With so many bills to pay and so little cash to go round, the £145.50 annual requirement for a TV Licence - and soon to be £147 from 1 April 2017 - is by some people purposely overlooked. But this small saving can later cost you dearly: watching live TV without a valid licence is a criminal offence, which can lead to prosecution, a court appearance and a fine of up to £1,000 plus legal costs. Also see: Best TV deals
There's a good chance that those who don't own a licence but do watch live TV will be caught out, too. If your home doesn't have a TV Licence, you are already on the TV Licensing authority's database; don't make the mistake of thinking the TV Licensing authority will simply take your word for it if you say you don't own a TV. Enforcement officers allegedly carry handheld signal-detection devices and have access to a fleet of vans that can quickly identify TV-receiving equipment at targeted addresses.
There are ways you can save money on your TV Licence, of course. If you're prepared to watch black-and-white TV the licence will cost you a more manageable £49 per year, while over-75s can apply for a free licence. If you're registered blind or severely sight-impaired you qualify for a discount; those who live in your home can benefit by transferring the licence into your name. If you're a student, you can also get a refund for the summer months that you spend away from uni. But if you really want to avoid paying the TV Licence fee, just don't watch live TV.
In the past catch-up TV has been a loophole, and has not required you to own a TV Licence. As of September 2016 you'll still be able to watch some catch-up TV without a TV Licence, but the law is about to change for BBC iPlayer...
Do I need a TV Licence to watch BBC iPlayer?
As of 1 September 2016, you are now required to hold a TV Licence in order to watch catch-up TV through BBC iPlayer. This change affects only iPlayer - you will still be able to watch catch-up TV from other channels without a TV Licence. Also see: How to watch BBC iPlayer abroad
Previously, you could watch catch-up content on demand without a licence. While it's still unclear how the BBC will police those without a licence, it's a sign that the broadcaster is seeing the financial downside to allowing people to watch their content for free.
Right now you simply get a pop-up asking whether you have a TV Licence, but from early 2017 you will need to use a free BBC account. Part of the sign-up process will require inputting your postcode, though the BBC says it won't be used to enforce the licence fee.
Proposed earlier this year, culture secretary John Whittingdale said of the amendment: "When the licence fee was invented, video on demand did not exist. And while the definition of television in the legislation covers live streaming, it does not require viewers to have a licence if they watch BBC programmes through iPlayer even if it is just a few minutes after transmission."
"The BBC works on the basis that all who watch it pay for it. Giving a free ride to those who enjoy Sherlock or Bake Off an hour, a day or a week after they are broadcast was never intended and is wrong," continued Whittingdale.
Do I still need a TV Licence?
The thought of not having a TV Licence would have been laughable only a few years ago. But, today, with fast broadband available to more of us than ever, a range of online catch-up TV solutions, YouTube and other web video sites, LoveFilm/Amazon Prime Instant Video, Netflix, DVDs and Blu-ray, it's quite possible to get your telly fix without parting with the annual premium. Potentially, you could even start saving right now, and cash in what's left of your TV Licence today.
In simple terms, a TV Licence is required to watch only live TV broadcasts, whether that's on a TV, a PC, a laptop, a smartphone or a tablet. If you are using some sort of time-shifting technology to pause, rewind, fast-forward and record programmes, this feed is still considered to be live and you will need a TV Licence. However, watch on-demand that content an hour or so later and it doesn't fall under this licensing requirement. Likewise, movies and online video do not demand ownership of a TV Licence.
The number of households that subscribe to broadband but do not hold a TV Licence is estimated to be very small.
Do I need a TV Licence to own a TV?
No, you do not need a TV Licence to own a TV. However, if the TV Licensing authority doesn't have you on its database it will send you a reminder to buy a TV Licence. If you are not using the equipment to watch live TV (for instance, it's hooked up only to a games console or used for playing training videos) you will need to declare this to the TV Licensing authority; it's possible that an enforcement officer will be sent to verify this is the case. However, according to the authority, one in five people are found to need a TV Licence; if this is you, you could face prosecution, a court appearance, and a fine of up to £1,000 (plus legal costs).
Do I need a TV Licence to watch TV on my smartphone, tablet or laptop?
You don't need a TV Licence to watch on-demand content on your smartphone, tablet or laptop. However, if the content is live, you will need a TV Licence to watch TV on a mobile device.
Your home's TV Licence also covers any device that is powered solely by its own batteries, wherever you are. This means, provided that you don't plug your device into the mains, you can watch live TV on a mobile phone, tablet or laptop inside a property that isn't covered by a TV Licence, such as when you're in a shop, bar or restaurant or at work. (You might get sacked, of course, so be careful.)
"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. This includes your mobile phone, laptop and tablet," according to the TV Licensing authority.
Do I need a TV Licence to watch catch-up TV?
No. Until September you do not need a TV Licence to watch BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, 4oD or any other on-demand TV service. However, any live features within these services, such as iPlayer's 'Watch Live' simulcast option, demand a licence.
From September 2016 you will need a TV Licence to watch BBC iPlayer, but you can continue watching other on-demand catch-up services without one.
According to the BBC, "A 'live' TV programme is a programme that is watched or recorded at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is being broadcast or otherwise distributed to members of the public. As a general rule, if a person is watching a programme on a computer or other device at the same time as it is being shown on TV then the programme is 'live'. This is sometimes known as simulcasting.
"If you are using the live rewind function to either restart the current live programme or to rewind any live stream for up to 2 hours, a TV Licence is required as you are still accessing the live simulcasts."
Do I need a TV Licence to watch YouTube?
No, you do not need a TV Licence to watch YouTube videos: you are not watching live TV content as it is broadcast. TV programmes that are uploaded to the video site following their broadcast follow the same rules as catch-up TV.
Do I need a TV Licence to watch films?
A TV Licence is required to watch films only as they are broadcast on live TV. Films enjoyed following their broadcast via on-demand services, and those provided via DVD or Blu-ray, are not subject to the licensing requirement.
Do I need a TV LIcence to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video?
No, you do not need a TV Licence to watch Netflix or LoveFilm. The content provided by these services is offered on-demand; that is, it is not streamed as it is broadcast. If either service starts to stream live TV then a TV Licence will be required.
Do I need a TV Licence to watch TVCatchup?
Yes, you do need a TV Licence to watch TVCatchup. Some confusion may be caused by the naming of this service: rather than catch-up TV, it offers live broadcasts of free-to-air television programmes through a web browser or mobile app on your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Since you are watching this content at the same time as it is broadcast on the TV, a TV Licence is required.
Do I need a TV Licence to watch Sky Go?
Yes, Sky Go demands a TV Licence. Regardless of whether you watch content from the BBC and other Freeview channels or stick to Sky's own programming, your home must be covered by a TV Licence if you subscribe to Sky. In this case, you will also be covered to watch live content from Sky using Sky Go on your smartphone, tablet or computer - and do so from outside the home, provided the device is powered solely by its own batteries. Although the catch-up content within Sky Go is technically exempt from the licensing requirement, a Sky subscription itself is not.
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