Legal framework

Why do I 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 on TV. 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) 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 quantity 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. TV Licensing - Legislation and policy on our website outlines the most relevant legislative provisions.

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 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 programmes as they are being shown on TV then you need a TV Licence in order to do so.

Part 4 of the Communications Act 2003 sets out the requirement for a TV Licence. Section 363 makes it an offence to

  • install or use a television receiver or
  • possess or have control of a television receiver with the intent to install or use it or
  • possess or have control of a television receiver and know or have reasonable grounds for believing that another person intends to install or use it without a valid TV Licence issued under the Communications Act.

If you own or possess a television set without installing or using it as a TV receiver (e.g. you only use it to watch videos or DVDs, or as a monitor for a games console) then you don’t need a TV Licence.

If you don’t have a television set or have one but don’t use it to watch programmes as they are being shown on TV, we ask that you inform us this is the case, so that we can register it on our database to prevent unnecessary contact. An enquiry officer may call to verify this. This is necessary because when we make contact on these visits, almost a fifth of people are found to require a TV Licence. We believe that the fairest and most consistent approach is to visit addresses where TV Licensing is notified that no television set is used.

If, during a brief visit, an enquiry officer can verify that no licence is likely to be needed, he or she will stop any further contact to that address for two years for a residential address and three years for a business address.

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. This includes TVs, computers, mobile phones, games consoles, digital boxes and DVD/VHS recorders.

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 2-4 Cockspur Street, London, SW1Y 5DH.

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) live TV programmes, regardless of which channel you're watching, which device you are using (TV, computer, laptop, mobile phone or any other), and how you receive them (terrestrial, satellite, cable, via the internet or 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.

Why do I need a TV Licence to watch TV programmes on my laptop?
Is it illegal to watch TV on a computer without a TV Licence?

If you use a laptop to watch television programmes as they are being shown on TV then by law you need a TV Licence. If you use a laptop to view television programmes after they are shown on TV – for example by downloading programmes or via streaming on-demand – then you don’t need a Licence.

The legal requirement for a TV Licence is not for the ownership of a television set or laptop, but for the installation and use of such equipment for television reception. Part 4 of the Communications Act 2003 provides for a system of TV licensing and makes it an offence to install or use a television receiver without a valid 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. The law applies to all viewing and recording devices, including TVs, computers, mobile phones, games consoles, digital boxes and DVD/VHS recorders. 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 the 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.

Under regulation 9 of the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004 (“the Regulations”) a computer is licensable if it is used for receiving television programme services.

The Regulations define ‘television receiver’ in technologically neutral terms and refers to any apparatus installed or used for the purpose of receiving… any television programme service. This means that watching television on a computer is licensable. However, the Regulations limit this to where the programme is received at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public. Regulation 9 is set out in full below:

Meaning of "television receiver"

9. (1) In Part 4 of the Act (licensing of TV reception), "television receiver" means any apparatus installed or used for the purpose of receiving (whether by means of wireless telegraphy or otherwise) any television programme service, whether or not it is installed or used for any other purpose.

(2) In this regulation, any reference to receiving a television programme service includes a reference to receiving by any means any programme included in that service, where that programme is received at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public by virtue of its being broadcast or distributed as part of that service.

Legislation on television licensing is available from legislation.gov.uk. TV Licensing and the law on our website sets out the most relevant legislative provisions.

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

It depends on whether you’re using BBC iPlayer to watch TV programmes at the same time as they are being shown on TV (i.e. “live”) or after they have been broadcast by either downloading programmes or via streaming on demand (on-demand).

You need to be covered by a TV Licence to watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV. The law applies to all viewing and recording devices (TV, computer, laptop, mobile phone or any other),regardless of how you receive the television programmes (terrestrial, satellite, cable, via the internet on BBC iPlayer or any other way).

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.

Further information about BBC iPlayer can be found at www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/.

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 the internet).

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

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.

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.

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Latest press releases

TV Licensing reveals new student research
04/10/2012

New research* commissioned by TV Licensing has found students may be unaware of the law for watching live TV online.
Free TV Licence for over-75s
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With more than 465,000 people in the UK due to turn 75 this year, TV Licensing and Independent Age are reminding older TV Licence holders they will be entitled to a free TV Licence on their 75th birthday.
TV Licensing launch ‘Talking Laptop’ to students
07/09/2012

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