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Howarth fights for people intimidated in TV licence clampdown

October 9, 2008 2:55 PM

Cambridge university lecturer, Dr 'Jane Barker', has been intimidated and threatened with court action because she chose not to watch television.

She suffered three years of harassment, fearing enforcement officers would call at her home because she didn't have a television licence.

She even thought about buying one, even though she didn't own a television, just to get them off her back.

Finally, in desperation, she turned to Cambridge MP David Howarth for help after breaking down in tears during a family Christmas.

She said: "I am used to living on my own, have taught teenagers in a London comprehensive and I am perfectly capable of running my own life. But I tried to deal with this on my own and I ended up frightened; the whole episode was deeply distressing..

"I was angry at the injustice of it all but it got to the point where I didn't know what to do. My parents were stunned at upset I had become.. That was when my father decided to contact David

"Since David got involved things have become very calm and I am very grateful to him."

Dr Barker is just one of 20 residents who have turned to Mr Howarth in desperation after failing to convince the TV licensing authority that they are not trying to avoid paying.

He said: "There is no justification for treating people in this way. Whilst we have to clampdown on those who are deliberately trying to beat the system, we need to protect innocent people from feeling intimidated, pressured and harassed.

"There seems to be no joined up thinking between asking for payment and recognising when someone genuinely has no need for a television licence."

Dr Barker problems began after a lightning strike on her home in the summer of 2003 destroyed her television.

Studying for a PhD at the time, she couldn't afford to replace the television and her licence expired.

In January 2004 she started receiving letters from TV Licensing - a group of companies contracted by the BBC to collect the licence fee and enforce the payments' system.

The letters became more and more intimidating over the next three years, threatening her with enforcement action and a court fine of up to £1,000.

Despite phoning, and sending emails explaining her situation, the letters kept coming and one was even hand delivered to her door.

"This felt like extortion," she said. "The only way they were going to stop was if I paid them the money. The whole tone of their letters was that I was guilty."

Mr Howarth took the problems to the Secretary of State for Media, Culture and Sport and the BBC.

Now the BBC Trust - a new independent governing body set up to represent the interest of licence holders - is holding a public consultation as part of a review of the system.

David HowarthMr Howarth said: "I welcome this review and hope that action can be taken to stop innocent people finding themselves in intolerable situations just because they have chosen not to watch television."