Ever wondered whether you still need a TV Licence in the UK? With so many of us switching to streaming services like Netflix, it’s easy to get confused. Don’t worry – this guide is here to help.
I’ll break down the costs, let you know when you need a licence and when you don’t, and what could happen if you don’t follow the rules. Whether you love binging series or just watching the news, this simple guide will clear things up – and also touch upon some of the controversies that still surround the TV Licence Fee in the UK.
The TV licence is a tax used to fund the BBC. It is collected by the BBC (mainly through outsourced companies), and there are penalties of up to £1,000 if you fail to pay. In the past, cord cutters who never watched live TV were exempt – but due to changes in the law, people who only watch BBC iPlayer (via streaming) also have to pay.
Table of Contents
How Much Does A TV Licence Cost In The UK?
Let’s start with the most important bit: As of June 2023, the TV Licence Costs £159 For A Colour TV (and £53.50 for a Black and White TV).
In 2022, the fee was frozen for two years, so it’s been £159 since then – but it is scheduled to go up by the rate of inflation next year (unless things change again).
Who Needs To Pay A TV Licence
Check out our handy “Do I Need A TV Licence” infographic to quickly see if you need to pay:
There are two main questions to ask yourself, when you’re determining whether you need a licence if you watch TV:
- Do you watch or record ANY live TV on ANY device?
- Do you watch BBC iPlayer on ANY device?
If the answer is YES to either one of those, then in most cases, yes, you need to pay a TV licence.
Do note that the LIVE TV part refers to ANY live TV, not just the BBC channels. ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5… anything that is being broadcast right now, in real time, falls into that category.
Plus, it doesn’t matter whether you’re watching live TV over the air (via Freeview for example) or if you stream it via broadband on an app like ITVX – if it’s LIVE, then you need a TV Licence.
Oddly enough, this also applies if you watch or record TV from any other country (while you’re in the UK). Either via satellite, or even streaming via the internet – if you’re watching live TV from any and all countries in the world… it falls under the TV licence fee.
Also, remember that RECORDING live TV also falls into this category. I’m assuming none of you is still using VCRs, but many Smart TVs, Freeview recorders, streamers, and TiVo-like boxes come with the option to record live TV. So if you watch OR record something live – you still need a TV licence.
However, this does NOT include watching programmes on catch-up apps and websites, such as ITVX, Channel4.com, etc. – if you only watch their programmes on these catch-up services (or as box-sets), you do not need a TV licence.
But wait! There’s the BBC iPlayer thing…
The second question, relating to BBC iPlayer, came into effect on September, 2016. Up until then, there was an iPlayer “loophole”, where watching BBC programmes via iPlayer (the app, or directly on the website), did NOT require a licence. Well, that has changed – now, you need a TV licence for any type of watching you do with iPlayer – whether you stream it, or download it from iPlayer for later viewing.
Do note, however, that if you’re watching BBC programmes only on other commercial VOD services (such as Netflix, or buying a programme on Amazon Prime Video), then you don’t need a licence to watch, as you paid for those services separately.
How Do I Pay The TV Licence?
The easiest way to pay the TV licence fee, is via the TV Licensing website, where you can set up a direct debit and other forms of payment.
You can also pay via the TV Licence Phone Number: 0300 790 0368 for Direct Debit customers, or 0300 555 0286 for Payment Card customers.
Also, remember to be careful – there are a lot of fake TV Licence emails out there.
Who Doesn’t Need To Pay A TV Licence?
Basically, if you answered the two earlier questions with a NO, then you most likely don’t need to pay. Here are a few examples:
Do I Need A TV Licence To Watch Netflix?
No. Since nothing on Netflix is “live”, and all the content is on-demand, you don’t need a licence to watch Netflix, whichever device you watch it on.
Even if you watch BBC programmes on Netflix, you still don’t need a TV licence for those.
This also applies to similar on-demand services like Amazon’s Prime Video (except for their live sporting events!), Disney+, and physical media like DVD/Blu-Ray, even if you’re watching BBC programmes on those platforms.
