes in the article, I suspect it aint as easy as the Beeb are trying to pretend.

    In my case, the TV aerial on the roof is a bit of a giveaway. That and the bluish glow behind the curtains.

  54. Simon Painter

    The key is in the small print.

    The small print of the law states that the TV monkeys can enter your house to seize television equipment if they know that there is a TV in there because it can be heard from the street. While it is unlikely that a TV would be audible from the street under most circumstances with the help of a directional microphone and even a laser directed at a window it becomes possible to detect the audio patterns of television broadcasts. These can then be matched with known patterns from the live broadcast to show that it's Strictly Choirboy Idol or whatever that you are watching and not a radio broadcast or the audio from a DVD.

    Of course there are many ways to soundproof your flat and if the precise technical details of the vans were ever to get out into the public domain it wouldn't take much brains to produce a device similar to noise cancelling headphones which sticks onto your windows.

    But people would only buy them if there was some evidence to say they worked and that's what the beeb is trying to prevent here, they don't care if people know that the vans can be rendered useless, they just want there to be enough uncertainty to ensure that Joe Sixpack does not invest in one of these devices.

  55. peter
    Paris Hilton

    Accurate Database?

    We have always paid the licence in one hit, but this year decided to pay by direct debit. We now have three letters from the licencing authority. One letter thanking us for paying by direct debit, another containing the licence, and the final threatening us with prosecution if we dont get a licence.

    I can only asume a 'database' error.....and am praying that no-one corrects it. I want the pleasure of being door-stepped and and telling them to take a hike, and then being taken to court. I really really want to see their faces as I present my licence as evidence.

    Paris..cos one can dream

  56. Nano nano

    Think TEMPEST

    Hope you enjoy battery-powered telly, fed by an aerial with an LO notch filter, inside your mesh cage !

  57. caffeine addict

    [no title]

    I have a TV in the living room - visible from the road and the front door. I also have no license because I don't bloody well need one legally. You can own a TV, keep it plugged in and even turn the thing on if you want, and it's legal.

    If anyone has worked out how to get TV Licensing to stop sending threatening letters on a regular basis, do please tell me.

    [ This week's battle is explaining to the water company that I'm not paying their water bill because they haven't got a pipe coming into my house... ]

  58. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How they work (I think)

    I've been in the TV industry for several years and while I have no direct experience with TV detectors, from chatting with other people over those years, my understanding of how they work is as follows (this may or may not be complete rubbish) :

    Traditionally, a synthesised tuner (which is what you find in an old TV) locks on to the signal by generating an internal signal that matches the frequency its trying to pick up (I don't know the details - my RF knowledge is very poor). This signal leaks and gets passed back up the aerial. It is this signal (and I am sure there's more to it) that the TV detectors pick up. There's also the noise that the CRT display and supporting circuitry itself generates.

    However, my further understanding is that these days, there's a problem! Modern digital tellys don't use the above technique for tuning; they tend to contain digital tuners that lock on to the signal by FFT techniques (ie - mathematically, using a microprocessor). They don't actually contain an internal signal generator any more. So that sort-of knackers it up for the TV detectors. The other issue is that it's all LCD panels these days and while they are electrically pretty noisy, the noise is, for all practical purposes, impossible to decode with any certainty.

  59. Kris Sweeney

    @Master Baker

    Sir, you owe me a new keyboard and monitor...

    Seriously though the government and bbc need to wake up and realise that its 2008 if advertising revenue is good enough for 99.99% of channels around the world why does the UK need publicly funded channels - especially those that the majority of people with a telly in the UK no longer watch!

    Yes i'm licenced but no i have not watched the BBC (or listened to their radio broadcasts) for several years - mainly because the quality of programming has gone down and the fee has gone up.

    Counting up the number of people in my family that i know can state the same comes to 38 of 42 people - its futile but WAKE UP BBC you have lost and are continuing to lose viewers...

  60. Mark


    Parabolic microphone, easy

  61. Anonymous Coward

    I can exclusively reveal

    That TV detector technology is based on a microscopic black hole-driven subatomic polarised wave filter developed using parts from a crashed alien spacecraft. Unfortunately it doesn't work that well on viewers that don't have much brain activity, which basically makes it useless for finding viewers of daytime ITV.

  62. Nigel Wright
    Thumb Down

    @Master Baker

    Don't you know that databases are never wrong? ;-)

    A few years ago I didn't have a tv. The licensing authority harassed me to distraction despite me informing then of the fact. One day an inspector came around - I sent him packing. Then another came demanding access to my home. A third and then a fourth. I sent them all packing with an instruction to get a court order. That was the last I heard.

    A couple of years later I moved out of my house and rented it out. The tenant bought a licence.

    A couple of years after that, the tenant moved out and I moved back in. Among the mail popping through the letter box were demands for a tv licence. I politely informed the authority that the tenant had moved out and I was now the incumbent, but without a tv. The letters kept coming, but were addressed to the "occupier" instead. It made no difference that I informed them I had no licence and so, the merry-go-round with threats and inspectors began once again and continued until a few months ago when my girlfriend moved in with her telly. Now being the very conscientious type, she insisted that she bought a licence....much to my annoyance.

    Their database is often wrong; their tactics are threatening, unreasonable and intimidating. I dislike the licensing authority with passion.

  63. Dan
    Black Helicopters

    @They do work, and @Richard

    Right, I've got it. Putting together the info from the two posts above, I'm thinking they have got some kit but not the techie stuff everyone here is thinking of. How about: a telly in the van, a newspaper TV guide and one of those directional mics that looks like a handheld radar with a set of headphones. Bloke in van listens on mic for audio being emitted from a house. If audio matches anything that is on TV (courtesy of his portable and copy of TV Week), bloke can double check target property by observing which house has fluctations in the lighting (observable from outside) to match what's on his telly, or the telly of a nearby house (which may or may not have a license). Bingo. Bloke knows they have a telly, and can even (see @They do work) tell which programme is being watched.

    Or maybe they are full of sh1t and simply match the DB records with all available houses. Talking of which, it would be interesting to know what percentage of properties have a license, and see a demographic map of 'offender' concentrations UK-wide.

