Over 20,000 young people interviewed for watching TV without a TV Licence

More than 20,000 young people aged 18 to 25 have been interviewed by TV Licensing Visiting Officers for watching live TV or BBC iPlayer without a valid licence in the last year, according to figures released by TV Licensing.

TV Licensing makes more than 7,500 visits across the UK a day, focusing on unlicensed addresses where occupants have ignored previous attempts to make contact. Not all visits lead to prosecution and the majority of first-time offenders are not prosecuted if they buy a licence before their court date.

As the new academic year starts, and with 84 per cent of undergraduates aged 24 and under1, TV Licensing is reminding students that they risk facing prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000 if they are caught watching live TV, or BBC programmes on iPlayer without a valid TV licence; this includes any device - not just a TV set.

Despite the explosion in popularity of smartphones and tablets, a television is still the most used device for students watching live or recorded TV, with nearly two thirds of students taking a TV to university. However, for those watching BBC iPlayer, most are using a laptop, with 65% watching on their portable computer and 28% watching on their smartphone.2

The law on TV Licensing:

The law still applies to students living away from home in halls or shared accommodation and you need to be covered by a TV Licence to:

  • watch or record programmes (such as sports, news, music, dramas and documentaries) as they’re being shown on TV, or live on an online TV service (e.g. YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Now TV, Sky Go, etc.)
  • download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer.

This applies to any device, such as a TV set (incl. smart TV), laptop, desktop computer, tablet, mobile phone, games console, digital box, etc.

If students live in halls of residence and watch live TV or BBC iPlayer programmes in their room, they will need to be covered by a TV Licence. Students in shared houses will also require their own licence if they use a TV or device in their room and have a separate tenancy agreement, but if they have a joint tenancy agreement for an entire house or flat, one licence usually covers the whole property.

Paul Cooper, spokesperson for TV Licensing, said:

Students will now have settled into their new term and every year myths circulate around about when you do and don’t need a licence.
Most students own at least one device capable of showing live TV or watching BBC iPlayer - such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet computer – it’s important they know the law around being correctly licensed, so we would encourage them to visit tvl.co.uk/uni to find out more.

A standard TV licence costs £154.50 and there are many payment options available, from paying in one go to spreading the cost over the year. Students can buy and manage their licence online and if they don’t need their licence for a full 12 months, they could apply for a refund.

Students can check if they need a licence at tvl.co.uk/uni or by calling 0300 790 6113.


Figures relate to the number of people aged 18-25 who were interviewed by a TV Licensing Visiting Officer during a visit to an unlicensed property between 1 September 2018 and 31 August 2019. They do not constitute official prosecution statistics for TV Licensing evasion. TV licensing evasion prosecution information is held by individual magistrates courts and the Ministry of Justice.

1 Higher Education Statistics Limited 2018 - distribution of undergraduate students 2017/18

2 Research with students was conducted by Harris Interactive in May 2018. UK-wide coverage, with quotas on gender, region of university, year of study and whether they are from the UK or international students (10% are defined as international students). Research was conducted only with those living away from home (do not live at parents’/guardians’ home) and are aware of what the TV Licence is.

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