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6 July 2021

TV licence explained

If you’ve ever asked the question 'do I need a TV licence?', the answer might be more complex than you think. We explain when you need one and the best way to buy
Martin Pratt
Family paying TV license online

If you watch or record 'live' TV on any channel – either through your TV or through a website or app – then you need a TV licence.

This applies whether you receive Freesat, Freeview or a pay-TV service in your home.

Since 2016, you also need a TV licence to watch or download on-demand or catch-up programmes on BBC iPlayer.

You don’t need to buy a TV licence if you purely watch other catch-up or on-demand services, or only use your TV to watch DVDs, Blu-rays or video cassettes.

If you’re sure that you don’t need a TV licence, make sure you inform TV Licensing via the online declaration form or call 0300 790 6071.


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Do I need a TV licence?

Yes

  • You watch or record TV at the time it's broadcast ('live' TV) through Freeview, Freesat or a pay-TV service such as Sky. This includes all channels, not just BBC channels.
  • You need a licence regardless of whether you rent or own your home.
  • You use BBC iPlayer on any device, including smartphones, laptops and tablets.

No

  • You exclusively use other catch-up services, such as ITV Hub and All 4.
  • You only watch TV-streaming services, such as Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus or Netflix, or YouTube videos.
  • You only use your TV to watch DVDs, Blu-rays or video cassettes.

What counts as 'live' TV?

In this context, live TV doesn’t just mean watching sport or or other programmes that are broadcast in real time; it applies to all content at the time it’s broadcast on a TV channel. It also includes all +1 channels, such as ITV+1 and Channel 4+1.

The 'live' rule also applies to any programmes that are live-streamed on video-on-demand platforms at the same time as they are shown on TV. So, if you’re streaming Coronation Street on ITV Hub while it’s also being shown live on ITV, you need a TV licence.

Do I need a TV licence to watch BBC iPlayer?

Yes. Previously, you only needed a TV licence to watch live programmes on BBC iPlayer – so at the same time as they were showing on broadcast TV. However, as of 1 September 2016, you need one for any on-demand iPlayer viewing. 

This includes:

  • Using BBC iPlayer to catch up on TV that’s been broadcast on BBC One, BBC Two, and other BBC channels
  • Dipping into the BBC archive of its shows
  • Downloading programmes to watch while offline. 

This rule applies to all devices, including smart TVs, laptops and desktop computers, tablets, smartphones, set-top boxes (such as Sky, Virgin Media and YouView) and media-streaming devices (Apple TV or Chromecast, for example).

You don't currently need a TV licence to watch the catch-up or on-demand services of other broadcast channels, such as ITV Hub, All 4 or Demand 5.

You can find out more about the rules that apply to watching BBC iPlayer on the TV licensing website

Do I need a TV licence to watch Netflix, Amazon Prime or Disney Plus?

No. With the exception of BBC iPlayer content, you only need a licence for watching or recording content as it is broadcast on TV. 

If you’re streaming on-demand movies or TV shows on Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Netflix or YouTube (or any other online video service) you don't currently need a licence. 


Tempted to expand your TV horizons with a streaming service, but torn between Netflix and Disney Plus? Read our guide on what the main TV streaming services have to offer. 


Tv licence envelope

How much does the TV licence cost?

The annual licence fee is currently £159 for a colour TV or £53.50 for a black and white TV. You only need one licence per household, no matter how many TVs or other devices you watch TV on.

The fee is reviewed every year, with any price changes taking place on 1 April.

If you can’t pay for your annual TV licence in one lump sum, there are various options available to spread the cost.

  • Direct debit You can make smaller payments by direct debit, including monthly or quarterly. Bear in mind, though, that if you go for a quarterly direct debit, you will be charged £1.25 per quarter, adding an extra £5 to your annual bill.  
  • Credit card Unlike some other bill services, you won’t be charged for paying your TV licence via credit card. 
  • Cash You can make weekly, fortnightly or monthly payments against your TV licence at shops and newsagents that have PayPoint outlets. This can help you spread the cost, though it's worth keeping a record of the payments you have made so you can keep track.

Do I need a separate TV licence to watch live TV on devices outside of my home?

If you want to stream live programmes (at the same time as they're shown on TV), then the licence you buy for your property also covers you for watching TV outside of your home on 'any device powered solely by its own internal batteries'. This includes live streaming on smartphones, tablets and laptops. 

You can also record live programmes on these devices and watch them outside of your home.

TV licence: specials cases and exemptions

If you fall under one of the following categories, you may qualify for a free or discounted TV licence. 

Blind or visually impaired people You may be eligible for a 50% reduction in your TV licence fee if you’re certified as blind (severely sight impaired).

Care home residents Residents may qualify for a discounted TV licence fee of £7.50. Residents, staff and residents’ families all need a separate licence for their own living area.

Over 75 AND in receipt of pension credit Until July 2020, all over-75s were eligible for a free TV licence. This is no longer the case. However, you can still get a free TV licence if you, as the licence holder, are 75 years or older and you, or your partner living at the same address, receive Pension Credit. To find out more about the changes to the rules and apply for a free licence, visit the TV licensing website

Students and tenants

Students You still need a TV licence if you’re a student, as it’s unlikely that the licence held by your hall of residence, or your parents, will cover you.

Tenants and lodgers If you live in self-contained accommodation, such as a flat, then you need your own TV licence. If you rent a room as a lodger, the TV licence for the whole house should cover you, unless you have exclusive access to a toilet or bathroom – in that case you could be classified as living in separate accommodation requiring its own licence.

Do I need a new TV licence if I change address? 

When you move house you can take your TV licence with you. Just fill out the change of address form, or call 0300 790 6071. 

If you move in with someone who already has a licence, you can cancel your own licence and potentially get a partial refund.

How to get a refund on your TV licence

If you want to cancel your TV licence and you've paid in full for a year then you could be entitled to a refund. You need to have at least one month left on your licence and have a good reason for cancelling. These include:

  • You no longer watch or record live TV, or download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer
  • You're moving to an address that is already covered by a TV licence
  • You're moving into a care home
  • You're moving abroad
  • The licence holder has died
  • You have two licences for the same address.

If you meet the criteria then you can complete a short form on the BBC's website to request your partial refund.

What happens if I don’t pay?

Whether you agree with the TV licence or not, if you’re found to be watching or recording live TV without a valid licence, you’re guilty of a criminal offence that is punishable by a fine of up to £1,000 plus court costs. 

TV Licensing claims that it uses a number of methods to detect if you’re covered, including enforcement officers that carry out checks on properties, detector vans and a national database.

If you feel you've been wrongly fined or have any complaints, then you can seek a resolution through BBC. Any escalations would then be passed on to the Ombudsman Services.  

What does the TV licence pay for?

According to the TV licensing website, 91% of UK adults use BBC services. That doesn't mean nine out of 10 adults in the UK turn on BBC One every week – the licence fee pays for a range of services, including:

  • Nine TV channels 
  • More than 50 national and local radio stations
  • BBC website
  • BBC iPlayer
  • BBC Sounds radio and podcasts
  • BBC world service 
  • Numerous other apps and services, such as CBeebies, Sport, BBC Three and Food