The terms and conditions of a TV Licence are available on this website.
If you watch or record programmes as they are being shown on TV then by law you need a TV Licence. A TV Licence is a legal permission to install or use television receiving equipment (e.g. TVs, computers, mobile phones, games consoles, digital boxes and DVD/VHS recorders) to watch or record television programmes, as they are being shown.
The requirement to hold a TV Licence and to pay a fee for it is mandated by law under the Communications Act 2003 and Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004 (as amended). It is an offence to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on any channel and on any broadcast platform (terrestrial, satellite, cable and the internet) without a valid TV Licence.
A TV Licence is not required to watch television programmes after they are shown on TV. For example, the BBC iPlayer allows users to watch programmes “live” as they are being shown on TV (i.e. BBC1, BBC2, BBC News etc.) and on-demand. If you are watching live content (e.g. a programme as it is being shown on BBC1 or BBC News) you will need a TV Licence. If you are using the BBC iPlayer to watch programmes on-demand i.e. after they have been shown, you do not need a TV Licence. Accordingly, depending on the nature of the content being viewed on the BBC iPlayer, a TV Licence may be required.
Legislation on television licensing is available from the Office of Public Sector Information website (opens in new window). TV Licensing and the law on our website sets out the most relevant legislative provisions.
A TV Licence is a legal permission to install or use television receiving equipment to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on TV. The licence fee is not a payment for BBC services (or any other television service), although licence fee revenue is used to fund the BBC.
The requirement to hold a TV Licence and to pay a fee for it is mandated by law under the Communications Act 2003 (opens in new window) (“the Act”) and the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004 (opens in new window) (as amended) (“the Regulations”). Under the Act, the BBC as the responsible public authority has the power to determine the terms and conditions of a TV Licence including the duration of a TV Licence. As the TV Licence fee is an annual sum, successive licensing authorities have followed the principle that a Licence should run for 12 months.
An initial Licence (i.e. the first TV Licence a person is issued with) may cover a period of slightly less than 12 months. A person needs a TV Licence from the day they first install or use television receiving equipment - which can be on any day of the month - while the Licence expiry date is fixed i.e. Licences are set to expire on one of 12 end-of-month dates.
This means that an initial TV Licence will expire on the anniversary of the last day of the month preceding the month of issue (e.g. a TV Licence issued on 15 August will expire on 31 July the following year). Any renewal of that Licence is given the same expiry date for the following year (i.e. a full 12 months).
This system is more cost-effective than one whereby a Licence can expire on any day of the year. Given the number of TV Licences in issue (more than 25 million), operating a system with 365 expiry dates would be costly both in terms of administration and enforcement – costs which would be borne by the licence fee payer.
A TV Licence is issued in the name of the person paying the fee and covers the use of television receiving equipment at the address/premises specified on the Licence.
The Terms and Conditions of a TV Licence are printed on the Licence. A copy of the Terms and Conditions is available here, and state that: “The licence allows installation and use of TV equipment at the licensed premises by anyone.” So while it is the address/premises that is licensed for using television receiving equipment, the Licence is issued in the name of the person on the Licence.
An “address” is any place which constitutes a “licensable place” for the purposes of the Communications Act 2003 (opens in new window) and the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004 (opens in new window) (as amended). An address or place with only one postal delivery point may be registered as being two or more licensable premises e.g. a house split into several flats, or a flat which includes a lodger.
A TV Licence is required to watch or record TV programmes as they are being shown on TV, regardless of the channel and device being used (e.g. TV, computer, laptop, mobile phone, game console, digital box or DVD/VHS recorder), and how it is receive (terrestrial, satellite, cable, via the internet or any other way). You do not need a TV Licence if you only use this equipment to listen to digital radio broadcasts.
When purchasing a TV Licence at www.tvlicensing.co.uk you are required to provide a valid email address. We may then email you other messages regarding your TV Licence including reminders that your licence is about to expire. If you would prefer to receive these messages by post rather than email you can change this via one of the methods set out below under “What if I want to change to way I’m receiving my TV Licence and/or other emailed messages from TV Licensing?”
Providing us with an email address means we can more readily contact you via email with important messages about your account such as reminders that your licence is about to expire.
