Legal framework

Why do I need a TV Licence?

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 or live on an online TV service, and to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer. This could be on any device, including TVs, desktop computers, laptops, mobile phones, tablets, games consoles, digital boxes, DVD, Blu-ray and VHS recorders. This applies regardless of which television channels a person receives or how those channels are received. 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 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) or download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer without a valid TV Licence.

Section 363 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to install or use a television receiver to watch or record any television programmes as they’re being shown on television without a TV Licence.

Section 365 of that Act requires that a person to whom a TV Licence is issued must pay a fee to the BBC. The nature and amount of this fee is set out in the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004 (as amended).

Since 1991, the BBC, in its role as the relevant licensing authority, has been responsible for collecting and enforcing the TV Licence fee. The BBC contracts companies to do this work under the BBC trade mark ‘TV Licensing’. The BBC (and contractors acting on its behalf) must comply with the law in collecting and enforcing the licence fee. The BBC Charter further requires that these arrangements be appropriate, proportionate and efficient.

Legislation on television licensing is available from legislation.gov.uk


Where does TV Licensing law apply?

The law that requires a TV Licence for using or installing television receiving equipment to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on TV, or to download or watch BBC programmes, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer applies in the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), the Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

Is the requirement to pay a fee for a TV Licence in breach of EU regulations?

No. The Communications Act 2003 states that a TV Licence is needed to install or use a television receiver. EU regulations have no bearing upon this. The UK is not alone in operating a broadcasting licence fee system: other European countries with comparable systems include Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Switzerland.

Is a TV Licence required to own a television set?

You don’t need a TV Licence to own or possess a television set. However, if you use it to watch or record programmes as they are being shown on TV or live on an online TV service, or to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer, then you need a TV Licence in order to do so.

Why should I pay for a TV Licence when I already pay to subscribe to a satellite (or cable) TV service?

The requirement to hold a TV Licence and to pay a fee for it is mandated by law under the Communications Act 2003 and the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004 (as amended). You need to be covered by a TV Licence no matter what device you use to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on TV or live on an online TV service, or to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer. This includes TVs, desktop computers, laptops, mobile phones, tablets, games consoles, digital boxes, DVD, Blu-ray and VHS recorders. Even if you access BBC iPlayer through another provider, such as Sky, Virgin, Freeview or BT, you must have a licence.

The BBC, through TV Licensing, is discharging the statutory duties imposed on it by the above law to issue TV Licences and collect the licence fee.

The legal requirements for a TV Licence and fee are not matters over which the BBC (and TV Licensing) has control. Any comments you have on the legal framework for television licensing needs to be addressed to the responsible government department, which is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport at 100 Parliament Street, London SW1A 2BQ.

Do I need a TV Licence if I don’t watch BBC programmes?

A TV Licence is a legal permission to install or use television equipment to receive (i.e. watch or record) TV programmes, as they are being shown on TV or live on an online TV service, and to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer. This applies regardless of which channel you're watching, which device you are using (TV, desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, tablet or any other), and how you receive them (terrestrial, satellite, cable, via the internet or in any other way).

The licence fee is not a subscription to watch BBC programmes but mandated by law. Under the Communications Act 2003, the BBC in its role as the licensing authority has a duty to issue TV Licences and collect the licence fee.

Is it illegal to watch or record TV on a laptop, computer, mobile phone or any other device without a TV Licence?

If you use a laptop (or any other device) to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on TV or live on an online TV service, or to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer, then, by law, you need to be covered by a TV Licence.

Do you need a TV Licence to watch shows on BBC iPlayer?

As of 1st September 2016, a change in the law means you need to be covered by a TV Licence to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer. This applies to all devices, including a smart TV, desktop computer or laptop, mobile phone, tablet, digital box or games console. Even if you access BBC iPlayer through another provider, such as Sky, Virgin, Freeview or BT, you must have a licence.

Here’s further information about the change in the law.

Are +1 channels such as Channel 5+1, ITV+1, E4+1 considered live TV broadcasts, thus requiring a TV Licence to view or do these channels count as on demand services?

A +1 channel is a “live TV broadcast” in its own right. The term “live TV broadcast” refers to watching any television programme service as it is being shown on TV. A +1 channel is a television programme service and anyone watching or recording a television programme as it is being shown on TV requires a TV Licence. This means that you need a TV Licence regardless of which television channels you receive and how you receive them (terrestrial, satellite, cable and via the internet).

Is a TV Licence required for listening to digital radio broadcasts?

You do not need a TV Licence if you only use this equipment to listen to digital radio broadcasts (including on BBC iPlayer Radio).

A TV Licence is required to watch or record TV programmes as they are being shown on TV or live on an online TV service, or to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer. This applies regardless of the channel and device being used, and how it is received (terrestrial, satellite, cable, via the internet or in any other way).

Is the issue of a TV Licence covered by consumer law?

The issuing of a TV Licence does not constitute a sale of goods or services and is not covered by consumer law.

In issuing a TV Licence, the BBC as the relevant licensing authority, is discharging a statutory function and the licence holder’s rights and obligations are governed by statute. The relationship between the BBC and the licence holder is subject to public law remedies; it is not a contractual relationship giving rise to private law rights and obligations.