Welcome to our quick and easy reference guide to TV Licensing.
We will keep the information on this page up to date.
If you'd like more information about any of the points mentioned below, then we suggest you search through the TV Licensing Blog archive. Please bear in mind that the information in old archived posts could be out of date and no longer accurate.
If you'd like a handy guide you can read offline, then we suggest you download the latest edition of our free ebook, TV Licensing Laid Bare.
1. What is TV Licensing?
TV Licensing is the trading name used by the companies contracted by the BBC to administer and enforce the TV licence. Capita Business Services Ltd. holds the TV Licensing operations contract. It is by far the largest TV Licensing contractor and has a very broad remit.
The BBC, as statutory Television Licensing Authority, retains full overall responsibility for all matters relating to TV Licensing. The BBC is fully aware of the intimidating tactics employed by TV Licensing. The BBC approves the sinister and deceitful tone of every TV Licensing letter. By its own admission, the BBC "does not agree that TV Licensing letters constitute harassment".
2. When is a TV licence needed?
A TV licence is attached to a property rather than an individual. A TV licence is only valid for the address it displays. A property requires a TV licence if either of the following circumstances apply there:
- Equipment is installed (e.g. plugged in) or used to receive (e.g. watch or record) any TV programmes, on any TV channel, at the same time as they are being broadcast to other members of the general public.
- Equipment is installed (e.g. plugged in) or used to receive (e.g. watch or download) any on-demand programmes provided by the BBC.
3. When is a TV licence not needed?
A TV licence is not needed for those properties that fall outside the circumstances described above. In particular, a TV licence is not needed to:
- Watch or download any on-demand programmes other than those provided by the BBC. There is no need for a TV licence to watch or download on-demand programmes on the ITV Hub, All 4, My5 (the on-demand service, not the TV channel), Sky Go, Netflix, Amazon Prime etc.
- Watch or download on-demand content on video sharing sites like YouTube, Dailymotion, Vimeo etc.
- Use a TV set to watch pre-recorded DVDs.
- Use a TV set as a monitor for video games, CCTV etc.
- Use a TV set to view electronic files (e.g. watch a photo slideshow).
- Listen to or download radio programmes, including those provided by the BBC. Technically speaking, no licence is needed to use a TV set to listen to radio programmes (e.g. listening to a radio station using Freeview). Anyone choosing to do so is advised to read our earlier post on the subject.
It should also be noted that the TV licence of a person's main home will cover them to receive TV programmes anywhere else on an unplugged device, powered by its own internal battery and without an external aerial. This rule is particularly useful for students, who would normally be covered by the TV licence of their non-term time address if they wanted to receive TV programmes on a wireless-enabled laptop, tablet or mobile phone.
4. Even though I never watch TV programmes (or BBC iPlayer on-demand programmes) I still have a TV set/PC/laptop/tablet/mobile phone, so I could watch them if I wanted to. Surely I must need a TV licence?
No, you don't. Mere ownership of any sort of equipment does not automatically need a TV licence. It is the actual act of receiving TV programmes (or BBC iPlayer on-demand programmes) that requires a TV licence.
TV Licensing can only secure a conviction if it can prove that equipment is being (or has been) used to receive TV programmes (or BBC iPlayer on-demand programmes) in an unlicensed property. That is a fact.
5. How much is a TV licence?
The current price of a colour TV licence is £159.00 for up to 12 months of validity. A black & white (monochrome) TV licence costs £53.50, although the number of those licences is declining rapidly. A TV licence is valid from the first day of the month in which it is bought, which means anyone making the mistake of paying for a TV licence at the end of the month might end up getting closer to 11 months of validity instead of the 12 months they have paid for. This is referred to as short-dating.
6. What is the TV licence for?
The TV licence fee funds the creative output of the BBC. The BBC collects around £3.8 billion in TV licence fees every year.
7. I need a TV licence. What should I do?
You should buy one. The law is the law, as ridiculous, ill-conceived and unenforceable as it might be.
8. I do not need a TV licence. What should I do?
If you have no legal need for a TV licence, then do not buy one. People in this situation, who we refer to as legally-licence-free, are under no obligation at all to TV Licensing. They do not need to respond to TV Licensing enquiries and we strongly discourage them from doing so.
TV Licensing has no business with anyone who is legally-licence-free. Legally-licence-free people do not need to prove anything to TV Licensing, despite its pretence to the contrary.
If you already have a TV licence - perhaps you've been duped or coerced into buying one by TV Licensing - please see our article about cancelling your TV licence. The money is far more useful in your pocket than it is funding the corruption and profligacy of the BBC.
9. What will happen if my property doesn't have a valid TV licence?
TV Licensing will want to know why. TV Licensing is a very suspicious organisation, which puts properties into two groups - those that have a valid TV licence and those that should have a valid TV licence but don't. Getting TV Licensing to accept the ever-expanding third group of properties - those that do not legally need a TV licence - is very challenging indeed.
TV Licensing will write to those properties without a TV licence and try to browbeat the occupier into buying one. These reminder letters, which are dubbed threatograms due to their menacing tone, will arrive on a regular basis until either a TV licence is bought, or the occupier caves into TV Licensing's demands for information.
The occupiers of legally-licence-free properties are discouraged from responding to TV Licensing's enquiries. They should not be coerced into paying for a licence they don't legally need, or providing TV Licensing with information to which it is not legally entitled. Whenever a TV Licensing threatogram arrives, simply place it straight in the bin unopened.