On receipt of payment of the applicable licence fee (or in the case of customers who pay in instalments, the applicable issue fee), your TV Licence will be sent to your nominated email address, which must be valid for you to receive the emails we send you.
TV Licensing will make every effort to ensure you receive your licence and reminder after you choose to receive them electronically. We cannot guarantee that the electronic delivery of your TV Licence, instalment payment plan (if applicable) and your first reminder will be uninterrupted or error free, or that the server that makes them available are virus free. You can log into your TV Licence online at any time to confirm you are correctly licensed and to print a paper copy of your licence and payment plan (if applicable) at any time.
It is your responsibility to inform TV Licensing of any changes to your email address. You can change your email address online or by contacting TV Licensing by phone or email.
If you do not inform TV Licensing of any changes and consequently do not receive an email reminder that your next TV Licence is due, you will remain fully responsible and liable to pay the licence fee and to ensure that you are properly licensed and may still be prosecuted if you are found to be using a TV receiver to receive television programmes without a TV Licence.
There are a number of ways you make changes to your account:
You can unsubscribe from email contact at any point. However, if you do so less than a month before your current TV Licence expires the changes may not come into effect in time to receive a renewal reminder by post so you may still receive your reminder by email. This is because it takes up to four weeks to change your preferences from email to postal communications.
It is not a requirement to retain a physical copy of your licence. However, TV Licensing recommends that you access your licence online at www.tvlicensing.co.uk and print off a copy for your records.
Under no circumstances will TV Licensing be liable for any of the following losses or damage (whether such losses were foreseen, foreseeable, known or otherwise):
TV Licensing has a statutory duty to ensure that every address where television receiving equipment is installed or used to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on TV is properly licensed. Therefore TV Licensing writes to all addresses where there is no record of a Licence or the current licensing requirements (if any) are unknown.
Different letters are sent depending on the different circumstances and needs of addresses. The tone of all the letters are carefully considered before being sent, and are intended to cover a range of possibilities. For example, some people without a Licence may have simply forgotten to buy it; others don’t require a Licence, or may require a Licence but deliberately evade paying for it. The tone of the letters progressively becomes stronger if no response is received from an address, to encourage a reply.
Proximity London Ltd is contracted by the BBC to provide TV Licensing marketing and printing services, and sends the majority of TV Licensing letters. In 2009, Proximity sent approximately 56 million items of mail for TV Licensing. Some of the circumstances in which TV Licensing letters are sent include:
The Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board estimates that approximately 97% of households in the UK own televisions. Therefore, as licence fee evasion takes place within the home, it is reasonable for TV Licensing to send letters asking if a TV Licence is required. If TV Licensing is informed that a Licence is not needed, then mailings will stop for two years for a residential address and three years for a business address. It is unfortunately not possible for TV Licensing to stop contacting an address on a permanent basis as situations change, for example people can move. A person can tell TV Licensing they do not have a television by using this online form.
An enquiry officer may call at the address to verify the situation. TV Licensing visit a sample of homes to confirm there is in fact no television being used as, when we make contact on these visits, a fifth of people visited are found to require a TV Licence.
For more information please see the BBC TV Licensing No Licence Needed policy.
The BBC Trust’s March 2009 report of its review of TV Licensing states: “When dealing with [those who choose not to notify TV Licensing that they do not require a TV Licence] it is not possible for TV Licensing to distinguish between them and deliberate evaders. They will therefore be subject to the same mailings until such time as TV Licensing is notified otherwise.”
Every licensed address is sent a reminder letter shortly before and after the Licence expiry date, with a series of letters following if there is no response. From that point the address is treated as ‘unlicensed’ and further contact framed to elicit a response. It is often only when TV Licensing draws people’s attention to the consequences of unlicensed use of television that they will buy the TV Licence they need. The effectiveness of the letters is under constant review to ensure that TV Licensing is acting in the best interests of the licence fee payer.
The BBC Trust’s recent report of its review of TV Licensing recommended that the BBC revise the early reminder letters to ensure they are easy to read, polite and non-accusatory. The BBC has since done so.
If no response is received from an address, the tone of the letters progressively becomes stronger to encourage a reply. Sometimes a stronger message is required for people to comply with their legal obligation. The address will also be listed for a visit from an enquiry officer to enquire about the licensing requirements. TV Licensing enquiry officers made approximately 3.8 million visits in 2008/09.