Do I Need A TV Licence To Watch YouTube?
It depends. Most of the content on YouTube is on-demand, so you wouldn’t need a TV Licence to watch those videos.
However, occasionally there are LIVE videos on YouTube – and if you watch or record those, regardless of where in the world they come from – you DO need a TV licence.
Things get a bit more complicated when it comes to live streamers on YouTube or on services like Twitch – so we have a dedicated article for that question – Do I need a TV Licence for Twitch?
Do I Need A TV Licence To Watch NOW TV?
Sky’s NOW (formerly known as NOW TV, see our full NOW review) is primarily a streaming service, with on-demand content.
However, some of the content on NOW – such as the sports channels, and the “live” version of Sky’s channels – are indeed LIVE. So, if you’re going to watch those channels, you do need a TV licence.
Do I Need A TV Licence If I’m Over 75?
Yes – for most people. Up until August 2020, people over the age of 75 were exempt from TV licences.
However, following a government decision to phase out subsidies for the exemption, the BBC had to make over-75s start paying the licence fee.
However, if you receive Pension Credit, you need to tell the TV Licensing body about it – and you will be exempt from the fee.
Additionally, if you or someone you live with is blind or severely sight-impaired, you only need to pay 50% of the TV licence.
Should I Tell Anyone I Don’t Need A TV Licence?
Giving Notification: If indeed you don’t need to pay the TV licence fee, you should notify “TV Licensing”, the body charged with collecting the money.
You’re not REQUIRED to notify them, but if you do, they’re supposed to stop sending you angry letters urging you to pay.
The Bottom Line:
If you base your viewing around Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video, etc., then just make sure you NEVER watch anything on iPlayer, AND never watch or record anything live on Freeview/Freesat (or via some online TV service) and then you can avoid the licensing fee.
A misconception I often see: people think that just because their TV/streaming device CAN show BBC (or live) content – then they MUST have a TV Licence (therefore they suggest, for example, a TV that comes without the BBC iPlayer app).
But that’s not the case – the licence requirement depends on what you DO watch, not what you CAN watch.
How Will The BBC Know If I’m Watching Live TV And iPlayer?
This is one of the most controversial issues around TV licences, and the BBC usually remains intentionally obscure about the detection methods, as to not reveal their hand to would-be TV licence evaders. There are, however, some things we do know.
First, if they suspect you need to pay a TV Licence but you’re not paying, they might send inspection officers to visit your house. You’re not required by law to let them in, but if you don’t they might come back with a search warrant.
In addition, over the years “TV Licensing” has claimed to have sophisticated “detection” equipment, such as vans and handheld devices that, when in proximity to your house, can supposedly detect that you’re watching live TV.
When it comes to the new iPlayer rules, things get even more complicated. According to a report by The Telegraph last year, “TV Licensing” were supposedly using “spy vans” that could “sniff” your WiFi data, and detect patterns connected with iPlayer, hence confirming that you’re watching it.
These alleged “spy vans” were understandably the cause of an outrage, with people fearing an invasion of privacy. The BBC was quick to issue a statement, claiming that the information about these detection techniques is “inaccurate”:
“It is wrong to suggest that our technology involves capturing data from private WiFi networks”
Journalist and blogger Adam Banks, however, suggests in a lengthy post that these so-called “detection vans” are mostly smoke and mirrors, aimed at scaring the public into THINKING that the BBC has these magical detection technologies.
“The BBC’s wall of silence was accidentally breached in 2015, when it released a performance report that recorded just 116 detection requests across the UK in the whole preceding year.
If detection vans really had been ‘fanning out’ across the country, they’d been driving around either conducting large-scale illegal surveillance operations or doing absolutely nothing except at those 116 addresses – assuming all 116 requests were approved by the relevant senior BBC officials.”
Still, if you need to pay a TV Licence, you should – and it doesn’t matter how good the detection techniques are (or aren’t) – as it’s the law.
What Happens If I Don’t Pay The TV Licence Fee?
