Something that is confusing to people in other parts of the world is that, here in the United Kingdom, any household watching or recording live television transmissions as they are being broadcast via terrestrial, satellite, cable, or Internet transmission is required to hold a television licence.
And this law, reclassified in 2006 as a tax, doesn’t only apply to residential households. It also includes all hospitals, schools, businesses, and other organisations.
Lately, however, the TV licence has become a point of contention for many, especially with the major broadcasting networks increasing their fees for just about every premium channel or, in some cases, series.
The TV licence is also difficult to understand for many people as they look for ways to reduce their monthly costs and save money on their TV licence.
Keeping that in mind, we are going to tale a closer look at TV licences and share some ways that you might be able to save money on yours.
Let’s get started.
As stated previously, both in the UK and the Crown dependencies, a TV licence is required by every household, school, hospital, and business if they want to view or record live television transmissions as they are being broadcast.
The TV licence, which was originally a radio licence, was introduced by the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1923 in November of 1923.
When first introduced, the licence cost just ten shillings (£0.50) per annum. However, in June 1946, the radio licence was extended to televisions and the cost increased to £2. It wasn’t until February 1971 that the radio portion of the licence was finally abolished.
For households, businesses, and organisations using the BBC’s iPlayer catch-up service, a licence is required to receive that video on demand programme services as well. This is another area where many consumers have shown their growing concern and resentment for the BBC.
Anyone caught misusing their TV licence or trying to gain access to broadcasted programming via terrestrial, satellite, cable, or Internet transmission without a TV licence are subject to penalties including fines or jail.
If you're caught without a TV licence, you will need to purchase one as soon as possible or risk prosecution, plus a fine of up to £1,000 (or £2,000 in Guernsey) as well as any legal costs or compensation.
To be clear, you cannot be imprisoned for TV licence evasion, but you will be jailed for non-payment of a fine relating to TV licence evasion imposed by the court.
Who needs a TV license? Anyone who watches or records shows as they're being shown in the UK (considered live TV), needs to be covered by a TV licence.
This is the case regardless of the device you're watching on, be it a television, computer, tablet, games console, smartphone, digital box, DVD/VHS recorder, or any other internet connected device. Yes, that does include watching live TV on your mobile phone.
So, if you are watching live TV, you'll need to pay the fee.
However, if you only watch content after it's been shown on television (not live TV, you do not need a TV licence. This includes TV programmes downloaded or streamed after the original broadcast on other catch-up services. That is, unless it is viewed on the iPlayer.
The law states that you need a TV Licence to:
Now for the cost. Just how much does a TV license cost in the UK? Since its original licence fee of just £2 from June 1946, the TV licence fee has increased significantly.
Today, the annual cost is £157.50 for a colour licence and £53 for a black and white licence (yes, they still offer that). While this price is rather steep, the amount of television programming must be considered.
Where does the money from TV licensing fees go? The income the government takes in from the TV licence is used primarily to fund the television, radio, and online services offered by the BBC. How much is it? In 2017–18, TV licence income was £3.83 billion.
Not all of that goes to the BBC, but a large portion does. In fact, the TV licence fee accounted for 75.7% of the BBC's total income of £5.0627 billion in 2017–2018.
However, 17.1%, or £655.3 million, was provided by the government in the form of concessions for those over the age of 75. We’ll discuss this further shortly.
Now, you might be wondering why your TV licence fee has gone up recently.
This is because of a white paper released by the government in May 2016 which announced that the TV licence fee will rise with inflation for the first five years of the Charter period, from 1 April 2017.
We can still see an increase over the next two years, longer if the increase is put on hold due to the COVID-19 crisis.
There are many ways that you could save money on your TV licence fee.
From impractical measures such as going without a TV licence and watching through your neighbour’s window (not recommended), to only watching content after it's been shown on television, saving money on your TV licence can be challenging.
But it doesn’t need to be that way.
If you are over 75 years of age, or you are partially blind, you live in a residential care home or sheltered accommodation, or you are a student, you can receive a discounted rate on your TV licence without sacrificing comfort or any programming options.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some ways that you can effectively, and legally, save money on your TV licensing fees:
How To Watch TV For Free Without A License?
