Interference and enforcement

19 October 2016

Ofcom's radio licensing system aims to secure efficient use of the spectrum and manage harmful interference.  

Interference can arise from a number of sources, not all of which can be controlled by regulation - for example, atmospheric conditions. The regulatory regime does not necessarily guarantee that interference will not arise.

In addition, the person owning or using any electrical apparatus is responsible for ensuring that it does not cause harmful interference to others. They may be required to rectify any interference issues.

The BBC is responsible for dealing with complaints of interference to domestic television and radio reception except where the source is an unlicensed broadcast station. Ofcom will offer advice and assistance, and where appropriate investigate, where we receive reports of harmful interference from consumers and citizens.

Illegal broadcasting, otherwise known as pirate radio, is the operation of an unlicensed and unregulated radio station. Illegal broadcast stations cause widespread and indiscriminate interference.

What to do if you would like to report any information about illegal broadcast stations.

Radio frequency heating (RFH) machines belong to a class of apparatus known as Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) equipment which is used in a wide range of applications. RFH machines use high power radio waves in applications such as wood glue drying, plastic welding and sealing, textile dye fixing, textile drying and food processing.

Interference from Radio Frequency Heating (RFH) machines
PDF, 48.0 KB

The purpose and method of enforcement

We have a range of measures at our disposal in seeking to secure compliance with the law and to ensure a proportionate response to transgressions. We may offer information and advice, issue warnings, serve notices, issue fixed penalty notices, issue simple cautions (England and Wales only) and may prosecute (or report to the Procurator Fiscal with a view to prosecution in Scotland).

The principles of enforcement

Ofcom upholds the principles of firm and impartial enforcement underpinned by the principle of proportionality.


England and Wales

In England and Wales Ofcom brings prosecutions for spectrum-related offences, like illegal (pirate) radio broadcasting. The decision to proceed with a court case rests with Ofcom.

In appropriate cases, Ofcom is likely to consider both the evidence and the public interest. We may have regard to the CPS's Code for Crown Prosecutors.


In Scotland the Procurator Fiscal brings prosecutions. The decision about whether to bring a prosecution is the Procurator Fiscal's. This may be on the basis of a submission by Ofcom.

Action by the courts

Legislation gives the courts considerable scope to punish offenders and to deter others, including imprisonment for some offences. Unlimited fines may be imposed by higher courts. The courts can also order offenders to forfeit expensive equipment and to pay Ofcom's prosecution costs.

With the ever-increasing demand for radio based services, monitoring of the radio spectrum plays a vital role today in keeping the spectrum clean for authorised users, particularly the emergency services. It is also an essential and integral part of the spectrum management process, producing and evaluating data to aid spectrum managers in their day to day work. The radio monitoring station, located near Baldock in Hertfordshire is Ofcom's 'listening ear' on the radio spectrum.

The monitoring station today has a much broader spectrum monitoring capability than when it began life in 1929. Its original role was to monitor the international HF radio circuits operated by the General Post Office (GPO), which followed on from historic first trans-Atlantic radio telephony services received at the site from New Jersey, USA.

About Baldock radio monitoring station PDF, 986.7 KB

Ofcom takes enforcement action across a number of industry sectors and is able to use a range of statutory powers granted by, amongst others, the Communications Act 2003, the Competition Act 1998, the Enterprise Act 2002, the Broadcasting Act 1990, the Broadcasting Act 1996, EU Regulations and the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006.

We take enforcement action for the benefit of citizens and consumers to:

  • encourage competition
  • resolve regulatory disputes between communication providers
  • enforce consumer protection law
  • encourage compliance
  • protect members of the public from the inclusion of offensive and harmful material, from unfair treatment and from unwarranted infringements of privacy in television and radio programmes
  • protect and manage the radio spectrum

Ofcom sets and enforces regulatory obligations as well as enforcing the general law. We have a set of overarching regulatory principles to guide how we operate, including that we:

  • operate with a bias against intervention, but with a willingness to intervene firmly, promptly and effectively where required
  • strive to ensure our interventions will be evidence-based, proportionate, consistent, accountable and transparent in both deliberation and outcome
  • always seek the least intrusive regulatory mechanisms to achieve our policy objectives

In practice, this means we make evidence based decisions and require operators in the communications market to abide by the rules. If operators seriously, persistently or deliberately break these rules, or do so in some other way we consider requires intervention, then we take decisive enforcement action.

This approach protects citizens and consumers from harmful practices, but allows industry an appropriate level of freedom to compete and innovate. It pursues our principal duties to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters and of consumers in relevant markets.