  64. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Revenue Earner

    We have a TV licence but that doesn't necessarily stop the threatening letters.

    A year or so ago we bought a cheap LCD TV to watch DVDs on in the bedroom. As it was bought on the OH's card, we gave her details. Within a month we were getting letters saying "We notice you do not have a TV Licence *under your name* at the above address", even though we have a licence under *my* name at the same address.

    I can only imagine that they want to trick stupid people into buying a licence for each occupant of the household. Nice revenue earner, that.

  65. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anyone checked the DPA registration?

    If I remember correctly, this TV licence operation is run by a contractor (Which possibly explains why collection costs so much).

    Since this contractor has a database of names and addresses, surely they should be registered under the Data Protection Act (although an exemption from registration might apply).

    In any case, whether or not the database needs to be registered, they'll be covered by Schedule 1, which requires them to ensure the data is correct.

    If somebody genuinely doesn't have a TV, has notified the collectors, and still gets threatening letters, wouldn't the DPA be a potential remedy?

  66. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course, if their detector vans worked...

    ...they'd be able to detect that I wasn't watching television either. And then stop sending threatening letters to my empty flat.

  67. Mike Crawshaw
    Thumb Down

    They're so effective

    that they kept detecting the TV set I didn't actually have. Once a month on average for about a year. "We have detected the television you are using, sir!"

    Have you. Have you really. Impressive, perhaps you actually picked up me thinking about that nice 52" LCD? Now that's effective...

  68. Anonymous Coward

    TV licensing is ridiculous

    I live in halls at uni, recently EVERYONE in the entire hall received a threatening letter that basically said 'YOU DO NOT HAVEA TV LICENSE SO PLEASE PAY US SOME EXTORTIONATE SUM OF MONEY' with a tiny bit at the bottom for if you don't have a TV. I was very pissed off when I had to phone them to tell them I don't have a TV too (I watch tv via bittorrent...)

    It isn't even a good quality service you're getting for the license fee, as it only pays for the BBC.

    If I had the choice I would opt out of receiving BBC channels and not pay the license.

  69. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects
    Black Helicopters

    Shs? WTF @ SHS

    <Quoth Reg.>

    If you buy or rent a TV or buy a PC tuner card in the UK your address is passed onto TV Licensing

    <Unquoth Reg.>

    How the heck is that supposed to mean anything in a caught @ law?

    The law is that 1 licence must be held for the TV or tuner at any address used. It doesn't have anything to do with the ownership and it can't prove the set was used is usable. Nor does it indicate the premisses where it might.

    I believe they can obtain the set/card but I imagine not before you pass it on or break it. Or pay the TV tax.

    And WTH is going to put a signature on anything that indicates otherwise? Not that it applies to me. I buy second hand or from computer shows. (Plus: I have a license.)

  70. Benny

    Just wondering

    but, if I were to use my tv to only watch freeview (I only use it for gaming and dvds), then would I still be required to pay a tv licence? Surely the whole "free" in freeview means just that. And on another note, why can I watch most of the decent programmes for free on the internet? Seems pointless to pay for it at all.

  71. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Damn Yank

    'You have to pay a license fee for over-the-air television??'

    It's a small price to avoid being told to ask your doctor about irritable bowels which appears to be the only way American TV is funded these days.

  72. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Waiting for the van - does Godot drive it?

    Even if you reply to their nasty "YOU DONT HAVE A LICENSE - PAY UP RIGHT NOW OR ELSE" letters, they still send around a guy to check that you really don't have a TV.

    Now many years later, I don't respond and don't let them in - I'm waiting to see a TV detector van parked outside my house.

  73. Anonymous Coward


    ...are not alpha particles (nor indeed are they beta particles, before you start). Moreover, the emmissions of electrons, along with x-rays, are so miniscule you'd have extreme trouble detecting either at a distance of 1 foot.

  74. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @AC who said..

    "....and a nice large LCD TV to use them with. True I could plug in an aerial and watch TV if I really wanted to - but I don't - I can't stand the majority of the trash that is on these days - those seasons I do like I simply buy boxed sets once they come out."

    So, you still have to pay for a TV license regardless of whether you plug an aerial into it or not. The law states that if you have a device capable of receiving BBC broadcasts then you must have a license. A device capable of receiving BBC broadcasts is called a tuner and there's one in that LCD telly of yours that has to be licensed. Oh, and when you say "can't stand the majority of the trash that is on these days" then you mean that you do in fact watch some telly then. Suspect it is moronic US imports by your use of the word 'trash'.

    I for one am happy paying my tv license, without it there would be no Mighty Boosh, QI, Buzzcocks, Planet Earth and a million other high quality, watchable TV programmes, not forgetting the radio programmes that the license also pays for.

    Freeloaders! }:-(

    Paris because that's what watching brain mushifying US import TV does to you.

  75. Phillip Bicknell
    Paris Hilton

    A few points

    My uncle was a postmaster in those pre-Internet days - he told me that the detector van in his yard was empty - they relied on the list.

    However, the MoD wouldn't go to the trouble and expense of installing Tempest cages around their equipment just for nuclear blast EMP protection, would they? When I had a room integrity test to do on one of their refurbuished rooms, the operators in the adjacent working room were sent on a tea-break.

    Meanwhile, spare a thought for all those people in house shares - if the landlord doesn't pay the fee, then every individual tenant is meant to have one. Fortunately the licence database doesn't go into that detail, so one licence surfices, albeit with the tenants being at slight risk of discovery.

    Paris because no-one else has yet!

  76. Mark

    Vans == scam

    As mentioned, the old vans used to pick up on the radiation emitted by CRTs. No that everyone has Plasma and TFTs, they are essentially useless. Looking at the database for people not paying the fee, and then chasing them down, is far more effective...

  77. Brian

    It pays...

    The license fee pays the wages of Russell Brand and Jonathan Toss.

    Keeping these two talentless, offensive twats in beer and scratchings isn't something I want to pay for.

