There are a number of misconceptions about the licence fee, many of the are being bandied about as facts here.
1. The licence only covers TV sets.
Shite. The licence already covers computers and laptops. From the TV Licensing website: "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. " That's it. If it can show live TV then you need a licence. No mention of BBC channels or how the signal is transmitted. Note the mention of DVD and video recorders. There was a myth many years ago that you could use a video recorder as a tuner to feed a monitor and you would be exempt from the licence fee. I knew a student who was fined for doing that very thing.
2. The TV Licensing people can't enter your home.
Crap. They can with a court order. However they seldom need to. The most common way they catch people by simply looking in through their front window.
"TV detector man. You don't have a licence do you?"
"No, but we don't need one."
"But you've got a TV."
"We only use it for watching DVDs."
"Funny that we've just spent the last ten minutes watching you watch Jeremy Kyle from our van."
There used to be a story that you were safe from the TV detector van if you lived in a block of flats because the detector vans couldn't distinguish between a TV in one flat and the next. In reality you were safer because the detector boys would need a very long ladder to see you watching TV on the 13th floor.
3. Squillions of people don't pay the TV licence.
Cock. The TV licence is like the poll tax. It's unpopular and lot's of people claim they don't pay it, but figures show that the vast majority of people do actually pay up. I remember an anti poll tax demo where a council officer came out of the town hall and told the crowd that their main speaker was actually up to date with his poll tax payments. What a laugh that was. Although it was of course a clear breach of the DPA.
4. Only the BBC receive the money.
This is not strictly true. Although the fee does all go to the BBC (except for the money paid by the BBC to the collection and enforcement agencies) the BBC must use some of the fee to make programmes for S4C, S4C do not pay for these programmes so in effect some of the fee goes to S4C.
5. The detector vans don't do anything.
Sorry, but they do. They don't have to disclose how their detectors work, but this doesn't mean they don't work. In the old days it was pretty easy to pick up the presence of a CRT, but in these days of LCD TVs and the like things are harder. One thing I am pretty sure of is that they actually use sensitve directional listening devices to pick up the audio signal and compare it with currently transmitted channels. Not actually that high tech, but it's enough in most cases.
The MO of the detectors is usually simply to take a look through your windows for a TV during the working day. If they see one they will come along later usually at peak time and take another look to see if you are watching TV. If you are they've got you. However if they know you don't have a licence they will try other methods both technical and incredibly basic. One is to watch for people getting up and leaving the room, perhaps making a cuppa when popular programmes finish.
So how do you avoid detection? Keep your curtains closed at all times. Only listen to TV though headphones. Don't watch popular shows. Oh and live in rural and preferably affluent area. For maximum cost effectiveness they concentrate on areas with high concentrations of unlicensed premises. They are unlikey to spend time and money going after one unlicensed home miles from the nearest cluster when they can probably get several offenders in a day at £1000 quid a throw in a densely populated area.
It's likely that less affluent areas have higher concentrations of licence avoidance, and it does seem somewhat mean and nasty hitting these areas for a higher return.
I haven't got a problem with the BBC being publicly funded however the £3.2bn that licensing raises annually (something like 23 million licences) could be better raised. My socialist heart is offended by the flat licensing rate. OK so students and those over 74 get a concession. But why should you need to be 75 or over to get a concession, when other OAP concessions kick in at 65 or even 60? Surely it would be fairer to base the license fee on household income? "From each according to his means...."