Do I need a TV licence?

If you watch live as it’s being broadcast, you must have a TV licence which currently costs £145.50 per year for a standard colour TV. Don’t pay, and you face a £1,000 fine. But with changing viewing habits, some who watch online may be paying unnecessarily…

Whether you’re in love with Auntie Beeb or object to the licence on principle, this is a straightforward guide to the TV licence rules, explaining when you need to pay, and when you don’t.

If you watch TV as it’s being broadcast you need a TV licence

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. This includes TV on computers, mobile phones, DVD/video recorders and other devices.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.So, 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’?

How many licences do I need?

Where does my money go?

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

If 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 the 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 £145.50 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 £1,000.

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?

How will they know if I watch live TV online or not?

If I have a smart TV and only watch on catch-up do I need a licence?

Do I have to let TV Licensing into my home?

Here’s some inspiration from our Forum:

I used the on-line form to cancel my licence (the refund arrived back in my bank promptly). I’ve never had a problem with harassment, just a quick letter when I purchased a new TV and another 2 years later which is what they say will happen. I just used an on-line form to declare I still didn’t need, and haven’t had any problems.

And some more from Twitter:

Thanks for the heads up about the TV licence. Just cancelled and got £172 refund too!

If you don’t pay you could face a £1,000 fine

Watching ‘live TV’ without a licence is against the law. TV Licensing has enforcement officers that carry out checks. Fee dodgers can face prosecution plus a fine of up to £1,000 if they’re found to be watching ‘live TV’ without a licence.

You cannot be imprisoned for TV licence evasion in itself, although you can be imprisoned for non-payment of a fine imposed by the court.

If you have a TV, but don’t watch it, you don’t need a licence

Many wrongly believe you need to be covered by a TV licence if you have the ability to watch ‘live TV’, even if you don’t watch it. You only need a licence if you actually watch ‘live TV’.

So, if you’ve got an aerial on your roof/satellite dish/TV with built-in Freeview etc, but you don’t actually watch ‘live TV’, you don’t need a licence.

Colour costs – black & white saves big

The Government sets the price of the licence. Currently, a colour TV licence will set you back £145.50 for the year. But…

You can save £96.50/year by only watching telly in black & white.

The fees are frozen until the end of the BBC’s current charter, in 2016. After this, they could increase.

Some are eligible for a cheaper licence

Depending on your circumstances, it may be possible to get a discount on your TV licence.

Take a look at the info below to see if any of these apply to you. If they do, get in touch with TV Licensing to see if you’re eligible for a refund.

Quick questions:

Aged 75 and over? Is it free?

Blind or severely sight-impaired? What’s the cost?

Living in a residential care home? What’s the cost?

Don’t pay by quarterly direct debit

You can pay by credit card, debit card, bank transfer, online and by TV Licensing’s own savings scheme. However, some payment methods charge more than others.

Here are some handy tips:

DON’T pay by quarterly direct debit.

Pay on a cashback credit card.

Pay by cash payment scheme.

You don’t need a licence for Netflix, Lovefilm, YouTube and more

If catch-up TV isn’t enough, and you want movies too, sign up for a subscription to an online film service like Netflix or Lovefilm, or watch for free on YouTube.

You don’t need a licence for these as they don’t appear on a TV channel at the same time as you’re watching.

There are lots of packages and options available, with 1,000s of titles to stream. See our Watch Movies Online guide for full info.

If you don’t pay, TV licensing can check

TV Licensing officers catch about 900 people every day who have tried to avoid paying for a licence.

Its database of more than 31 million addresses is the main tool for catching evaders.

If TV Licensing believes you’re watching ‘live TV’ without a licence, enquiry officers may visit. They can’t enter your home without permission, but can apply for a search warrant to do so.

They may also use detection equipment such as vans and hi-tech handheld detectors. However, TV Licensing won’t go into exactly how its detection methods work. “We would not want to reveal information useful to potential evaders,” it says.

The licence covers you outside your home, on a mobile device

Nowadays, you can watch TV on a whole plethora of devices, whenever it suits you. So your licence doesn’t just cover you watching TV at home, but also watching or recording shows as they’re being broadcast on TV, through any of these devices:

  • Computers, including laptops and tablets
  • Mobile phones
  • Games consoles
  • Digital boxes, including Freeview, Sky, Virgin and BT Vision
  • DVD / VHS / Blu-ray recorders

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 and not connected to an aerial or plugged into the mains. This includes your mobile phone, laptop and tablet.

If you have a second home, your licence registered at one property won’t apply to the other though – you’ll need to pay for two. See You may need a separate licencebelow for more info.