    Likewise Strictly Cum Prancing, EastBenders, Wholly Shitty or any of the other inane crap that fills the schedule.

    Some of BBC2, 3 and 4 is worth watching, but there's so much money wasted on the lowest common denominator that I'd rather see the license fee abolished and the BBC have to compete like any other broadcaster for the advertising shekels.

    Mines the one with the taser in the pocket, for when they come knocking...

  78. andy

    @simon painter

    "The small print of the law states that the TV monkeys can enter your house to seize television equipment if they know that there is a TV in there because it can be heard from the street."

    What a load of bollocks.. that <em>might</em> get them a warrant but TV licensing 'officers' have no warrantless right of entry under any circumstances...

  79. Rob
    Paris Hilton

    @ Simon Painter

    "Of course there are many ways to soundproof your flat and if the precise technical details of the vans were ever to get out into the public domain it wouldn't take much brains to produce a device similar to noise cancelling headphones which sticks onto your windows."

    IIRC, it's even easier than that. I'm sure I recall reading a novel, many years ago, where the protagonist circumvented directional laser mic eavesdropping by simply gaffer taping a vibrator to the window...

    PH because - well it's obvious, isn't it?

  80. Anonymous Coward

    How it works

    As has been mentioned in other comments, the receivers in TVs are super-heterodyne type receivers, which have one or two (depending on designers choice, normally two) Intermediate Frequencies. These are well known because the filters need to be reasonably tight and thus are produced by third parties and thus reasonably standard.

    The detector vans simply have very sensitive equipment that listens on those IFs with very directional aerials.


    Analogue or digital, doesn't matter... it all goes through the receiver;

    The 'tuning' occurs aerial side of the mixer; the IF is a fixed frequency the other side.

    With good enough equipment, they could feed the received IF into a TV and watch exactly what you're watching!

    As for the 'detect the detector van' comment... their IF would match the second IF in your TV, so would be extremely difficult to detect! Best bet would be to look out the window!

    And for those who claim that there isn't enough signal to get that far... I've successfully used 50mW over a distance of 7 miles on UHF, through normal brick walls, with no problems. That's about the same power as a reasonably bright LED.

  81. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I bought a TV

    and got a threatening letter because there is no license held in my name at the property.

    I phoned them up, explained the g/f has one and it is a single occupancy house. I didn't provide the license reference as I couldn't be bothered looking for it.

    I then raised a complaint based on the data protection act (a property needs to be covered by a licence, it is irrelevant whose name it is in as long as it is current. Houses with separate occupancy are different but they will be registered as such)

    I have since bought two additional TVs and not received any more threatening letters. So the answer to getting taken off the list is to provide the correct data and then make a complaint under the DPA should they continue to threaten you.

  82. Dave

    @Damn Yank

    Yes, we have a licence fee, it funds the BBC and helps helps keep adverts down (the BBC only show trailers for their own stuff and not in the middle of programmes). Contrast this to something I saw in the US a couple of months ago, with a running time of 152 minutes and occupying three and a half hours. By my reckoning that's just short of an hour of adverts for two and a half hours of programme.

    Having said that, the licence authority are a bunch of offensive bastards who don't understand that some people really don't have TVs.

  83. Anonymous Coward

    Spouting Rubbish...

    Stop it! its not CRT's!

    Remeber an article a few days ago about eves dropping on wired keyboards? ever wondered how that worked?

    its all about crystal oscilatiors... and leakage.. TV tuners leak associated frequencies which can be detected allowing you to determine the exact frequecny being recieved. it still works with digital (as a block of channels is on one frequency) and videos, pc cards etc.. but, and this is why its gone quiet, it can also detect other emissions from other devices with oscilators, ie most PC's, Phones and pretty much most digital equipment. including keyboards! and pretty much any network device!

    (note this is about detecting a tuning crystal, not a transmitting device, but a device that leaks)

    Tin foil on stand-by!

    AC because they dont want you to know, that they know what you know...

  84. dervheid
    Black Helicopters

    Of course...

    maybe the real reason for them denying this request is so that the plebs don't find out what the vans are *really* capable of / equipped for detecting...

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to line my house with tinfoil (just to help my fuel efficiency, you understand).

  85. Mark W

    Strange Country we live in

    @AC who posted;

    "A DVD player, a PC, a console or two and a nice large LCD TV to use them with. True I could plug in an aerial and watch TV if I really wanted to - but I don't - I can't stand the majority of the trash that is on these days - those seasons I do like I simply buy boxed sets once they come out."

    How do you know which seasons you do like, and how do you know it's all trash if you don't actually watch a TV?

    Anyway, I would love to know how many people who complain about the licence fee actually pay for Sky?

    I can only comment on my situation, but it's an interesting comparison, so bear with me.

    I have a SkyHD box in my living room and a Sky+ elsewhere in the house (moved it elsewhere when I got my SkyHD).

    If you have a Sky HD box with a full+movies(or sport)+multiroom+HD subscription then you're paying £58 per month. (£38 for Movie or Sports World, £10 for Multiroom, £10 for HD). That works out at £696 per year. (Fcuuuuuuuk. Didn't realise it was *quite* that costly!)

    Agreed, you do get alot of content for that, including alot of crap, but the majority of that cost is down to the Movies part of the subscription, which is comparable in price to something like a top whack lovefilm subscription. And I'm pretty happy now they've made every movie channel HD+DD5.1.

    However, movies aside, when you look at the quality of what you get as part of your TV licence (BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4, BBC Radio, BBC HD, BBC Internet / Podcasts, BBC iPlayer etc.. etc..), not to mention the management and maintainence of Freeview and Freesat (They are the majority shareholders in both) then the £139.50 isn't actually that bad.

    From my point of view, I only keep the sky subs going because I want the movies, and I'm happy to pay for it, along with the kids channels for my kids. If I didn't want those, I wouldn't pay for sky as apart from movies, 99% of my viewing is BBC or Channel 4.

  86. Matthew

    Detector vans

    I used to live in the East End and, about twice a year, they'd park a 'detector van' prominently in the local Asda car park. The local post office would get a big rush of sudden licence purchases and then the cycle would repeat six months later.

