YOU need a TV licence if you watch programmes live but the rules are different for streaming services like Netflix.
It’s a criminal offence to dodge paying for a licence if you watch live TV – but in some cases you don’t actually need one.
The TV licence fee is £159 a year, which covers watching live telly on any channel and downloading or watching programmes through BBC iPlayer.
It’s £53.50 if you only have a black and white TV.
The charge is set by the government and usually goes up each year in line with inflation.
For example it was hiked by £1.50 in April last year – the fifth year of increases in a row.
But the government has frozen the fee for the next two years to cushion the cost of living crisis.
It used to be free for people aged over 75, but it is now means-tested instead.
We explain how you can legally get away without paying for a TV licence.
Do I need a TV licence?
A TV licence currently costs £159 a year or £53.50 for a black and white television.
You need one if you want to watch or record TV programmes while they are being broadcast live rather than on catch-up.
That includes all programmes on any channel, including soaps, series, documentaries and even movies.
The rules apply even if watch programmes that are being broadcast live on a PC, laptop, tablet or phone rather than an actual TV set.
You also need one if you record live TV and then watch it later.
It also applies to watching anything on BBC iPlayer, even if you’re streaming on demand.
Do I need a TV licence to watch Netflix and streaming sites?
You need a TV licence if you’re watching shows being broadcast live on services such as ITV Hub, All 4, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, Sky Go, and more.
But you don’t need a licence if you only use these services to stream shows on demand or through catch up.
You also don’t have to pay the licence fee for streaming-only services such as Netflix.
If you watch any BBC programmes at all, whether live or streaming or downloaded them on-demand, including on BBC iPlayer – then you automatically have to pay the fee.
How to buy a TV licence
You can buy a TV licence – or apply for a free or discounted one if eligible (see below) – on the UK’s official TV licensing site.
You can set up a direct debit on the TV licensing website, choosing to pay the total cost once a year or a smaller amount monthly.
Viewers can also choose to pay quarterly – every three months- but you’ll be charged an extra £1.25 on top of each payment.
Alternatively, you can pay the full amount of £159 online or by calling 0300 790 6165 with a debit or credit card.
Paying smaller amounts by debit or credit card is also an option if you apply for a TV Licensing payment card by calling 0300 555 0286.
You can use this card to pay weekly or monthly at any PayPoint, over the phone, by text or online.
PayPoints can be found in many shops, newsagents and supermarkets – you can find your nearest here.
TV watchers can also pay for their licence using cash or a debit card at any PayPoint.
All you have to do is tell the person behind the counter that you want to pay for a TV Licence.
They will ask for your name, address and postcode.
What happens if I don’t have a TV licence?
Watching live TV or anything on iPlayer without paying for a licence is a criminal offence.
If you’re caught without one you need to pay in full as soon as possible or risk prosecution, plus a fine of up to £1,000 (£2,000 in Guernsey or £500 in Jersey).
You can be jailed for non-payment of a fine imposed by the court.
Can I legally watch TV without a TV licence?
There are a few ways to legally watch your favourite shows without having to pay the licence fee.
There are plenty of catch-up TV services, which allow the streaming or downloading of programmes after they have been shown on their respective channels.
If you only watch these you don’t need to stump up – as long as you don’t watch any BBC content.
If you watch on-demand or catch-up content on the BBC iPlayer, you will have to fork out for a licence.
If you’re absolutely sure you no longer need one you can formally let TV Licensing know.
Although there’s no legal obligation to do this, it will prevent them sending you reminders.
The first thing to do as part of this process is cancel your payments.
If you pay by direct debit you can cancel it by filling out TV Licensing’s contact form, confirming you no longer watch TV along with your current address.
You’ll also need to cancel your direct debit with your bank.
If you pay with a TV Licensing payment card, you’ll need to call 0300 555 0286.
Everyone who no longer requires a TV licence should then fill out a “No Licence Needed” declaration form.
Make sure you keep the confirmation email from TV Licensing as proof.
You may also be eligible for a refund if you won’t need your licence again before it expires, and you have at least one complete month left on it. Just fill in the request a refund form.
TV Licensing may visit your property to ensure you are telling the truth and no errors have been made.
The bureau says these inspections find one in five who have cancelled their TV licence actually still need one – that’s around 900 households a day.
Do over-75s get a free TV licence?
Over-75s in the UK used to get a TV licence for free but now buy one unless they claim pension credit.
The change came in August 2020, but pensioners were given a grace period until July 31 2021.
In February 2020, research found that almost a million OAPs refused to pay the fee, even though they risked a £1,000 fine or a jail sentence.
The number had dropped to 260,000 at the end of June last 2020, according to TV Licensing.
The only exception to the new rules is those households where at least one person receives pension credit – in which case you will not have to pay.
It’s really easy to check if you’re entitled – here’s our step by step guide.
If you do receive pension credit, the BBC says you may need to provide a copy of your most recent benefit letter, so make sure you hang onto it.
If you are blind or severely sight-impaired you are eligible for a 50% discount on your licence.
Ministers officially shelved plans to decriminalise non-payment of the annual TV licence fee for another year.
But when the licence changes were announced, 28 Lords sent Beeb boss Tim Davie a letter saying the TV Licensing threats had created stress among the elderly.
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