Can you legally watch TV without a TV Licence? The answer is yes, but it isn’t as simple as that. There is a wide range of ways to legally watch your favourite shows without paying the TV licence fee.
Just be sure that you are not watching any BBC content with these services and you can legally watch TV without a TV licence free.
Also, if you feel that you no longer need a TV licence, and you are absolutely positive, you can formally let TV Licensing know. Although you are not legally obliged to do so, it can prevent an alarming number of harassing letters from being sent to your home.
Cancelling your TV licence should only be done if you are absolutely sure that you can do without one. With that being said, we are going to take a look at how to cancel your TV licence.
Let’s get started:
Cancelling Your TV Licence
The first thing to do is cancel your payments.
If you won’t need your TV licence again before it expires, and you have at least one complete month left on it, you may be eligible for a refund. To apply for a TV licence refund, you will need to fill in the request a refund form.
Be aware that, once you cancel your TV licence, TV Licensing may visit your property to make sure that you are telling the truth and that there haven’t been any errors made.
A spokesperson from the TV Licensing bureau stated that these inspections “often find that 1 in 5 households that have cancelled their TV licence actually still need one.”
They went on to state:
“Fewer than two per cent of households don’t need a licence and there are more licences in force than ever before – 25.8 million." - Italics ours.
In fact, it is estimated that more than 900 households a day are found to still need a TV licence.
In some instances, you might be due a refund on your TV licence.
If you are aged 75 or over, is your TV licence free? This used to be the rule until just recently. Now, there are certain stipulations and restrictions in place which require over-75s to pay for a TV licence.
The new rule is that over-75s who receive the pension credit benefit will still receive a free TV licence. All others will have to pay for one.
However, if you are aged 75 or over, whether you're still eligible for a free TV licence or not, you should wait until you receive a letter from TV Licensing explaining your fees.
How does this affect those aged 75 or over in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man? Over-75s living on the Isle of Man don't get a free TV licence automatically, they must apply to claim back the full cost of their licence. And the Channel Islands have their own rules:
If you are blind or severely sight-impaired you might qualify for a reduced rate on your TV license. If you, or someone you live with, is blind or severely sight-impaired, your TV licence will cost just £78.75 for a colour set or £26.50 for a black and white one.
How can you prove your condition and qualify for the reduced rate? You must provide TV Licensing with a photocopy of one of the following documents:
Those who are partially sighted or sight-impaired, don't qualify for the concession.
All students require a TV licence to watch or record live television transmissions as they are being broadcast via terrestrial, satellite, cable, or Internet transmission.
Students do not receive a discounted rate on their TV License; however, they might be due a partial refund if they bought a TV licence during the academic year and went home over the summer.
Be aware, however, that you can only claim for full calendar months while not living at your student accommodation and you can claim up to 11 months back.
This is only for students who have paid for a TV licence in full. Students who pay monthly should contact TV Licensing to let them know that they no longer need a TV licence and request that TV Licensing stop your payments.
You have 2 years after your licence expires to make a claim.
There are many different ways to pay for your TV Licence and, according to the TV Licensing website, these include:
You Can Set Up A Direct Debit
As you will make most of the payments after you’ve received your licence, there is £1.25 extra charge every 3 months when you pay this way.
You Can Pay Using A Debit Or Credit Card
Apply For A TV Licensing Payment Card
You Can Pay For Your Licence At Any PayPoint
Channel Islands And Isle Of Man
Send A Cheque In The Post
The cheque has to be for the full amount of the TV Licence (£157.50). Make sure you write your name and address on the back. Send it to:
Renewing your TV licence is a simple process which can be done a number of ways.
You will receive a reminder by post or by email from TV Licensing when your licence is due for renewal. Then, you can renew your TV licence in person at your local post office, online through TV Licence Online, by phone, or by direct debit, using forms available from your TV Licence Records Office.
To renew your TV licence, you will need the following information:
There you have it. Everything you have ever wanted to know about your TV licence including why it’s needed, who needs one, and how to go about getting one. Be sure that you understand every aspect of the TV licensing process before deciding to renew or cancel your TV licence.