    I looked in the van out of curiosity and aside from the vaguely-arialish roofrack there were just two obviously mocked-up consoles that were probably straight off a sci-fi film set.

    So it is just for scare value and the database rules: as has been said they'd use more obvious technology like a directional microphone if detection was the goal.

  87. Steven Jones

    Does it still work...

    As has been pointed out, it is - or at least was easy to detect TVs. The equipment simply sensed the high frequency signal mixed with that from the antenna in the superhet. A superhet receiver works by having a very narrow bandpass downstream filter carefully tuned to a specific frequency that was created by this mixing process. This means any downstream electronics only have to work with a very narrow frequency range simplifying the design.

    TV detectors simply worked by using highly directional antenna tuned to the range of frequencies generated by the mixer signal. The frequency of this mixer signal tended to give away which channel the TV was tuned into (hence all those TV ads designed to scare would be license fee avoiders - "we can even tell what channel you are watching").

    This worked very well in the says of old fashioned valve superhets with lots of wires and other stuff to broadcast the mixer frequency. One has to wonder if this works so well with modern electronics. Firstly the electronics to do all this is heavily miniaturised - does one of those little USB tuners or battery powered TVs really broadcast enough mixer signal to be detected? Secondly, is the tuner circuitry so simple these days - in radio, there are moves to software definable tuners. Maybe not yet for TV frequencies, but who knows.

    Other techniques, such as detecting line and frame rate signals to the TV tube are less satisfactory and almost completely unworkable in the move to flat screen (and how do you tell that the picture actually comes from a broadcast signal).

    So maybe the real secret that they want to protect is that detector vans don't work any more.

  88. Jacqui

    @Martin Milan

    As another ex TV owner (it died and we never bothered to replace it) I agree that the .biz site is so helpful to us folks that get constantly harrassed by TVL letters and other dirty tricks.

    Note that the BBC does not mention thier TVL staff assaulting disabled members of the public and forcing entry, masqerading as other businesses and asking what washing machine, microwave, TV you own.

    Mind you the same dirty tricks are played by the water board - I have managed to convince two OAP's that they DO NOT have to fill in the "questionaire" provided by the water board to all residents on this estate. The results are used to force people to install a water meter it has nothing to do with reducing water rates (as the people handing them out were telling the poor old sods when given the questionaire at the door step).

    Effing crooks the lot of em!

    Jacqui "I don't have a TV!" Caren

  89. Admiral Grace Hopper

    Aaron Kempf proved right

    It turns out that the databases are coming. Heaven help us.

  90. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Yes they do work..

    Yes TV Detector Vans do work, they always have but as one poster as already mentioned they do not look for what you think they are looking for and I am also not going to say exactly what this is for the same reason as the other poster other than to say that what they look for and how they do it is quite obvious really when you think about it.

    A TV only RECIEVES a TV signal but it does give out other emissions and it is these that they look for.

    The TV dectector vans have always been able to detect a telly if it is on however as some other poster has already said the knack is to pick out the target from all the other tellys in the area. The aerial on the van and the hand held units they use is highly directional and it will only detect in a very narrow band along the axis that the thing is pointing. A bit like a long distance directional microphone.

    The old grey vans could detect your telly but they were useless which was why they used to have TV DETECTOR VAN written in big letters down both sides. They used to park them up in town where everyone could see them and the word would get out that the detector vans were in town and everyone without a TV licence would crap themselves and go out and buy a licence. As they used to drive around the council estates with the van the man in the back used to wind the DF handle in the back that spun the aerial around to make it look as though they were detecting things as everyone knows from what they saw on TV that an aerial rotates like a radar dish when it is detecting things but the chances are that as soon as they pulled into the estate, unlicenced TVs all over the estate would get switched off as kids ran home to tell mum and dad that the TV van was driving slowly up the street with the aerial going round.

    It was all scare tactics and the way they used to actually catch people was to visit houses without a telly licence and listenin for the sound of the telly or look for the glow on the curtains before they knocked on the door. That was why they used to call on a night. The van could detect the TV but the chance that they would be detecting for you watching BBC1 when you were actually watching BBC1 and it was your telly that they picked up was a little bleak and they might need to drive down the street a few times by which time you had probably turned the telly off. Once they had caught you though for evidence purposes they would go out of town with a battery powered portable TV, sit it on a wall and drive past it to get the "evidence" they used for taking you to court.

    The new vans are indeed much better but rely on the same principles however the equipment is more compact and they can simultaniously scan a lot more channels at the same time where as the old ones scanned a channel at a time. They can tell which channel you are watching by what they detect coming from your TV and they can tell which room the telly is in due to the highly directional nature of the scanning gear. They have to point the equipment directly at the telly for it to detect it so they can say it is upstairs in a bedroon because they had to point the aerial at the upstairs of your house etc.

    You dont see the vans as often now because they dont need to park them in the centre of town to scare people. They have a database that tells them who has a license and who does not and they now send letters out and send people around to visit. The vans are now deployed simply to detect rather than to scare people and are used as a last line of enforcement.

  91. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Dan

    Dan you are not far from the truth. the techie kit they use works a bit like that but a whole lot more technical.

    They catch most people by simply listening at the door or looking at the light on the drawn curtains before they knock.

  92. The Avangelist

    All this talk of CRT detection is toss

    What a load of crap, I tell you right now there never has been and never will be a TV detection service.

    I don't need to post this anonymously but I didn't pay a TV licence for over 5 years. The minute I looked into getting cable TV flag went up on database and I had a reminder that I needed to get one.

    This guff about detecting CRT based televisions is toss as well. Distinguish the alpha frequencies between a CRT TV and PC Monitor? Nobody and I mean NOBODY who has trained with enough technical skill to even be able to tell the difference between the two through several feet of concrete, steel struts a drive way and a main road is going to be willing to take a job that dull and that shit.

    They never existed they never will exist and the BBC should not be in control of the so called licence fee.