TV Licensing does not presume that anyone is committing an offence and the letters have no implication for those who don’t require a TV Licence. However, a robust message needs to be communicated to persons evading the payment of the licence fee. This includes highlighting that the penalty for licence fee evasion upon conviction could be a fine of up to £1000 (or £2000 in Guernsey and £500 in Jersey). The BBC Trust’s report of its review of TV Licensing states its quantitative research showed “a majority of those without a television could accept that it was reasonable for TV Licensing to continue to send standard mailings where the householder had not notified them of their status...the Trust supports the continuation of TV Licensing’s working assumption that households who do not notify TV Licensing of their status should continue to receive standard mailings”.
All letters sent are approved by the BBC TV Licensing Management Team.
Authorisation to visit means that an enquiry officer will be assigned to visit homes where no response has been received to mailings. Capita Business Services Ltd is contracted to undertake these visits.
TV Licensing’s costs of collection, including for communications and postage over the last three years is available at the bottom of this page.
TV Licensing minimises postage costs by sending letters in bulk using postage rates purchased competitively wherever possible. The exact cost of sending a letter depends on when and how the letter is sent.
It is not possible to calculate the total cost of sending letters as it includes costs for IT and staff which are not accounted for separately. IT costs are included in the general usage of the equipment, and the salaries of the staff involved are similarly not calculated on the basis of the time spent undertaking tasks relating to these letters. Furthermore, we do not hold information on the staff costs of contractors engaged by the BBC to administer the TV licensing system.
Information on the cost of materials, including stationery is commercially sensitive and was exempt from disclosure under section 43(2) of the FOI Act. We can say that the BBC contracts Proximity London Ltd, who sub-contracts the Orchestra Group Ltd., to generate these letters.
Between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2009 TV Licensing sent approximately 56 million items of mail, which included letters to addresses:
Between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2009 approximately 4,382,129 TV Licences were purchased by persons in premises which received reminder letters. It is not possible to calculate how much licence fee revenue this generated because this figure:
No. Section 11 of the Data Protection Act 1998 provides individuals with the right to prevent direct marketing. This provision does not apply to TV Licensing’s letters because they are not advertising or marketing material. A TV Licence is not payment for a service. It is a legal permission to install or use television equipment (e.g. a TV set, computer, mobile phone, games console, digital box or DVD/VHS recorder) to watch or record television programmes as they're being shown on TV. Section 363 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence do so without a valid TV Licence. The BBC is the public authority responsible for television licensing, and administers this through its agents who use the BBC trade mark “TV Licensing”.
The number of letters classed as reminder letters sent between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2009 was approximately 7,752,366. The number of reminder letters sent in previous financial years is shown below:
TV Licensing changes the text of its standard letters for a variety of reasons on a regular basis. For example, changes of substance to the letters have been made to reflect:
TV Licensing sent approximately 56 million items of mail in 2009. Information is not collated in a form that would readily allow us to extract from this figure the number of letters sent to addresses in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. While it might be possible to estimate this figure, this will require the commission of a bespoke report analysing the TV Licensing database. We estimate such work would exceed the appropriate limit set by Regulations made pursuant to section 12 of the FOI Act. The BBC is not obliged to comply with a request if the cost of doing so would exceed this limit, which is £450 (the equivalent to two and a half days work at an hourly rate of £25).
Under the Communications Act 2003 the BBC is the responsible public authority for issuing TV Licences and collecting the licence fee. The BBC’s processing of personal data is necessary to carry out these statutory functions. The Data Protection Act 1998 sets out conditions, at least one of which must be met, when an organisation processes personal data. While a person’s consent is one of these conditions, another is that the processing is necessary for compliance with any legal obligation. TV Licensing processes personal data, on behalf of the BBC, to comply with the BBC’s legal obligation to issue TV Licences and collect the licence fee.
Under the Data Protection Act the BBC is a ‘data controller’ and determines the purposes for, and manner in which personal data is processed. Personal data held by the BBC and its TV Licensing agents for the purpose of administering the television licensing system cannot be used for any other purpose, unless it is expressly required or permitted by law.
