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Sunday 2 September 2012

Using a Digital TV for Radio Only: No Licence Needed

Regular readers may remember our previous vexation on the issue of whether a digital TV (or digital box) can be used to listen to digital radio without a TV licence.

I am revisiting this question now because I have spent this morning reviewing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) responses from the BBC. The BBC, as you may already be aware, is the statutory Licensing Authority, which is wholly responsible for administering, enforcing and collecting the licence fee. The terms "digital TV" and "digital box" are used interchangeably in the remainder of this article, as they are indistinguishable in terms of TV licence law.

On first appearances you might think "radio does not need a TV licence", but it is potentially more complicated than that because a digital TV is installed in exactly the same manner whether it is used to watch TV programmes (which requires a TV licence) or listen to digital radio services (which does not require a TV licence). The auto tune facility on this equipment picks up every available TV channel and radio station. The issue is whether TV Licensing would believe a licence-free person claiming "I only use my digital TV to listen to digital radio" even though licensable TV programmes are only the push of a button away?

The above table, produced by the BBC in response to this FOIA request, summarises the circumstances in which a TV licence is needed to use a digital TV. The table comes from a TV Licensing staff training manual and the third row is of particular interest because it appears to confirm that a digital box, of whatever variety, can be used to listen to digital radio only through a TV without a licence.

The explanatory note accompanying the third row states: "If the customer does not require a TV licence because they only use their digital box to listen to the radio through a TV or an external sound receiver, read the customer the No TV Formal Statement and set a No Licence Needed Claim".

TV Licensing do not volunteer this information, because it is not in their interests to do so. Why is that? I hear you ask. Well, the fact that the BBC has confirmed, in writing, that a digital TV can be used to listen to digital radio without a TV licence, is an own goal. 

It means that anyone hauled before a court charged with TV licence evasion could, quite legitimately, offer the fact that their digital TV was installed to listen to digital radio in defence (see our article about "The Rudd Defence" for related information). The fact that the visiting officer had flicked through the channels and found a picture was irrelevant, because the occupier only ever used the TV for listening to radio and had no way of tuning it eliminate TV programmes.

I think that is quite a compelling argument, which would certainly make any court think twice before passing judgment.


M.Shakey said...

The moral is make SURE you de-tune all TV stations. This is what I did before my, (now famous) 'visit', blogged here.
If you remember my TV'set' WAS tuned to RADIO as was pointed out to the BBC/TVL™ 'OFFICER'.Remember also that I got a 'NO CASE TO ANSWER' verdict.

198kHz said...

Just for clarification - we're talking here about Freeview radio channels, not DAB. The list is different - no Classic FM for example, but the bit-rate is better.

Admin said...

Thank you for that clarification.

To be honest, I didn't realise the distinction!

Anonymous said...

Called TV licensing today - the (very nice) lady I spoke to confirmed (after speaking with a manager) that a license is not required for using a freeview TV only for the radio channels.

Admin said...

Yep. That's what we said.

Paul Brighton said...

Nice and informative post. thanks!!

Anonymous said...

The question I want answering is can you listen to the tv, I used to be an engineer so I can soon disable the crt on the set.
I would not be watching live tv

Admin said...

And the answer to that would be yes.

A licence is only needed for a property if equipment is used to receive TV programme services there. For it to be a TV programme service then pictures have to be received. If you disable the means of receiving a picture, then by definition no TV licence is required.

A TV licence is not needed to receive TV audio only.

Elaine said...

How can I delete the tv channels? I have tried to find a way but, being non-technically minded, I can't seem to find a way.

Thank you. Elaine.

Terminator said...

I only use the TV now for local football on the radio or for the games console. I have a DAB radio in the bedroom but wouldn't go sit in there no matter what, if they don't believe me then it's their tough luck as the aerial needs to be conected to receive the radio stations. But why should people pay £147 just because they COULD possibly receive a TV channel when they use the TV for nothing more than radio and games.

Maybe they want to claim I watch BBC iPlayer on the smart TV just because it canot be removed from the preinstalled apps?