public law Cases

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Congreve v Secretary of State for the Home Office [1976] QB 629, [1976] 1 All ER 697, [1977] 2 WLR 291

Public Law – Prerogative Power – Executive – Home Secretary – Licence – Lord Denning


The cost of the UK TV licence was raised from £12 to £18. Having increased the price of the annual fee, the Home Office contacted those who had previously purchased a valid licence at the previous cost in order to demand the additional £6, should the recipient not pay this additional cost the licence would be revoked.

Congreve had purchased a £12 licence - this licence was valid and paid in full. Congreve was later contacted by the Home Secretary, and received the demand for the additional £6. Congreve challenged the legality of this additional charge/revocation of the licence.


The acts of the executive amounted to the revoking of legally gained, fully paid for licences from the public: effectively forcing members to pay additional fees after the fact, or alternatively considered, the acts were to retrospectively enforce a price hike on licences. The licences were not revoked on the basis of any wrongdoing of the licence holder – the sole purpose and basis or revocation was to charge to the new licence price.


It was held that the Minister had no authority or power to revoke legally gained and issued licences from members of the public, in order to gain the benefit of the additional licence fee. This method was considered a means of levying money from the public: something that the executive has no power to do.

Geoffrey Lane LJ: ‘the proposed revocation. . Is illegal for two reasons. First, it is coupled with an illegal demand which taints the revocation and makes that illegal too. Secondly, or possibly putting the same matter in a different way, it is an improper exercise of a discretionary power to use a threat to exercise that power as a means of extracting money which Parliament has given the executive no mandate to demand: see Attorney-General v Wilts United Dairies Ltd (1921) 37 TLR 884.’

Lord Denning MR: ‘There is another reason for holding that the demands for £6 to be unlawful. They were made contrary to the Bill of Rights. They were an attempt to levy money for use of the Crown without the authority of Parliament: and that is quite enough to damn them.’

This case has been cited in the following cases:

Regina -v- Braintree District Council ex parte Halls Admn (Times 21-Jul-99, Bailii, [1999] EWHC Admin 626)

Total Network Sl -v- Customs & Excise Commissioners CA (Bailii, [2007] EWCA Civ 39, [2007] 2 WLR 1156)

Wheeler -v- Leicester City Council; In re Wheeler and others HL (Bailii, [1985] UKHL 6, [1985] AC 1054, [1985] 3 WLR 335, [1985] 2 All ER 151)

Cala Homes (South) Ltd -v- Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government and Another Admn (Bailii, [2011] EWHC 97 (Admin))