The BBC and TV Licensing take the security of the information we are entrusted with very seriously and have a comprehensive set of controls in place to protect it. Our Information Security Strategy comprises policy, procedural, technical and educational controls, and each staff member is regularly reminded of their responsibilities.
Personal information held by TV Licensing will not be disclosed to anyone outside TV Licensing unless we are required or permitted by law to do so. TV Licensing occasionally receives requests of this nature from the police and government agencies. In assessing such requests we take into consideration the Data Protection Act 1998, Human Rights Act 1998 and the law of confidence. Generally, we will only disclose data when it is necessary and in the public interest to do so (e.g. where the data can only be obtained from TV Licensing and disclosure is necessary to prevent or detect crime).
Note also that the BBC is not obliged to comply with requests made under the FOI Act for personal information. Section 40 of the FOI Act provides that an organisation is not obliged to comply with a request if the information requested is personal data and its disclosure would contravene the Data Protection Act 1998. The BBC has previously withheld information under this exemption on a number of occasions.
No, we do not.
Yes. The Data Protection Act 1998 requires that processing of personal data (including disclosure) on behalf of the data controller must be carried out under a written contract which requires that such processing may only be done on the instructions of the data controller. The BBC’s TV Licensing agents are permitted to disclose personal data to their employees and the employees of their sub-contractors, but retain responsibility for their compliance with the Data Protection Act and relevant contractual obligations.
If a person buys a TV Licence for the first time at a Paypoint outlet, the retailer will ask for the person’s name and address, and verify this on a “look-up” system that gives them access to names and addresses only on the TV Licensing database.
If a person renews a TV Licence at a Paypoint outlet, the retailer will simply process it by using the bar code on the renewal letter and will not access any personal data.
If a person makes a payment on the cash payment scheme or saves money using a TV Licensing savings card, the retailer will simply “swipe” the card and will not have access to any personal data.
The TV Licensing address database is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the UK today. The database has existed in its current form since around 1989. Information held on the database is continually updated to ensure it is as accurate as possible at any point in time.
TV Licensing relies on individuals to inform us if their details are not accurate or if their circumstances have changed. TV Licensing also uses external data sources like the Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File, from which updates are usually received daily. Additionally, our enquiry officers’ visit addresses to confirm whether properties are occupied. TV Licensing also refers back to Royal Mail any address (i.e. delivery point) where there is uncertainty (e.g. where two previously separate adjoining properties have been converted into a single property).
TV Licensing makes every effort to ensure that the database is accurate and up-to-date. However, in a database of this size – containing approximately 31 million addresses (based on postal delivery points that continually change as new properties are built, and existing properties are either demolished or undergo change of use) – it is inevitable that some errors will occur. Once identified, these inconsistencies are corrected as quickly as possible.
The TV Licensing database system holds details of recent payments made by direct debit, credit or debit card, cheque or postal order (partial or full); or via any PayPoint outlet. More detailed payment records are held for people paying on cash schemes, as every payment made will be logged.
In TV Licensing’s experience, many licence holders appreciate being contacted by phone in the event there is an issue with their payments. However, no-one is obliged to provide this information.
The TV Licensing database system holds (in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the BBC’s Agreement with the Home Office) only as much information as is required for, or is relevant to, the successful administration of the television licensing system.
Approximately 97% of UK households own a television. It is therefore reasonable for TV Licensing to write to all unlicensed addresses to confirm if a TV Licence is needed. TV Licensing works on the assumption that every UK household requires a Licence, and then ‘discount’ addresses where we are notified that television receiving equipment is not installed or in use.
When a person notifies TV Licensing that they do not require a Licence, this is noted on our database. A stop will be put on further correspondence for two years for a residential address and three years for a business address. An enquiry officer may visit the address to verify that a Licence is not required.
No-one is under any obligation to provide us with personal information. Enforcement measures are taken at addresses if necessary, irrespective of whether there is a name associated with that address or not, although the use of names assists us in keeping the database up to date.
The TV Licensing database system was designed by the Post Office I.T. department. The system is currently maintained by Capita Business Services Ltd, a company contracted by the BBC to administer most of TV Licensing. The BBC owns the intellectual property rights to the system.
The operation of TV Licensing involves a vast amount of data, which is stored and managed through a number of interrelated databases held by different agencies on behalf of TV Licensing. The main TV Licensing database holds details of the approximately 25 million TV Licences in force in the UK.