    You honestly trying to tell me that the entire BBC is solely funded from the TV licence? Is it fook, it wouldn't even cover the cost of wages for a quarter. So they already get money from elsewhere without the use of advertising so they can stop taking mine to produce a load of free to air radio signals that I can pick up however the fuck I like. You can't charge for a wave.

  93. Charlie van Becelaere

    They're not from the

    Ministry of Housinge, are they?

    I'm very observant, you know.

  94. Paul Taylor

    Only need a licence if you watch live

    I got hassle from the TVLA in ~1992, 2003 & 2007. The last lot of mail was extremely offensive, beginning from the assumption that I was breaking the law. Only on page three was the possibility entertained that I didn't have one of the damn things, and then I was invited to "update their database", after which they would come and check! However, despite giving them neither my name nor my telephone number, eventually I got a phone call, from a guy who was extremely polite, and began with "I presume you don't have a TV?".

    As I gather that they have got even more aggressive now, my line is that I do not intend to apply for a licence NOT to have a TV.

    There was an OUT-LAW article in El Reg in early 2007 that I can no longer find a propos of watching football live on your computer at work (not that any El Reg reader would do such a thing). As the technologies cannot be kept apart indefinitely, I contacted Kim Walker of Pinsent Masons. The gist of his advice was that you only need a licence if you watch LIVE, not from an archive. He referred me to their web pages at 7465 and 7504

    I also contacted the BBC, basically to find out whether I was welcome to read their news website. (This has annoyingly more and more video on it, usually consisting of some ugly politician or journalist talking to a camera.) Going via the BBC website got no response, but then they launched the trial for the archive, so I subscribed to that essentially as a way of getting an answer to my question. I got a personal, but anonymous, reply that also said that I only needed a licence to watch TV LIVE, and in particular not to participate in the archive trial.

    Obviously you should not take that as legal advice, but I can forward these reponses to anyone who needs them; contact via PaulTaylor.EU

  95. caffeine addict

    @ various ACs

    Owning a TV DOES NOT mean you need a license. You need a license to "receive live broadcasts". And that's on ANY equipment.

    So, you can watch iplayer on your laptop fine. And you can play games on your telly. But you can't watch LIVE STREAMING tv on your laptop and you can not receive any signal, from any broadcast source, through your TV, TV card, Sky box, Virgin box, freeview box, or anything else.

    I wish people would stop continuing this myth that all 'plugged in' tvs need licenses or that PCs and laptops don't need them.

    If you can see what the BBC / ITV / Sky / etc are broadcasting, at the time they do so, then you need a license. If not, then you don't.

  96. caffeine addict

    I can't believe I'm quoting Wiki...

    According to Act of Parliament, a TV licence must be obtained for any device that is "installed or used" for "receiving a television programme at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public".

    According to TV Licensing, "You need a TV Licence to use any television receiving equipment such as a TV set, digital box, DVD or video recorder, PC, laptop or mobile phone to watch or record television programmes as they're being shown on TV".

    Specific exclusions not requiring a TV licence are:

    * digital box used with a hi-fi system or another device that can only be used to produce sounds

    * television set installed and used solely for some purpose other than watching or recording television programmes (e.g. closed-circuit TV monitor, DVD or video player or games console)

    * If you are only watching on-demand services, after programmes have already been broadcast, you will not need a TV licence. (This includes the BBC iPlayer service.)

  97. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    There are good reasons ...

    The purpose of all the letters is to demonstrate how expensive it is to run the TVLA, and to justify their fee. Real TV detector vans are possible, but not cost effective - the idea is to get people to pay whether they need to or not, not to get proof one way or the other. The BBC could have opted for encrypting their digital service. I assume they did not because the expect to get more revenue by bullying people into paying for a service they do not want than be selling decryption cards to only the people that want them.

    Switching to an advert funded service has problems. The adverts have become louder to reach people making tea. So loud that turning the sound off is a requirement - if you do not have the kit to skip past the adverts. TV advertising does not lead to much in the way of sales, and businesses are catching on and moving their budgets elsewhere - to the point where commercial stations cannot afford to broadcast anything but cheap crap. That leads to fewer viewers and even less value to adverts. Look for commercial broadcasters lobbying for a slice of TV license pork.

    I recommend opting out of the license fee, and spending the money saved on DVD's instead. At least that way, you get to choose what you pay for and you do not have to pay for repeats. It's not like there is any real journalism from BBC - remember end of the world stories when they were testing LHC with only one beam?

  98. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    TV detector vans work using a principle called TEMPEST (see Most of the research for this stuff is military and classified - hence why the BBC are reluctant to give up information about it. Essentially any modulator generating signals tends to give off unintended signals (either radio waves, or signals coupled onto power cables). The radio waves can be picked up from a reasonable distance away and reconstituted onto a screen without too much difficulty. You need to have some fancy kit to cope with problems with timing signals (vertical hold for example gets completely shot on old analogue signals, and digital signals are crammed full of noise). Presumably for modern digital signals, you just pick up the signal and run a correlation with the source - that would almost certainly be enough evidence for beyond reasonable doubt. You wouldn't try to create a picture since modern encoding schemes tend to make error recovery poor.

    From what I recall, on old analogue sets, you aren't picking up signal from the CRT per se, but instead from the modulator that drives the electron guns. Similarly, it was possible to pick data up from graphics cards etc. Because data rates are high, the modulation frequency is high, and these things are damn tricky to shield effectively, so tricky in fact that government and military establishments (especially in other countries - like the UK embassy in Moscow) spend a lot of money shielding equipment, or placing them inside Faraday cage rooms.

  99. andy


    "So, you still have to pay for a TV license regardless of whether you plug an aerial into it or not. The law states that if you have a device capable of receiving BBC broadcasts then you must have a license."

    More bullshit FUD... You have to be using it to recieve a signal not just have the capability...

    I can't work out if this comment section is full of shills or muppets...

  100. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The sooner they gain the sense to stop harassing folk and fund it from general taxation the sooner the whole fiasco can be put into the past. All it needs is an agreed algorithm to indicate the funding for the year.

  101. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Watch out for the handheld detectors as well ...

