Do I need a TV licence?

Monday, 2 October, 2017

The TV licence seems to belong to a bygone era.

Introduced in 1946 at a cost of £2, it only covered the single black and white TV that lucky families would have in their homes back then.

Now we live in an era of boxset binging and wall-to-wall on-demand HD streaming, the idea of a TV licence seems totally old-hat. Most of use assume we don’t need one, but you could be caught out if you’re not careful.

Ways and means of paying

A TV licence is not cheap but there are a number of ways of paying for the licence and it is always worth contacting

At present the licence fee is £147 annually. You can also still buy a licence for a black and white TV. It costs £49 for the year.

If you don’t pay you can be fined upwards of £1,000. That figure is £2,000 if you happen to live in Guernsey, or a maximum of £500 if you live in Jersey.

You cannot be sent to prison for licence evasion. But you could if you get fined and you don’t pay it.

There are a number of ways to pay, weekly, monthly quarterly or annually – you can pay through direct debit or by a credit card and all can be done online.

Who is exempt from paying the TV licence?

There are some sections of society who don’t have to pay the TV licence at all.

  • People over the age of 75
  • Those who are blind or partially sighted
  • People living in sheltered accomodation or care homes

What it covers

Something to watch out for is the fact that the fee may not in practice cover a full 12 months.

Each time you get a new licence it, it will expire the following year at the end of the month prior to the one you actually purchased it in.

That means that if you bought a licence on 15 May 2018, it would run for the remainder of that month, then for the next 11 months, right up to the end of April 2019.

To get the full 12 months we’d recommend buying your TV licence right at the start of the month.

Do I need a TV licence? YES

First things first.

It is a legal requirement, under the Communications Act 2003 and Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004, to have a TV licence to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on TV or live on an online service.

Receiving equipment can include devices such as TVs, computers, laptops, phones, tablets, games consoles or digital boxes.

Do I need a TV licence? NO

If you only watch catch-up services on places like ITV Hub, All4, On Demand and My5 you don’t actually need a licence.

So long as you’re not using them to watch live TV. This also applies to boxsets on Netflix and streaming video on YouTube – as long as it’s not live.

Do I need a TV licence for Sky?

The simple answer is yes. If you subscribe to Sky you must have a TV licence to cover your home.

With a TV licence, you will be covered watching Sky on a smartphone, tablet or computer outside the home as long as the device is battery powered.

Do I need a TV licence for boxsets and films on NOWTV?

It depends. If you watch live TV as it is being broadcast on NOWTV, you will need a licence. Similarly if you use NOWTV to watch BBC iPlayer, you have to have a TV licence.

However, if you only watch on-demand movies, entertainment or kids shows then the advice direct from NOWTV is that you don’t need a TV licence.

Do I need a TV licence to stream Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Instant Video/YouTube?

Again, if it is an on-demand service then you don’t need a licence. As soon as any channel or app starts to offer to stream live TV and you watch it, then a licence will be required.

Do I need a TV licence to watch BBC iPlayer?

You are now required to have a TV licence to watch BBC iPlayer.

It’s unclear how the BBC will police those without a licence. At the moment, you get a pop-up when going onto the iPlayer but the BBC now have an account you can sign-up to.

This is not compulsory but you do get extra personalised features.

Do I need a TV licence if I only play games on my TV?

No. You don’t need a TV Licence if you only use your TV for gaming. That’s as long as you never watch or record live TV on any channel, or download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer. This applies to any device you use.

What about live streams like YouTube Live or Twitch Live?

If you watch live TV, including online streaming, on your television, laptop, mobile phone, computer, tablet, games console, digital box, DVD recorder, or any other device, you will need to be covered by a TV Licence.

This includes watching live TV as it is broadcast on All4, Sky Go, Virgin Media, NOWTV, BT TV, Apple TV, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video and ITV Hub.

What if my landlord has a TV licence for the place I’m renting?

This can be slightly tricky as to where responsibility falls. According to the law if a landlord provides a TV in your rental premise and you use it, both can be held responsible for the TV licence.

It’s worth checking your lease as some will specify who is responsible.

As a tenant, you should ensure that the TV is properly licensed, even if supplied by the landlord. If there are several tenants sharing a property then the following applies.

Under separate tenancy agreements all tenants will need their own licenses. If it’s a joint tenancy then only one licence is needed.

As a lodger, you will need a TV licence if you have your own television in a bedroom. There are exceptions though.

For instance, if the lodger is a family member or if you live in the same household due to a relationship or if the lodger is employed by the household such as an au pair.

Students are in the same position as a tenant. If living at home your parents’ TV licence may not cover you.

Cancelling your TV licence when you move to a new house

When you move home your TV Licence doesn’t automatically move with you. You need to change the address on your licence. You can do this online up to three months before you move.

If you move in with someone already owning a licence you’ll be covered. You can then cancel your licence and seek any refund.

Best excuses for not needing a TV licence

We Brits are nothing if not inventive when to comes to avoiding paying bills. And each year the TV licensing authority gets hundreds of, quite frankly, bizarre reasons not to pay.

These include a woman who claimed to be Prince Harry’s girlfriend, to a man who thought he was exempt because he only had one leg.

Below are three actual examples of excuses given to the TV licencing authority when asked why they hadn’t paid for their licence.

  • “Sorry, I can’t buy a licence because I’m giving CPR to my goldfish.”
  • “I have smart TV and it’s so smart it can work without a licence.”
  • “I am not paying for my licence now the BBC is showing porn. Gary Lineker’s in the nude on Match of the Day, it’s disgusting!”
Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.