The TV Licensing database can only be used for the purpose of administering and enforcing the television licensing system unless it is expressly required or permitted by law (e.g. by government agencies to detect or prevent crime). The information is therefore not available for academic research.
See making a complaint, for information on the TV Licensing complaints process, including on how to make a complaint.
Most complaints are handled by the Customer Relations Department at TV Licensing in Bristol who record and investigate complaints before responding.* A person can seek a review of the complaint if they are not satisfied with the way it has been dealt with by contacting the TV Licensing Operations Director at the postal address below in Bristol.
TV Licensing can be contacted via:
*Complaints about the payment card or savings card schemes are investigated by TV Licensing in Preston who can be contacted at the above email address or at the following postal addresses:
TV Licensing payment card scheme
Payment Card Customer Relations
PO Box 181
TV Licensing savings card scheme
TSC Customer Relations
PO Box 1101
The BBC expects TV Licensing to respond to all contact from persons making enquiries or complaints within a reasonable time, whether a person writes, telephones or emails. It is TV Licensing’s aim to respond to complaints within eight working days.
The BBC regularly reviews TV Licensing’s responses to complaints.
There is nothing to stop a person contacting the BBC at any time. However, the BBC will not normally investigate a complaint until TV Licensing’s own escalation process has been completed.
If the BBC receives a complaint which TV Licensing has not had the opportunity to resolve we may ask TV Licensing to contact the person making the complaint directly. In such cases the BBC is informed of any action taken and copied into any correspondence sent to that person.
If a person remains dissatisfied after receiving a reply from TV Licensing, a further appeal can be made to the BBC’s Head of Revenue Management at:
201 Wood Lane
If a person still feels that their complaint has not been fully or adequately addressed, they can write back to the Head of Revenue Management to escalate the issue to a member of the BBC Executive Board to review.
If a person is still not satisfied with the response they may appeal to the BBC Trust. The request must normally be made, in writing, within 20 working days of receiving the response from the member of the Executive Board. The Trust will decide whether the complaint fits the criteria for appeals that they will consider, and may agree to take complaint. Please write to them at:
BBC Trust Unit
18- Great Portland Street
The TV Licence fee is imposed by law (the Communications Act 2003) enacted by Parliament. Parliament also prescribes the licence fee amount in regulations made pursuant to that Act. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is the responsible government agency for broadcasting in the UK. If your query relates to the legal framework for television licensing including the licence fee amount, we suggest you contact DCMS at:
2-4 Cockspur Street
If you have a query about TV Licensing’s use of telephone numbers you may wish to contact OFCOM at:
2a Southwark Bridge Road
Phone 0300 123 3333 or 020 7981 3040
TV Licensing moved from 0844 to 0300 at the beginning of 2010. This means calls to TV Licensing are charged at no more than a standard national rate from all landlines and mobile phones, and in most cases will count towards inclusive minutes in phone contracts from telecom network operators.
This change was in line with recommendations made in the BBC Trust’s review report into how the licence fee is collected. It provides a cheaper way for the public to contact us and is part of our ongoing work to make licence fee payers’ dealings with TV Licensing as easy and cost-effective as possible.
|£m||% of costs||£m||% of costs||£m||% of costs|
|Licence fee revenue||3,493.8m||3,368.3m||3,242.9m|
|Costs as % of revenue||3.4%||3.6%||4.1%|
|Licences in force (exc ARC)||24.872m||24.740m||24.545m|
Per TV Licence:
Cost per licence
|Cost per licence as % of licence fee||3.5%||3.6%||4.1%|
|Depreciation of new systems||£0.04||£0.05||£0.03|
|Admin and contract management||£0.04||£0.06||£0.13|
* Collection costs include call centres, field force, detection and over the counters services(net of recharges re over 75s).
** Communications including reminders and information campaigns.
Further breakdown of the specific aspects of the collection contracts is not readily available as the fee structure for our main contractor Capita is based on licence sales and encompasses all aspects of the service provision across the call centres and the field operations.
The cost per licence reflects the average cost, most cost less, some cost more depending on the level of chasing required.
Fines collected are not given to the BBC or TV Licensing - they are a matter for the courts.