The £157.50 a year you’re required to pay for a TV licence can feel like a lot of money, particularly if the majority of programming you watch is now online. Working out at just over £13 per month, it’s significantly more expensive than streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.
While it has strong ties to the BBC, it’s important not to forget that it’s a legal requirement to own a TV licence if you watch any television as it’s being broadcast.
Watching without a valid TV licence has serious consequences, too – it’s considered a criminal offence, which can lead to prosecution, a court appearance and a fine of up to £1,000 plus legal costs.
There’s a good chance that those who don’t own a licence but do watch live TV will be caught out, too. If your home doesn’t have a TV Licence, you are already on the TV Licensing authority’s database.
In some cases, you may be eligible to save money on your TV Licence.
Since 2000, a TV Licence has been free to all over-75s, but that’s about to change. The BBC announced in June 2019 that it will begin charging over 75s for a TV Licence from June 2020, unless they can provide evidence that they claim pension credit. It subsequently extended this to August 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but has confirmed there will be no further extensions.
If you are a resident of a care home, supported housing or sheltered accommodation, you may only need a concessionary TV Licence, which costs £7.50 per room, flat or bungalow.
If you are blind, you’re eligible for a 50% concession, which will in turn cover anyone who lives with you. Partially sighted or sight impaired people are not eligible for this discount.
If you’re a student, you can get a refund for the summer months that you spend away from uni.
But if you really want to avoid paying the TV Licence fee, just don’t watch live TV or BBC iPlayer.
Do I need a TV Licence to watch BBC iPlayer?
Yes. As of September 2016, you are required to hold a TV Licence in order to watch catch-up TV through BBC iPlayer. This change affects only iPlayer – you will still be able to watch catch-up TV from other channels without a TV Licence. Also see: How to watch BBC iPlayer abroad.
The then-culture secretary John Whittingdale said of the amendment: “When the licence fee was invented, video on demand did not exist. And while the definition of television in the legislation covers live streaming, it does not require viewers to have a licence if they watch BBC programmes through iPlayer even if it is just a few minutes after transmission.”
“The BBC works on the basis that all who watch it pay for it. Giving a free ride to those who enjoy Sherlock or Bake Off an hour, a day or a week after they are broadcast was never intended and is wrong,” continued Whittingdale.
Do I still need a TV Licence?
The thought of not having a TV Licence would have been laughable only a few years ago. But, today, with fast broadband available to more of us than ever, a range of online catch-up TV solutions, YouTube and other web video sites, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, DVDs and Blu-ray, it’s quite possible to get your telly fix without parting with the annual premium. Potentially, you could even start saving right now, and cash in what’s left of your TV Licence today.
In simple terms, a TV Licence is required to watch only live TV broadcasts, whether that’s on a TV, a PC, a laptop, a smartphone or a tablet. If you are using some sort of time-shifting technology to pause, rewind, fast-forward and record programmes, this feed is still considered to be live and you will need a TV Licence. However, watch on-demand that content an hour or so later and it doesn’t fall under this licensing requirement. Likewise, movies and online video do not demand ownership of a TV Licence.
The number of households that subscribe to broadband but do not hold a TV Licence is estimated to be very small.
Do I need a TV Licence to own a TV?
No, you do not need a TV Licence to own a TV. However, if the TV Licensing authority doesn’t have you on its database it will send you a reminder to buy a TV Licence. If you are not using the equipment to watch live TV (for instance, it’s hooked up only to a games console or used for playing training videos) you will need to declare this to the TV Licensing authority; it’s possible that an enforcement officer will be sent to verify this is the case.
However, according to the authority, one in five people are found to need a TV Licence; if this is you, you could face prosecution, a court appearance, and a fine of up to £1,000 (plus legal costs).
Do I need a TV Licence to watch TV on my smartphone, tablet or laptop?
You don’t need a TV Licence to watch on-demand content on your smartphone, tablet or laptop. However, if the content is live, you will need a TV Licence to watch TV on a mobile device.
Your home’s TV Licence also covers any device that is powered solely by its own batteries, wherever you are. This means, provided that you don’t plug your device into the mains, you can watch live TV on a mobile phone, tablet or laptop inside a property that isn’t covered by a TV Licence, such as when you’re in a shop, bar or restaurant or at work. (You might get sacked, of course, so be careful.)
“As long as the address where you live is licensed, you’re also covered to watch TV outside your home using any device powered solely by its own internal batteries. This includes your mobile phone, laptop and tablet,” according to the TV Licensing authority.
Do I need a TV Licence to watch catch-up TV?
No, unless it’s BBC iPlayer. You do not need a TV Licence to watch ITV Hub, All 4 or any other on-demand TV service. However, any live features within these services demand a licence.
Do I need a TV Licence to watch YouTube?
No, you do not need a TV Licence to watch YouTube videos: you are not watching live TV content as it is broadcast. TV programmes that are uploaded to the video site following their broadcast follow the same rules as catch-up TV.
Do I need a TV Licence to watch films?
A TV Licence is required to watch films only as they are broadcast on live TV. Films enjoyed following their broadcast via on-demand services, and those provided via DVD or Blu-ray, are not subject to the licensing requirement.
Do I need a TV Licence to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime Video?
No, you do not need a TV Licence to watch Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. The content provided by these services is offered on-demand; that is, it is not streamed as it is broadcast. If either service starts to stream live TV then a TV Licence will be required.
Do I need a TV Licence to watch Sky Go?
Yes, Sky Go demands a TV Licence. Regardless of whether you watch content from the BBC and other Freeview channels or stick to Sky’s own programming, your home must be covered by a TV Licence if you subscribe to Sky. In this case, you will also be covered to watch live content from Sky using Sky Go on your smartphone, tablet or computer – and do so from outside the home, provided the device is powered solely by its own batteries. Although the catch-up content within Sky Go is technically exempt from the licensing requirement, a Sky subscription itself is not.