  102. Andy

    back in the day

    you didn't need special equipment to detect TVs. hell, i could and still can, HEAR the 15.7khz whine off of tv tuned CRTs enough to tell which houses had tv's in and which didn't.

    these days, plasma's and LCDs are a welcome silence to the constant scream of standard definition tele tubes.

  103. Tony Murphy

    So if your on the database they don't call....

    Then just buy the Black & White option at £47, database thinks address has valid licence , no visit from the TV Police :-)

  104. Tyler Regas

    Why Wouldn't You Want To Pay?

    I'm a Yank and I'm constantly amazed at the quality productions which come from, the Beeb and would be pleased to pay for access to all of those services. Right now, I get a mere shadow of the real thing and am forced to watch truncated versions of Top Gear, Dr. Who, and Torchwood because BBC America has to run commercials. At the same time, I get to see fantastic, high quality shows which originated on the BBC get whored to US broadcasters and ruined. Most Americans don't know that Life On Mars and Eleventh Hour were originally BBC productions. They just get to see the crappy US copies.

  105. Steve

    @ the people who think hearing the sound of broadcasts is enough for action:

    "If you use a digital box with a hi-fi system or another device that can only be used to produce sounds and can't display TV programmes, and you don't install or use any other TV receiving equipment, you don't need a TV Licence. "


  106. Anonymous Coward

    License to watch catchup?

    Do i need a license to watch catchup tv on my pc, if i have a tv (with no aerial) and a console?

    maybe im wrong but when i bought my tv from the bloody shop i thought that it was in fact paid for in full (just for console or DVD use)

    heck i dont know what to believe, everything i read is contradictory and the license site makes out that just because i live at place A, and Place A is on their database, they automatically assume that place A has a tv and aerial in use, and this isnt always the case.

  107. Jason Clery


    anyone remember the freeview transmitter?

  108. johnB

    @ (untitled)

    If they funded the Beeb out of general taxation then the gov't would have to drop the claim that the service is "independent".

  109. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    tivos should defeat visible flicker detection

    as for detecting visible flicker synchronized to a BBC broadcast, it seems like any regular use of recording device (e.g. Tivo) and the self-discipline to not watch any BBC shows live would be enough to throw off their attempts at pattern matching.

  110. JJ Mail

    Shills....shills, shills, shills....

    I just love all the shills (great word!) on here comparing the punative licence tax to Sky subscription - the BBC/TVL/Crapita really have got their PR agencies working overtime tonight. Of course, the point they all conveniently forget to mention is that if you fail to keep up your Sky subscription you get cut off, but if you have the temerity to not pay the TV licence tax (for any number of genuine and completely legal reasons) you are constantly threatened with a hefty fine and/or imprisonment. All for a bloody TV, that most essential of appliances without which we would all die. The fact that we, the UK sheeple, continue to let this anachronistic leech suck us dry with barely a whimper of discontent is the real tragedy du jour. Viva la revolution!

  111. Tim Almond

    Paying for Sky

    Jimmy Floyd.

    "3) "We should have a choice over what we pay for (but, in reality, I'm too stupid to make decisions for myself because I prefer paying to watch utter dross followed by adverts on Sky)""

    Ah, the stock answer in favour of the BBC: what they produce is better for you, despite what you think. Well, show me an objective test of the superiority of one form of art over another which shows this and I'll support it. In the absence of that, choice is a better option.

    Channel 4 is already making better TV than the BBC. Five is now a better choice than BBC1 for House and The Gadget Show alone.

    When the Tristrans at the BBC aren't producing dull-but-worthy costume dramas, biased and simplistic news coverage, cookery shows, miserable cockneys, celeb/talent shows and low-grade sitcoms, it does mean that I get Top Gear, QI and Heroes. For £135 a year, that's just not worth it, and given the choice, would forgo it.

  112. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Isn't the TVLA run by Capita?

    It would explain a lot!

  113. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Same old crap that gets trotted out every time the licence is mentioned (and that's licenCe with a C. LicenSe with an S is a verb, unless you're american and can't speak English).

    You need a licence to have the equipment installed for use, doesn't matter if you use it and doesn't matter if you don't watch the BBC.

    Most (maybe all) European countries have TV licences, and all except the UK carry commercials on their public channels as well (soon to change in France).

    Detector vans work.

    They don't use TEMPEST techniques.

    Just like speed cameras they aren't all filled with real innards.

    Can we stop the silly uninformed arguments now?

    (sorry about the correct spelling and lack of swearing, couldn't be bothered aiming for FOTW)

  114. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Tosh and Poppycock

    They used to run around hunting down people who had radio recievers (think back to the 1920's) with the cars with little round loop antennas on top...

    Remember the war movies with the nazis running about in similar trucks, hunting down the french spies...

    You can (if you got Q' to play about with the fiddly electrics) decode any signal from Tft's, CRT's radio's etc..

    Just a case of having DARPA etc... messing about with toys that transmit and recieve signals that can and will effect the signal you reciever / display uses.

    The TV nazis will will blip your tv signal with a extra carrier and if they get a returned signal your stuffed 4 good...

    but then they used to say that if you could display static on your CRT TV you'd be stuffed for the licence fee, even if the set was stuffed..

    The CIA/NSA//KGB are always spying on others computers from nearby buildings, you can watch the super leaky CRT's and decode the keystokes, there was some tv program where they showed it being done from an ajacent building.

    They even hunt you down in Germany, for having a car radio (broadcast reception tax) so they go after everyone...

    mines the one lined with tin-foil.... lots and lots of tin foil...

  115. Nebulo


    "refused to give further details because if it did so it would damage the public's perception of the effectiveness of TV detector vans"? Thanks. That seems to say all that needs to be said!

  116. Gary


    They do work

    By Anonymous Coward Posted Monday 27th October 2008 12:28 GMT

    Having worked with people that developed some of the equipment that goes into these vans (although not in the same department) I can tell you that they do work.

