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Do I need a licence to watch television in the UK?

In June 1946, the TV licence was officially introduced in the UK. It coincided with the post-war resumption of BBC services. Back then, the TV licence covered monochrome single-channel TV, and the cost was £2. This is equivalent to £86.84 in 2021.

The General Post Office originally issued the licence. It was then the public communications regulator in the UK.

Today, the BBC is legally authorized to collect and even enforce TV licence fees under the Communications Act 2003. While back then, anyone who had a TV needed a TV licence, today it’s not so clear. There are occasions where you need a TV licence and when you don’t.

In this guide, we take you through common questions users have about the UK’s TV licence.

Do you Really Need a TV Licence?

For most people, a TV Licence is a living essential in the UK. Like a National Insurance number or a bank account, a TV licence gives you permission to watch and even record live TV. It also permits you to watch BBC programmes on BBC iPlayer.

According to the Communications Act 2003 Section 363:

“it’s against the law to install and use a TV receiver to watch or record any television programmes as they’re broadcasted without a TV licence.” Any programme you watch or record while running on your TV or online service requires a TV licence.

The licence covers programmes on any channel such as documentaries, movies, TV shows and soaps. This includes channels watched via Virgin and Sky. You also need a TV licence if watching TV via your PC, smartphone or tablet (watching live or recording the shows to watch later).

In 2016, the BBC introduced a rule that requires BBC iPlayer users to have a TV licence. Besides tablets, PCs and smartphones, watching TV on the following devices requires a TV licence:

  • Smart TV
  • Blu-ray and DVD
  • Laptops and notebooks
  • PVRs or digital boxes
  • Game consoles
  • Freeview, YouView or Freesat

You also need a TV licence if watching TV via media streaming services such as Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku.

Do You Need a TV Licence if Watching on-Demand TV or Movies?

If streaming movies via on-demand such as Netflix, you do not need a TV licence. The same goes for catch up TV or on-demand previews available through the following services:

  • All4
  • My5
  • BT Vision/BT TV
  • Sky Go
  • Roku
  • Apple TV
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Virgin Media
  • ITV Player
  • Chromecast

You can also watch on-demand movies from services such as BT Vision, Virgin Media, Sky and Amazon Instant Video without the licence. Video clips that are not live through services such as YouTube, recorded films on DVD or Blu-ray are usually excluded by the TV licence.

Do I Need a TV Licence to Watch TV Away From Home?

Are you watching live TV shows on any channel or watching BBC iPlayer using devices solely powered by internal batteries? Your home TV licence covers you. It does not cover you if you plug the device into the mains at a friend’s house, at the office or any other property.

If you do so, you’ll require a separate TV licence for that property. If you’re abroad, BBC iPlayer terms of use restrict access to its content from outside the UK. Even when you download programmes while you’re in the UK, you cannot continue watching the rest of the show until you’re back in the UK.

Do You Need a TV Licence if You’re Over 75?

In the UK, if you’re over 75 and live in a residential care home, the Accommodation for Residential Care TV licence covers you. As such, you’re entitled to a free TV licence as of August 1st 2020.

To qualify for the free TV licence, you and your partner need to be receiving Pension Credit and living at the same address. If you’re 74 or over and living with your partner at the same address and receiving Pension Credit, apply for a free licence.

If you’ve been paying for a TV licence and were eligible for a free over 75 TV licence, TV Licensing will process your refund as part of your application.

Do You Need a TV Licence if Listening to Radio via Your Smart TV?

The Communication Act 2003 permits you to access radio channels using your TV. It states that a licence is only required if you plan to install and use a television receiver. Your smart TV is not classified as a television receiver. As such, you can access and listen to the radio without buying a TV licence.

Do You Need a TV Licence if Living With Someone Else?

If you’re living with someone else, you’re already covered by the homeowner’s licence. This is the case even when you have your own TV in your room or using a PC, laptop, smartphone, tablet and other streaming devices.

