Elderly television viewers have been left angered and distressed after receiving threatening letters and even doorstep visits from enforcement officers for non-payment of the BBC licence fee, despite being exempt from the charge because of their age.
Now a Borders MP has hit out at TV Licensing for sending what he sees as heavy-handed and distressing payment demands to pensioners.
A standard TV licence currently costs 139.50 per year for colour televisions (47 for black and white), which the BBC administers through various agencies under the collective trading name TV Licensing.
Over-75s, however, are exempt from the fee and entitled to a free licence but, despite this, elderly telly viewers in the Borders are still being targeted as part of a nationwide crackdown on licence evaders.
Local politician Michael Moore, who recently described the organisation's tactics as "heavy handed", wrote to the chief executive of the licensing agency last month after being contacted by a number of frustrated constituents.
He said: "TV Licensing seems to completely disregard the notion of 'innocent until proven guilty'. Rather than continually harassing these individuals with ever more threatening letters, which is a total waste of time, effort and money, they should be rethinking their strategy and focusing on the people who are genuinely trying to avoid paying.
"Their tactics are causing a great deal of anxiety and distress, and I sincerely hope they will urgently rethink their entire approach."
Borders pensioner Ian Johnson told us he has received numerous threatening letters since turning 75 two years ago.
He said: "I got my first free licence in July 2006, but since then I've been sent 24 harassing letters and have twice been visited by collection agents.
"I feel mad. I've had a licence since 1957 and I've never been without one or defaulted on payment. If I knew where they were, I'd go down and punch them on the nose. It's beyond a joke – absolutely ridiculous."
Mr Johnson recently wrote to the BBC One consumer programme Watchdog to complain and this week emailed BBC TV's consumer champion Dominic Littlewood, but, he says, he not's expecting to hear back anytime soon.
"I'm so sick and tired of it," he continued. "I'd like to have my share of saying something on television, but I'm not expecting to hear back from them.
"It's the BBC after all. It used to be Auntie Beeb – always a reliable organisation – but now it's a free-for-all. I'm fed up and I'm worried that other people in my situation might pay the fee just to stop getting the threatening letters."
This week, however, TV Licensing defended its approach to enforcing the licence scheme and insisted no such letters had been sent to Mr Johnson's address.
Amanda Sutcliffe of TV Licensing (Scotland) told TheSouthern: "Our records show that Mr Johnson is correctly registered and licensed as being over 75 and has, therefore, not been sent any letters to his address. There is a similar address to Mr Johnson's which our records show as being unlicensed and is therefore receiving correspondence from us. It is possible that this mail is being incorrectly delivered to Mr Johnson.
“It is our duty to enforce the law on behalf of the honest majority who pay the TV Licence. Unfortunately, if a licence is required, some people will only buy one when warned of the consequences of being unlicensed. It is for this reason some of our mailings contain messages that are designed to deter a possible evader.”