    So what department of the Beeb License Team are you in, sir? You are obviously well up on the spin of this ere wonderful country of ours. I recently heard another rendition of BBC. It was Bolshevik Broadcastin Company. Love it, 73 de Gary

  117. James
    Thumb Down

    Stupid anachronism

    The TV Tax is a stupid anachronism. As people have pointed out already, it would have been very easy to switch to technical enforcement (encrypt the digital signal; post-switchoff, no licence = no TV reception) - but that leads down the slippery slope to offering us a third option, having other TV services without being forced to pay the state monopoly broadcaster. (It is a monopoly because we are offered no alternative: we are not permitted to subscribe to other services *instead* of the BBC, only in addition to their tripe.) That, of course, is why the BBC rushed to rip the encryption facilities out of Freeview as soon as they got their hands on it: for all the astroturfing on here, they know perfectly well that many of us would be delighted to terminate the subscription given the choice.

    Apart from anything else, WTF should I pay a tax on *TV* ownership - to fund a website and a bunch of radio stations I have never listened to?

  118. Diane Miller

    License fees verses commercials

    If I ever watched any of those "doctors telling [me] about irritable bowel syndrome", I might agree with you that license fees are preferable. Fortunately, that's why God made DVR's.

  119. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    TV licensing detector vans

    Now... in the "old days" (twenty plus years ago) there were *real* TV detector vans... these had two long cylindrical cones on the roof wrapped with lots of wire... they were able to detect the 15.625KHz radiation from a (relatively unscreened) TV Receiver in your premesis...

    Things have moved on... we have EMC standards... and equipment is (relatively) "quiet" these days... especially if you are using LCD or Plasma and are not using 26KV and scaning a huge chunk of glass with electrons!

    So... Auntie Beeb's enforcement officers depend, primarily, on a database of residential addresses - less the ones that have licences - to do their enforcement work... sure they still drive around in a number of "enforcement vans" but the ones that I have seen are *fake* in-so-much-as they have a couple of UHF aerials on the roof to "look menacing" rather than do anything useful...

    I would bet beer that they cannot detect a modern TV or PC/laptop with a USB connected DTT (Freeview) receiver... other than by knowing existence of the address... which is what they work on.

    The FOI request was met with a brick wall because they do not want to admit how much tecnology has moved on and what they have to deal with today...


    Paris... why? Because she probably doesn't know what a TV licence is... let alone how to buy one :o)

  120. Pete "oranges" B.


    I suppose it would be very naughty of me to take the EMP cannon (which I /do not/ have in my basement) and direct it at large vehicles with odd looking antennae which I suspect of operating on behalf of a government agency, in order to see if doing so results in sounds of annoyance and confusion from the occupants?

  121. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    antiquated collection system

    The whole system for collecting license fees is cumbersome and inefficient. I would suggest replacing it with a tax on advertising revenues from other broadcasters, as advertising is ultimately paid for by us consumers anyway. Except that as there are fewer people to collect from the whole process would be more efficient with less tax avoidance problems.

    @AJ Stiles

    I suspect the reason not to go with an all card system is that every tv tuner would require a card - so if you have more than one tv you would have to buy more than one card (license) otherwise you would be able to claim to have four tvs, collect four cards with your single license and pass three on to your mates.

  122. brainwrong

    Mee Too

    I once saw a TV detector van, circa 1990. It looked like an old camper van, with 4 TV aerials bolted to the roof, on on each corner. Peering in through the window I saw what appeared to be 1950's TV production equipment. There was nobody inside it operating anything, they were walking around the university campus (without permission, with it we'd have had 3 days warning of their arrival) knocking on doors asking people if they had a telly.

    I don't doubt that detecting operating TV's is possible, but that wasn't happenning here.

    I have just ditched my license. I removed the UHF tuner head from my telly. I wrote a short note telling them this and sent it in the envelope that came with a red final demand letter. I got a reply thanking me for letting them know that I don't need a license, and that I should expect a visit soon from one of their agents^h^h^h^h^h^h officers. Once the officer has confirmed this, the letter goes on to state that I won't be bothered with further letters or visits for at least 3 years.

    I work for a living, so if they really want to check then they should arrange a date and time with me so I can be at home.

    As some people have already pointed out, the TV license can fund some amazing programming from the BBC. Trouble is, it mostly funds crap programming now, and crap technical standards.

    Anyone else noticed short glitches (jump back and repeat 3 or 4 frames) on analogue live news programmes?

  123. Adrian Esdaile

    The man from the CAT detector van...

    I want to know how they can pin-point a purr from 100 yards!

    I'll get me coat, the one with the Norwegian Blue (buetifol ploomidge!) nailed to the shoulder.

  124. Anonymous Coward

    @They do work

    You must be talking about the bouncing the laser beam off the windows to listen to the sounds inside the room trick. Wooops, did I just say that? At least I didn't say that they were infrared lasers and a handfull of infrared LEDs around the windows would fix the problem, or use headphones.

  125. Anonymous Coward

    Just say NO!!! Don't; pay for a TV license.

    Start a revolution and just don't pay it!!

    Australia did away with TV licenses in the early 1970's.

    Ridiculous, IMHO.

  126. Ken Darling

    I thought...

    It is the television that needs to be licensed, not the owner. So, it I were watching an unlicensed set - in my neighbour's home, or example - I could be fined, even if I had a television licence.

    Just watch programs using iplayer.

  127. Anonymous Coward


    If these things were at all *effective*, the BBC would not bother harassing people like me without TV sets. Instead I would find my self challenging their van's evidence in open court.

    Court proceedings are a matter of public record - can anyone point to a case where "detector van" evidence was used?

    If I saw a TV van in my street I'd be delighted. If it actually worked, the harassment could stop. It doesn't, they don't.

  128. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Here is a link to the BBC's Freedom of information requests, and also shows it squirming not to answer specifics on it's vans capabilities.


  129. Ascylto


    Anyone who knows anything knows that Mystic Meg is inside the van, complete with crystal ball.

  130. Graham

    Not cost effective

    The don't exist for one reason.

    Why to people buy empty alarm boxes for their houses?

    It is a far site cheaper to run a tranny van with "Telly Detexion" written on it and a few metal cullinders on the roof than to pay like £100,000 for the technical equipment needed in each van to pick up the IF frequency or the scanning coils or whatever.