Even if you pay Sky or Virgin, you still need to cough up

Sorry, but it’s the law. Under the Communications Act 2003, and the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004, you need a TV licence, no matter how you receive the programmes.

So even though you’re paying to receive TV with Sky, Virgin Media, TalkTalk or BT, you’ll still need to cough up for a TV licence as well.

You need a licence for pay-per-view content too

If you’re paying to watch a programme and are watching it at the same time as everyone else who’s paying to watch it, then you will need a licence – regardless of the fact that you’ve already paid to watch it.

For example, if you buy the movie The Hobbit on Sky Movies Store which is being shown at 8pm, you will need a licence.

You don’t need a licence to watch programmes online first

Although the online broadcast is technically the first showing of the programme, you don’t need a licence because it’s not being shown online at the same time as it’s being shown “live” on telly.

Check if you’re due a refund

It may be possible to get a refund on your TV licence, if one of the following applies:

  • If you’re moving in with someone who already has a TV licence or moving somewhere where you won’t watch ‘live TV’ in the UK.
  • If the TV licence holder has died, a refund may be due to the estate.
  • If you have a licence, but will not watch or record TV programmes as they’re being shown on TV before your licence expires.
  • If you’ve changed the type of licence to a cheaper one you may be due a partial refund.

You can apply online for a refund up to two years after the expiry date of your licence. You may have to print the refund form and supply evidence. There’s full information on the TV Licensing website, with details on how to cancel and the online refund form.

Students need a TV licence. But don’t forget summer refunds

Whether you need a licence or not depends if you’re living at home while you study, or if you’ve moved away.

If you’ve moved, in most cases, you will need to buy a licence, because your parents’ TV licence won’t cover you unless your permanent registered address is with them and the mobile, laptop or tablet that you are using isn’t plugged into the mains.

  • Halls of residence. If you’re in halls of residence you’ll probably be covered for communal areas but not your own room. Check with your university.
  • Private accommodation. If you’re living out of halls in a shared house and have signed a joint tenancy agreement, you’ll need only one licence for the household. However, if you have separate agreements you’ll need one for your room.

Get a refund for summer

Students who go home for the summer may have three months left on their licence and can get a refund for unused time if they won’t be using their TV in student accommodation during that period.

It’s not an automatic process and you will need to apply. For an unused quarter you should get £36. Details on how to get it, and other info for students, are available on the TV Licensing website.

Using the BBC website doesn’t require a licence

You need a TV licence if you watch or record ‘live TV’. If you don’t do either of these, you don’t need a licence.

So you don’t need a licence to read anything on the BBC website.

But if you watch content on BBC iPlayer, and you don’t have a licence, make sure it’s not ‘live TV’. If you do stream ‘live TV’ (content shown online at the same time it’s broadcast on a TV channel), you will need a licence.

Renters need a licence, lodgers don’t

If you rent a property – either a whole property or a room in a shared home – you must be covered by a valid TV licence to watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV.

Usually you’ll have to organise this yourself (or between yourselves if in a shared house). But speak to the landlord first, as they may already have a licence for the property.

If you live in self-contained accommodation such as a separate flat or annexe, then you need your own TV licence.

If you’re a lodger and/or have a relationship with the homeowner (a family member, partner, a nanny, an au pair, housekeeper, etc), you’ll be covered by the homeowner’s TV licence, provided you live in the same building.

You may need a separate licence if you have a second home

You need to be covered by a separate TV licence if you watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV in your second home.

The only exception is if your second home is a static caravan, but only if the TV won’t be used at the same time as ones in your main home. In this case you won’t need a second TV licence but you’ll need to sign a declaration stating this.

If your second home is a touring caravan or vehicle, you won’t need a separate licence. There’s full info on the TV Licensing website.

Listening to the radio doesn’t require a licence

If you had a radio, but not a television, until 1971 you had to pay for a radio licence.

These days, you don’t need a licence to listen to the radio (including BBC stations). This applies however you listen, even if you listen using television equipment.

Watching foreign TV in the UK does require a licence

If you watch ‘live TV’ from a channel that isn’t broadcast in the UK (including those picked up via satellite or online), you need to be covered by a valid TV licence.

This is regardless of the country of origin or the language of the broadcast.


By Becca


3 Responses to “Do I need a TV licence?”

  1. NPP says:

    This is hardly new to TAP, but for new readers appropriate.

  2. Cobalt says:

    Isn’t it funny that we have to pay to watch government propaganda i.e. the [B]ritish [B]*llshit [C]orporation.

    – You want to watch ITV… pay the BBC
    – You want to watch SKY… pay the BBC

    etc… etc…

    One episode of this shite is enough to stop paying the BBC for life:

    – Cobalt

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