The TV licence fee applies throughout the UK and the money from it generally goes to fund the BBC. There are legal conditions attached to it.
How much is a TV Licence?
There are set fees for colour and black-and-white television licences. These are reviewed annually. Any increase is effective from midnight on the day of announcement. The current fees are:
- Black and white television:
- £49.00 (From 1 April 2009)
- Colour television and/or video recorder:
- £145.50 (From 1 April 2011)
So, do I need a licence?
You need a TV Licence to use any television-receiving equipment to watch or record TV programmes as they are being shown on TV. These include programmes on digital, cable and satellite television channels. Television-receiving equipment includes:
- TV sets
- Set-top boxes
- DVD recorders
- Video recorders
- A computer when watching live streaming from sites such as ITV/BBC
- A mobile phone when watching live streaming from sites such as ITV/BBC
- An iPod or iPad when watching live streaming from sites such as ITV/BBC
Note: Live streaming DOES NOT include catch-up programming on services such as iPlayer, ITV Player or 4oD.
Here is what the TV Licensing Authority says:
"You need a TV Licence to watch or record TV programmes as they are being broadcast, irrespective of what channel you're watching, what device you are using (TV, computer, laptop, mobile phone or any other), and how you receive them (terrestrial, satellite, cable, via the internet or any other way).
"Therefore you would not require a TV Licence to watch catch-up services but you do need a TV Licence to watch live programmes, such as those now available on the iPlayer."
You don't need a television licence if a TV set cannot receive TV programmes and is used only:
- for close-circuit monitoring
- for watching pre-recorded videos or DVDs
- as a computer monitor
Televisions in halls
If you have a television in university halls, chances are you will need a TV Licence of your own. If you are living in a university flat under a seperate tenancy agreement (this applies to most students in uni flats) then you will each need your own TV Licence for any equipment in your own room.
If you have a television out in a communal area of the flat, then that can be covered by someone's existing licence as well as their bedroom. You do not need to purchase a second licence just to cover the communal area.
- You do not need a licence if you have a television that is not used for receiving broadcast programmes. TVL asks you to inform it of this, but it is obviously not a legal requirement to do so and it will still ask to inspect it. In these cases, it is best to have no aerial installed and to ensure that the TV is completely de-tuned (that is that no picture can be seen to any degree on any channel) so you can confirm this status if asked.
- A TV licence is not required to watch on-demand programming online (iPlayer, 4oD etc) regardless of whether the computer is plugged in or not. If, however, you use the computer to watch live TV as it is broadcast (eg watching a stream of BBC One online) then you need a licence unless you are exempt for another reason.
- A television licence allows the person named on it and any members of his or her household to use one or more television sets or video recorders.
- If you only have a black-and-white television, you only require a black-and-white television licence. If you have a colour television, a DVD recorder or video recorder, you will require a colour television licence. This will apply even if the DVD or video recorder is used with a black and white television set.
Ways to cut the cost
A quick and easy way to cut costs is to make sure you're not paying for your licence during the summertime, when you're not at uni. Wait until the beginning of October, when the university year begins, before you get your licence. At the end of your uni year, you can claim back for the quarter of the year that you're not at university (July/August/September). Bear in mind that when you get your TV licence it automatically backdates it to the beginning of the month - so if you buy it on the 30 September it starts from 1 September!
Another way to save money is to go retro and use a black and white television. The licence for one of these is around £100 cheaper than a licence for a colour television.
Dealing with TVL
The TV Licensing Organisation (TVL), which is outsourced by the BBC to a company called Capita, monitors TV licence evasion. It has numerous investigation officers and sends a good number of threatening letters (even when there is no evidence to suggest that a television is owned). A few things should be noted when dealing with these officers:
- They have no more rights than any other salesman. They cannot come into your home without a warrant or your (or any other owner/occupier's permission)
- All enquiry officers carry identification cards which they should show. The enquiry officer must state the purpose of the visit.
- You don't have to have any dealings with them whatsoever. You have every right not to inform them if you don't need a licence, you can shut the door in their faces, you do not have to give your name to them or sign any documents they present you with.
- If you do allow an enquiry officer to come in, they will carry out a brief inspection of the main living areas. If they are satisfied there is no TV set, they can authorise a 'stop on contact' for four years. This means that no one will contact you about your TV licence for four years.
- If you do not let the enquiry officer in, they may apply to a magistrates' court (sheriff court in Scotland) for a search warrant. They can do this only if there is good reason to suspect an offence has been committed. Refusal to allow entry to an enquiry officer is not, in itself, enough to justify anyone applying for a search warrant.
- The moment you're suspected of breaking the law (instead of just making 'general enquiries') the enquiry officer must only interview you under caution in the same way a police officer does. Otherwise, any confession you make will be inadmissible in court.
- As with any door-to-door callers, be very wary of them. Consider not answering the door to them if you are in alone. This will also help should you not need a licence and they try to pin something on you - they are given commission for every successful prosecution made.
- You are innocent until proven guilty and don't have to answer for anything.
- Emailing them warning that you have removed any implied right of access to their organisation and that any visits without a warrant and unsolicited or threatening letters will be invoiced (and sent to debt collections if unpaid) tends to get them to leave your entire flat alone for at least a year. Naturally though - only do this if you are not watching live TV and just want them not to bother you.
- TV licence evasion is a criminal offence. If you are found guilty, the maximum fine is £1,000. A more realistic figure for most evaders is £200, but will probably be less for students. You will also have court costs of around £70 to cover.
- You can be prosecuted for having or using a television set or video recorder and not having a licence for it. You can be prosecuted even if you are not the owner or hirer of the set.
- The court however cannot confiscate the television set or order you to pay the television licence fee arrears.
- You will receive a criminal record if convicted of TV Licence evasion.
Should I get a TV?
It depends on what you are like. Some people are happy to watch what everyone else watches in the communal room. But you might find you don't want to go with the general consensus (especially when the rest of your flat want to watch America's Next Top Model/the football [delete as applicable]), so you might want to take one just in case.
Ways to pay your TV Licence
You can pay for your television licence in one annual payment or by instalments (colour televisions only).
If you make an annual payment for your TV licence, you can pay by:
- Cash, at a PayPoint outlet
- Cheque or postal order, by post to TV Licensing
- Debit/credit card. Pay online or over the phone. Debit cards can also be used at PayPoint outlets
- Direct debit from your bank account.
Direct debits will be made from your account annually, at the current licence fee rate, unless you cancel the agreement.
There are several ways you can pay for your TV licence in instalments:
Paying by direct debit
- Monthly. If you're buying a new licence, you'll pay the whole cost over the first six months. After the first six months, you can start paying towards the next year's licence in 12 monthly instalments.
- Quarterly. You have to pay an extra £5 (£1.25 per quarter).
Weekly/fortnightly instalments - TV Licensing payment card
A TV Licensing payment card enables you to pay for your TV Licence in weekly, fortnightly or monthly instalments. You can apply for one by calling 0300 555 0286. Weekly payments can be as low as £5.60 and you can use the card to pay online, at a PayPoint outlet, by phone or by text message.
The TV licence savings card
The TV licence savings card has replaced TV licence savings stamps. You can add to your savings on the card whenever you like and use it to pay for your next licence in part or in full.
Paying for your TV licence at a PayPoint outlet
You can use a PayPoint outlet to pay for, or save for, your TV licence. You can pay by cash or debit card.
PayPoint outlets can be found in newsagents, local shops, supermarkets and petrol stations. You can get details of your local PayPoint outlets on the TV Licensing website.
Visit the TV Licencing website for more information on ways to pay.