    Oh yeah, the Beeb have coughed up big wedge to kit out and staff all this mobile equipment, course they did.

    Or they could just get a couple of students in a tranny with flashing lights and funny noises.

    Don't forget they are in the production business where make believe earns their crust.

    Think about it!

  131. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Oh, it's simple...

    There are hoomuns in them thar vans. Hoomuns with binoculars and they watch that blueish flickering light sitting outside your window at night.

    At least that's what KGB people did to determine which agent of the world imperialism has got a VCR in his flat...

  132. Ralph Beales

    The truth!

    I read half way down and got bored. One commentator was correct the rest seemed to be flights of fancy. The local oscillator, produces a signal at a set frequency - 4.33 MHz I think, long, tong time since I did anything with this stuff - and that frequency is transmitted from the telly. A receiver can pick up the signal on that frequency and therefore know that a telly is in use. Needs a tuner and a local oscillator. Forget all the guff about CRT/LCD and the rest; as long as it's got a tuner - which differs between colour and monochrome tellys - you'll have a signal. Live in a Faraday cage if it's that much of a problem. Also, 'license' is a verb and 'licence' is a noun. Learn the Queen's English you ill-educated oafs; now go and buy a licence so all those nice senior managers from the USA, currently employed at the British Broadcasting Corporation can keep their big, fat salaries and keep churning out dross and USA-centric news.

  133. Cortland Richmond

    Stealth TV

    If you can hear RF noise from your own television on a SW radio, so can detector vans.

    To reduce RF from any receiver, one might try these measures, where applicable, legal and safe:

    1) Shield the receiver with a metal cabinet wires from which are either shielded (and shields properly connected to the cabinet) and/or filtered so only power and audio can get in and out of the box.

    2) Use a filtered, shielded mains power cord. if you can still hear RF noise, add a mains plug powerline filter.

    3) Put an RF preamplifier on, with an attenuator at the television connector. This reduces RF that may get to the antenna and be radiated. A high-pass filter just ahead of the preamplifier is a good idea as the amplifier is susceptible to overload.

    4) Use headphones. It does no good to be RF quiet if anyone prowling around can tell you're cheating the government. Crystal earphones emit no magnetic fields, but sound terrible -- and one's ear canal gets sore.

    The author is not liable for anything that happens as a result of trying these things. Do not work on electrical equipment unless properly qualified.

    One might consider whether the cost of evading detection might not be less than paying the fee.

  134. Astarte

    How come . . .

    . . . caffeine addict's message gets H and V scroll bars? Is this some ploy to confuse the detectors?

  135. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    If anyone wants to bet on this...

    ... your probably best off going for the Database, which will tell you if there are too many anomalies in a particular area which then gets a detector van equipped with parabolic mics. Why don't they want to tell the public, probably because it's not entirely legal for them to use parabolic mics to snope on the general public.

  136. TimNevins

    Making YOU pay for THEIR propaganda

    It has become apparent to many over the last six or so years of how deeply the BBC has become in Govt Propaganda payed by you the licencee. It's worth remembering that Orwell worked for the BBC back in the day.

    Hatchet jobs against 11-9 investigators, Mislaying (and subsequent re-appearance after an outcry) of 11-9 broadcast footage and other vested interest content/bias has shown the BBC lose it's reputation all over the world.

    Google "Shayler" and "BBC" on Youtube to see the evidence for yourself.

    The BBC has become known as the "Bias Broadcasting Corp" to many across the world. People know when they are being lied to.

    The reason you are forced to pay for licences is that if the BBC were to allow you to not pay for the content most people wouldn't.

    This presents them with a problem.

    How are they to influence and indoctrinate a nation if the nations refuses to watch and/or listen to their broadcasts?

    Hence the force feeding of content at your expense.

    Do't expect any change soon.

  137. Chris


    Thank goodness we here in the US have something called Freedom of the Press, which applies to the airwaves as well. I would not want the gov't controlling such a major source of information as TV programming. We already have enough ignoramouses who believe what they hear on Fox News.

    If the gov't here tried to institute such a thing you would see pirate TV stations popping up on every corner.

  138. Mathew Coomber
    Black Helicopters

    Th truth

    The real reason they didn't release the information is so we wont find out that they can tell when we think about a television program, let alone watch one... Be afraid, be very afraid of what is lurking, deep in the bowels of that 1970's blue ford transit van...

  139. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Never used in court

    If the TV detector vans are so effective why is there not one recorded record of evidence from a TV van being used in a prosecution of a license evader?

  140. tony trolle


    The real vans stopped being used in the 80's. Think 'Everyday Electronics' magazine did a story about it and them using handhelds. The max total number of vans one any one time was very low 12 to 35 depending on sources. The Bedfed DTI depot had a few vans in the late 80/early 90's but setup for CB radio hunting. I have never seen more than 4 handheld boxes at one time and of that only one 'lite' up. I have no information after 96 about the DTI so not sure if they have them at all now.

  141. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sticky backed plastic

    Who else remembers the demonstration of a working one on Blue Peter some time in the 1970s?

    Mind you, they stuck the presenter in the middle of a wood and made him watch BBC2 to make it easier for them to find him.

    Unless, that is, Blue Peter ever lied. Nah...

  142. Anonymous Coward

    What is reality?

    If there are real detector vans, the gear inside would be worth a small fortune to anyone who knows how to steal vans. The story alone could be worth 5 figures to many of the tabloids yet no one has stolen any of these vans. Of course the BBC does have at least one van full of nice expensive gear to check out their transmitters that could be used to find at least some old school TVs as well as a few dodgy USB TV tuners.

  143. n

    ICO are a fig leaf.

    did they ask them how many people pay actually pay the tv tax?

    i heard from an ex bbc tv exec it is "below 40%", but they like to keep the official figures quiet for the same reasons stated in the article.

    Well, well, the ico in cahoots with the .gov

    So much for the information commission. disgraceful the public interest my arse!

    "we work for them" should be their slogan.

    Is restricting ones ability to tv not against human rights legislation or something?

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