When you rent your own apartment and start living by yourself, you’ll need a licence. However, some landlords do provide a licence for the property, but this is not common. Before moving into an apartment or house, check with the landlord to ensure they do or don’t have a licence for the property. If they don’t and you plan to move in, you must purchase your own licence. Otherwise, you’ll incur penalties.

If you don’t have a licence and actually need one, you could face a fine of up to £1,000. If you live in Jersey, the penalty is £500 and £2,000 if living in Guernsey. To avoid the fine, have a licence if you’ve other people in your home, especially children.

If You’ve Two Homes in the UK, Do You Need a TV Licence?

If you have a second home and watch or record TV programmes on BBC iPlayer or TV, you need a separate TV licence for the second home. The only exception is if the second home is a static caravan. It would also be best if you did not use the TV in the static caravan at the same time as the TV in the main home.

Learn more about second home TV licence.

Can TV Licensing Enforcement Officers Visit My Home to Check if I Have a TV Licence?

Yes, TV Licensing enforcement officers can visit your home. Between 2018 and 2019, they caught more than 210,000 people watching TV without a licence.

To catch evaders, the enforcement officers have access to a database with more than 30 million addresses. If the officers believe you’re watching live TV or BBC iPlayer without a licence, they’ll visit you.

Can You Go to Prison for Not Having a TV Licence?

You cannot go to prison if you don’t have a TV licence. If you fail to pay the fines as punishment for not having a TV licence, you could go to prison. This is very rare, but new laws are continually introduced. To avoid this, understand that there are penalties for not having a TV licence and make plans to buy one.

I Have a TV, but I Don’t Watch It. Do I Need a TV Licence?

A TV Licence is a must if you install and use a TV receiver to watch live TV or use BBC iPlayer. If you’ve a roof satellite dish with built-in Freeview and but don’t watch live TV, you do not need the licence.

How Much Does the TV Licence Cost in the UK?

While the BBC is legally authorized to collect and enforce TV licences in the UK, it’s the government that sets the licence price. In 2016, the annual fee for buying and renewing the TV licence was £145.50. In 2020, the cost was £157.50.

As of April 2021, the new fee will kick in, and UK residents will buy or renew the TV licence according to the new rate – £159 (colour TV licence). This means UK residents will fork out £3.05 a week, up from £3.03 a week in 2020.

Those who watch telly in black and white are not lucky either. The cost will rise from £53 a year to £53.50 a year from April 2021.

Are There Restrictions About Who Can Buy a TV licence?

There are no age restrictions, and anybody can buy a TV licence. Only over 75s and receive Pension Credit are currently entitled to a free licence.

Where Can I Pay for My TV Licence?

You can pay for your TV licence using your debit card or in cash at any PayPoint. There are more than 28,000 PayPoint’s in the UK. You can find one close to a convenience store, supermarket, newsagent or garage.

There are schemes available for paying the licence fee by instalment.

You have the Monthly Direct Debit Scheme. It enables individuals to pay for the licence by monthly direct debit for the current licence in six monthly instalments. In the 7th month, you can start paying in advance towards your next licence in 12 monthly instalments.

Cash Payment Scheme is similar to the Monthly Direct Debit in that people pay for their current licence in instalments over 6 months. In the 7th month, they start paying in advance for the next licence.

Lastly, you’ve the Quarterly Direct Debit. People can pay for the licence in arrears under this scheme. The scheme comes with a £1.25 quarterly charge or £5 annual charge because the licence is being paid in arrears. People are always advised on which scheme is best for them when choosing a payment option.

For information on the PayPoint location and opening hours, check the PayPoint website.

What Happens if I Inadvertently Overcharge for a Licence Fee?

In case of an overcharging error and TV Licensing becomes aware, they will act to rectify the issue and arrange for a refund.

For more information about the UK TV licence, contact TV Licensing support team.