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Do I need a TV licence?

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By Becca | Edited by Consumer Team Updated 24 Aug 2015

If you watch live as it's being broadcast, you must have a TV licence which currently costs Ј145.50 per year for a standard colour TV. Don't pay, and you face a Ј1,000 fine. But with changing viewing habits, some who watch online may be paying unnecessarily.

22 TV licensing tips, including.
    • 1 If you watch live TV you need a licence
    • 2 You need a licence to record live TV
    • 3 It isn't about whether you watch the BBC
    • 4 How to watch TV & legally not pay
    • 5 If you don't pay you could face a Ј1,000 fine
    • 9 Don't pay by quarterly direct debit
    • 10 You don't need a licence for Netflix etc
    • 16 Check if you're due a refund
    • 17 Students need a TV licence
    • 19 Renters need a licence, lodgers don't

If you watch TV as it's being broadcast you need a TV licence – whether on a TV, computer, tablet or mobile

If you watch or record shows as they're being shown on telly in the UK ('live TV'), you need to be covered by a TV licence.

What many may not realise is that this is the case regardless of the device you're watching on – according to research published by TV Licensing, over 31% don't know watching live TV on a mobile requires a licence (though in most cases you don’t need two if you already have one).

So whether you're watching live TV on a television, computer, tablet, games console, smartphone or any other device, you'll need to pay the fee.

You do not need a TV licence if you only watch content after it's been shown on television. This includes TV programmes downloaded or streamed after broadcast using a catch-up service.

Be warned, this could all change over the next few years, with new legislation set to be introduced that would mean you'd need a licence to watch catch-up TV regardless of when it was broadcast. But at the moment, the rules are: if you have a TV but only use it to watch DVDs, for gaming or for watching catch-up TV (eg, BBC iPlayer, 4oD), you don't need a licence.

You can buy or renew your TV licence online on the TV Licensing website.

Quick question:

What counts as 'live TV'?

When we talk about 'live TV', confusingly it isn't necessarily a live episode of a programme, it could be pre-recorded.

'Live TV' is content at the time it's being broadcast on a TV channel. This applies to all channels (including, say, +1 channels) on any main TV platform, including Freeview, Virgin or Sky. Internet-only services such as YouTube or Netflix don’t count, though.

Here are a few examples to show what this means:

    When watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory on your TV, on Channel 4, you DO need a TV licence. When watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory via the Channel 4 online streaming service (4oD) at the same time as it's being shown on Channel 4, you DO need a TV licence. When watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory online when it isn't being broadcast "live" on Channel 4, you DON'T need a TV licence.

How many licences do I need?

Your TV licence covers your household, no matter how many TVs you have, but the rules differ for shared student accommodation.

Additionally, if you pay for a licence at home, it'll cover you on a mobile device outside of your home too (subject to certain conditions – see below ).

If you move house it's possible to simply update your contact details or get a refund for a complete unused quarter. See How to get a refund .

Where does my money go?

The cash funds public broadcasting by the BBC, allowing it to run without the interruption of adverts. It makes up about 75% of the BBC's income.

The BBC contracts the collection and administration of the TV licence out to TV Licensing. According to the BBC, the money you pay is split between the following resources (based on 2013/2014 figures):

  • Television (66%)
  • Radio (19%)
  • Online (5%)
  • Other services and production costs (6%)
  • Licence fee collection and pension deficit costs (4%)

For a more detailed breakdown, see the BBC's Annual Report and Accounts (p.5).

You need a licence to record live TV

You'll still need a TV licence if you record 'live TV' content at the time of broadcast, using a digital recorder like Sky+ or TiVo (or a good old-fashioned VHS recorder).

This is because you're recording them as they are being shown on a TV channel. It doesn't matter when you watch them, or how they were recorded - you still need a licence.

It isn't about whether you watch the BBC


you watch TV programmes when they're are broadcast you must be covered by a valid TV licence, regardless of:

  • Which channel you're watching
  • Which device you are using to watch
  • How you receive the content (terrestrial, satellite, cable, via the internet, etc).

You don't need a TV licence if you are watching catch-up services, such as BBC iPlayer or 4oD. See How to watch TV and (legally) not pay

MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis’ view.

"This is always going to be a contentious guide, as the BBC and its licence fee attracts strong feelings from both lovers and haters. Personally I support the licence fee, but this is a MoneySaving site and our job is to save people cash.

One way of doing that is not paying the licence fee if you don’t need to, or don’t value the ability to watch live television. Of course you may think these rules are ridiculous – fair dos, but they are the rules.

I suspect though as more people start to avoid the licence fee, and it gets more difficult in practice to differentiate between who should and who shouldn’t pay, the entire structure will need to change.

So, whether to do this is up to an individual’s own moral conscience. If you watch or listen to lots of BBC output, but don’t need to pay the licence fee, you may decide to pay it anyway as an act of support – or you may prefer the cash in your pocket."

How to watch TV and legally not pay

If you watch all your favourite programmes using catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer or 4oD, it may be possible to legally ditch your TV licence completely, thus saving Ј145.50 per year. This is because:

You only need a TV licence if you watch or record TV as it's being broadcast - if you only watch catch-up, you won't need a licence.

You can watch almost anything on catch-up: soaps, documentaries, dramas, cartoons and films. And because services such as BBC iPlayer only take a few hours to update, you could watch the latest installment of EastEnders not long after it's been on BBC 1.

How can I cancel? If you're absolutely sure you no longer need a TV licence, you must formally let TV Licensing know.

  • Cancel payment first. If you pay by direct debit you can cancel by filling out TV Licensing's contact form. Tell it you no longer watch TV and confirm your current address. You'll also need to cancel your direct debit with your bank. If you pay with a TV Licensing payment card, you'll need to call 0300 555 0286.
  • Then fill out the declaration. Everyone who no longer requires a TV licence - including those who pay in cash at certain stores or Post Offices, who don't need to do the above - needs to fill out a No Licence Needed declaration form. After this, make sure you keep your confirmation email from TV Licensing as proof.
  • TV Licensing may visit. Once you've cancelled, you might find you get a visit from TV Licensing to check whether you actually do need a TV licence - it says these inspections find one in five households do. If you do need a licence, you'll need to pay the full licence fee, and you could risk prosecution plus a fine of up to Ј1,000 (or Ј500 if you live in Jersey, or Ј2,000 in Guernsey).
  • Is this legal? Yes, you don't need a licence so long as you are not watching live TV and are only watching on-demand or catch-up. However, TV Licensing says its figures show less than 2% of people only watch catch-up TV – so don't cancel your licence unless you are absolutely sure you don't need it.

    According to recent reports thousands more people over the past 15 months have told the company they do not have a TV set.

    Quick question:

    What if I watch live TV online?

    The rule is if you are watching live TV you need a licence. It makes no difference whether you're watching on a mobile, tablet, laptop or good old fashioned set in the corner of your living room.

    It’s a very good question, and indeed there are some who believe the BBC is trapped in a corner by this. If it were to start charging people who watch the odd bit of TV live online, it would be like the record companies who prosecute 14-year-olds for a few illegally downloaded tracks.

    Technically no, but proving it will be nightmarish, especially if your TV is connected to an aerial or satellite dish and is capable of receiving a signal. So you may find yourself in a tricky situation.

    Enquiry officers do not have any legal powers to come into your home unless they have a search warrant from a magistrate, or sheriff if you are in Scotland. They have an implied right under common law to come to your front door and let you know they are there.

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