10. What happens if I ignore TV Licensing's letters?
Threatograms will continue to arrive on a monthly basis. The tone of these letters will become increasingly forceful and urgent as the months tick by. Eventually a TV Licensing goon may visit your property and seek to establish if a TV licence is needed. TV Licensing goons do not visit every unlicensed property. Because of the way they work, they are far more likely to visit unlicensed properties in an urban area. There are only about 10 different varieties of TV Licensing threatograms and they are delivered in a specific order. If the occupier continues to ignore the threatograms, they will eventually notice that the cycle reverts back to the beginning.
11. What happens if I inform TV Licensing that my property doesn't need a TV licence?
It is pointless telling TV Licensing that your property doesn't need a TV licence, as it won't believe you. TV Licensing will acknowledge your claim that no TV licence is needed, but will say that it might send a goon around to check anyway. The threatograms will temporarily stop, but experience tells us that TV Licensing will be hassling you again within the space of a year.
A legally-licence-free person is under no obligation at all to TV Licensing. They should not feel coerced into doing TV Licensing's work for it. Do not submit to TV Licensing's sordid, legally baseless suspicions.
12. What should I do if a TV Licensing goon visits my property?
TV Licensing goons do not have the automatic right of access to any property. Our advice to the legally-licence-free is to immediately identify any unexpected callers to their property and close the door on those from TV Licensing. Remember, the legally-licence-free are under no obligation at all to TV Licensing.
Do not make the mistake of engaging with a TV Licensing goon (on unidentified stranger) on the doorstep. TV Licensing goons earn commission by selling TV licences and nabbing evaders, which can skew their interpretation of the truth.
Dishonest TV Licensing goons are prone to twisting innocent comments like "Yes, I have a TV set that I only use for DVDs" into incriminating comments like "The occupier admitted watching TV". If a TV Licensing goon calls, by far the safest option is to say nothing and close the door.
If you have a camera or smartphone we recommend filming any TV Licensing goon that visits your property. This creates an accurate record of the encounter in case the goon runs away and fabricates a different story. Remember that TV Licensing goons should never be trusted.
13. How does TV Licensing catch people evading the TV licence?
With great difficulty is the honest answer, but that's not what the BBC and TV Licensing want people to believe.
TV Licensing has a big database of addresses provided by Royal Mail. There is nothing special about the database, despite TV Licensing pretending it has magical powers. Anyone could purchase the same information if they were minded to. Any address that doesn't have a valid TV licence is flagged up for special attention. TV Licensing sends threatograms to those unlicensed addresses in the hope of intimidating the occupiers into buying a TV licence. If that fails TV Licensing might send a goon around in the hope of achieving the same outcome. TV Licensing makes the tone of its correspondence as menacing as possible because scaring unlicensed people is the cheapest and most effective way of generating TV licence sales.
In theory TV Licensing can only prosecute people for TV licence evasion when it has clear evidence that they have been receiving TV programmes (or BBC on-demand programmes) without a valid TV licence. Assuming TV Licensing plays by the rules, it can only get that evidence if the occupier admits unlicensed reception or is caught in the act. If people take our advice of totally ignoring TV Licensing, neither of those situations is likely to arise.
Suppose the occupier of an unlicensed property made the mistake of engaging with a TV Licensing goon, then that goon might attempt to gather evidence against them by conducting an interview under caution. The goon will read a series of printed questions from a TVL178 Record of Interview form and complete the occupier's response, verbatim if possible, on the same document. In theory the information recorded on a TVL178 should be of the highest standard, but in practice it seldom is. In our experience virtually every TVL178 has something wrong with it, but sadly the average Joe accused by TV Licensing doesn't realise it. A TV Licensing goon should only complete the TVL178 once the occupier of an unlicensed property has been correctly cautioned, but we know that doesn't always happen. Forms completed to the required evidential standard (which is often not that high) are referred to as "Code 8 prosecution statements" by TV Licensing. These statements are TV Licensing's primary source of evidence in court. If the occupier has signed the form, TV Licensing will refer to it as a signed confession statement.
TV Licensing likes to "big up" the idea of detector vans and search warrants, but in reality these are only used in exceptional circumstances. Information obtained by the TV Licensing Blog shows that there were only 167 warrants were granted for the whole UK (and none of those in Scotland) in the financial year 2014/15. Over the same time frame there were only 116 requests to use detection.
14. What is the likely penalty for a person convicted of TV licence evasion?
For offences committed in England and Wales, the statutory maximum penalty for TV licence evasion is a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale (currently £1,000).
TV Licensing regularly reminds people of the £1,000 maximum for the purposes of deterrence. In theory the Magistrates' Court could impose a fine up to this value. In practice the Magistrates' Courts virtually always sentence in accordance with the Sentencing Council's Magistrates' Court Sentencing Guidelines.
Fines imposed under the guidelines are pitched to the defendant's income and ability to pay, which means those in excess of £500 are virtually unheard of. Of course it is not in TV Licensing's interests to publicise that fact, so it doesn't. In the case of a minor TV licence transgression, the court might decide to impose a Conditional Discharge instead of a fine.
Anyone convicted will be ordered to pay the Surcharge. This has a value of 40% of the fine, rounded to the nearest pound. If a Conditional Discharge is imposed instead of a fine the Surcharge would be £26.
TV Licensing will also ask the court to order the defendant to pay a contribution towards prosecution costs. This is likely to be around £160 in the most straightforward of cases where the defendant pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity. TV Licensing is likely to ask for greater prosecution costs if the defendant has been found guilty at trial. The court does not need to order the payment of prosecution costs in the case of a defendant in genuine financial hardship.
15. How can I complain about TV Licensing?
Please see the information in our earlier article. TV Licensing, just like its BBC puppet masters, will never accept that it is in the wrong. It simply doesn't do self-criticism or reflection. If you follow the official complaints route, you can expect to be pissed around for months and ultimately end up getting nowhere. A far better option is to write a letter of complaint to your MP, local newspaper or us!
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