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Can You Watch Your TV Without A TV Licence?

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

The cost of the annual television licence fee will increase from £154.50 to £157.50 from April 1, the BBC has said.

After the 2020 increase in the cost of a TV Licence, you may be wondering if you still need one?

Do I need a TV licence?

You don't need a TV licence to own or possess a television set. However, if you use it to watch or record programmes as they are being shown on TV or live on an online TV service, or to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer, then you need a TV licence in order to do so, or you may be breaking the law.

A colour TV licence cost increased from £154.50 a year - by £3 to £157.50 a year from April 2020.

Black and white licences costs increased from £52, by £1 to £53 from April.

A licence is needed by anyone intending to watch or record TV programmes while they are being broadcast, so basically live tv.

Live TV means any programme you watch or record as it’s being shown on TV or live on any online TV service. It’s not just live events like sport, news and music. It covers all programmes on any channel, including soaps, series, documentaries and even movies.

It also applies if you're watching or streaming shows live on services such as ITV Hub, All 4, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, Sky Go, and more.

In addition, the rules apply even if you don't watch the shows on an actual TV - for example, if you watch programmes live on a PC, laptop, tablet or phone.

You also need a licence if you watch any BBC programmes or download them on-demand, including on BBC iPlayer.

Doing any of the above without paying for either a licence is a criminal offence.

If you're caught without one you need to pay in full as soon as possible or risk prosecution, plus a fine of up to £1,000 (or £2,000 in Guernsey) and any legal costs/compensation.

While you cannot be imprisoned for TV licence evasion, you can be jailed for non-payment of a fine imposed by the court. It's illegal to refuse to pay for a tv licence, if you are using services that require one, however it's a fine line between refusing to pay, and being unable to pay. If you are struggling to afford to pay your tv licence, you can contact TV Licensing and they can arrange a payment plan around the dates you receive your salary or benefit payments, or move you to a TV Licensing payment card, which gives you the flexibility to pay for a licence weekly and fortnightly, or monthly, from about £6. You can pay online, at any PayPoint, by phone or by text.

The following services are still openly (and legally) available to you – as long as you aren’t using them to watch or stream live TV, without needing a tv licence

On demand TV – such as catch-up TV and on demand previews, which are available through services including ITV Player, All 4, My5, BT Vision/BT TV, Virgin Media, Sky Go, Now TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku and Amazon Fire TV. You can't watch or download programmes on BBC iPlayer without a TV licence.

On demand movies - from services such as Sky, Virgin Media, BT Vision, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. Recorded films and programmes - either via DVD or Blu-ray, or downloaded from the internet.

YouTube - Video clips that aren't live through services such as YouTube.

Can I legally watch TV without a TV licence?

Fortunately, there are ways to legally watch your favourite shows without paying the licence fee.

There are plenty of catch-up TV services, which allow the streaming or downloading of programmes after they have been shown on their respective channels.

If you only watch these you don't need to stump up - as long as you don't watch any BBC content. So you could watch an ITV programme on catchup, sucn as Emmerdale, but you can't watch a BBC programme such as Eastenders, in the same way.

If you're absolutely sure you no longer need one you can formally let TV Licensing know.

Although there's no legal obligation to do this, it will prevent an increasing number of letters coming your way.

The first thing to do as part of this process is cancel your payments.

If you pay by direct debit you can cancel it by filling out TV Licensing's contact form, confirming you no longer watch TV along with 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.

Everyone who no longer requires a TV licence should then fill out a "No Licence Needed" declaration form.

Make sure you keep the confirmation email from TV Licensing as proof.

You may also be eligible for a refund if you won’t need your licence again before it expires, and you have at least one complete month left on it. Just fill in the request a refund form.

TV Licensing may visit your property to ensure you are telling the truth and no errors have been made. 900 households a day get visits which result in the householder be found that they don actually need a licence.

A TV Licensing spokesperson said: “Fewer than two per cent of households don’t need a licence and there are more licences in force than ever before – 25.8million."

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 it as it's being shown on a TV channel. It doesn't matter when you watch it, or how it was recorded – you still need a licence.

More than 20,000 young people aged 18 to 25 have been interviewed by TV Licensing Visiting Officers for watching live TV or BBC iPlayer without a valid licence in the last year, according to figures released by TV Licensing, even if you only watch BBC TV on your mobile phone, you still need a licence!


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