Failure to pay the TV licence fee is a criminal offence.
If BBC inspection officers suspect you’re evading the fee (when you should be paying it), you could end up paying a fine of up to £1,000 or, in rare cases, even go to jail (if you end up in court – and then not pay the fee and the fines).
While there’s often talk about decriminalising TV Licence fee evasion – that hasn’t happened yet, and tens of thousands of people are prosecuted every year.
What If I’m Having Trouble Paying The TV Licence Fee?
In 2023, the BBC announced a 10-point action plan aimed at supporting those struggling to pay the licence fee.
The BBC’s action plan includes measures like extended payment plans, partnerships with debt advice charities, and improved communication to reduce the prosecution risk.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I watch iPlayer abroad?
Theoretically speaking, your licence covers you abroad as well. In practice, iPlayer can only be used for streaming while inside the UK.
You can, however, use iPlayer to download BBC programmes to your smartphone or computer, and you’re then able to watch them anywhere – within 30 days.
What if I move in with someone who already has a TV licence?
If you’re moving in with either your spouse, partner or family member, or any type of joint tenancy or joint mortgage holder, then one licence is enough for the both of you.
If you already had a TV licence in your previous address, you can cancel it – and ask for a refund over your remaining months.
I’m a student – do I still need a TV licence?
In general, yes, but it’s an odd one: According to the TV Licensing website, if your parents already have a TV licence, you don’t have to pay, as long as you –
“Only ever use devices that are powered solely by their own internal batteries, and aren’t plugged into an aerial or the mains.”
That means you can watch iPlayer or live TV on your smartphone or tablet, as long as it’s not connected to the socket while you’re watching. If, however, you watch or record on a telly, or on a plugged-in desktop computer – you will need your own licence.
Read more information about students on the TV Licensing website.
I watch live TV from other countries. Do I also need a TV licence for that?
Sorry, but you do. Even if you’re watching live TV from a different continent, via the internet or a satellite, the law refers to ANY “live” TV – it doesn’t matter where the feed is coming from. So as strange as that sounds, you would need a licence even if you watch or record live foreign TV.
Does my licence cover watching TV outside of the house?
Yes, you can watch iPlayer or live TV on your smartphone or tablet, anywhere, as long as the device is not connected to the mains or an aerial.
That means you can watch on the tube, and you can take your laptop with you to that holiday cabin and watch – as long as you don’t PLUG IT IN while watching.
I bought live Pay Per View content, do I need a licence for that?
In some cases – yes. If you buy/rent a movie off a watch-on-demand VOD service (like the Amazon Prime Video store), then no. But if you’re buying the right to watch a movie or a sporting event as it’s being broadcast LIVE, then in effect you’re watching live TV, even though you’ve paid for it separately. So you would need a TV licence as well.
In addition, if you buy BBC programmes on a VOD service like Amazon Prime Video – you don’t need a TV licence for that.
I’m moving and my address will change. Do I need to notify anyone?
Your TV licence can move with you, but you have to update your details on the TV Licensing website.
Do I need a TV Licence to watch BBC programmes on BritBox?
No. BritBox (which is now a part of ITVX Premium) is a subscription-based video-on-demand service from ITV, that has programmes from the BBC archives (among other content).
So although some of these are BBC programmes, they don’t have the same status as programmes on iPlayer, as BritBox (via ITVX) is a subscription service – so it would be like watching BBC programmes on a DVD, for example. Therefore, you don’t need a TV licence for BritBox.
Do I Need A TV Licence For Sky Glass / Sky Stream?
Yes, in many use cases, you will need a TV Licence for Sky Glass and Sky Stream – even if you’re recording to “the cloud”.
These devices feature a ‘Playlist’ function where you can add live programmes for later viewing. Whether this content is later streamed as a catch-up version or a cloud recording of the live show, TV Licensing has clarified that a TV Licence is necessary for both instances.
To understand more about the specific instances and nuances, you can refer to our detailed Sky Glass/Stream TV Licence guide.