Most people own a TV, or a device to watch TV on, but our viewing habits tend to vary. Some of us prefer live television, others stick to streaming platforms and catch-up services, and many of us do a bit of both.

With this in mind, it’s worth knowing the rules around how TV licences work in case you think you don’t need one, but in fact the way you watch TV means you do. In this article, we explain the rules surrounding who needs a TV licence, how much they cost, and whether you might be eligible for a free one.

Do I need a licence to watch TV?

Whether you need a TV licence will depend on exactly how you watch TV.

As a general rule, you do need a TV licence if:

  • You watch or record any form of live TV
  • You use BBC iPlayer to watch catch-up TV

This applies to any device, not just your actual telly. So if you use a smartphone, tablet or laptop to watch live TV or programmes on BBC iPlayer (even if it’s just catch-up), you’ll need to be covered by a licence.

A TV licence covers your whole household, unless you live with another tenant and you have separate tenancy agreements, in which case you’ll both need separate licences.

You can watch catch-up programmes on any other service, such as ITVX or Channel 4, without the need for a licence. You’re also free to use on-demand streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video, Apple TV or Disney+ and so on.

So, in summary, you don’t need a licence in order to:

  • Use any catch-up services other than BBC iPlayer
  • Use on-demand streaming services
  • Watch videos on Youtube
  • Watch videos or DVDs

Bear in mind that even if your TV is capable of playing live TV, as long as you never actually watch it, you don’t need a licence.

What will happen if I watch TV without a licence?

TV Licensing keeps an eye on addresses that they believe to be watching live TV or iPlayer without a licence. They will send you a letter if they think you need one.

If you fail to pay for a licence and continue watching TV, they may send an officer to your address. Fee dodging is against the law, so if you are caught watching TV without a licence, you could be prosecuted and fined up to £1,000.

How much does a TV licence cost?

In the current 2023/2024 tax year, a colour TV licence costs £159. This will rise in April to £169.50 a year when the new 2024/25 tax year begins.

If you’re willing to watch TV in black and white, you can get a black and white licence instead for £53.50 – about a third of the colour cost – rising to £57 in April.

You should be careful about when you choose to buy or renew your TV licence. Even though you are technically buying the licence for a full year, it actually runs out at the end of the last full calendar month prior to the month you bought it. So, for example, if you buy a licence on June 24th, your licence will run out on May 31st the following year. If you’re unlucky enough to buy at the very end of the month, this could mean that you end up paying the full year fee for just 11 months of licensing.

It’s therefore always worth buying or renewing your TV licence on the first of the month in order to get your money’s worth.

Can I get my TV licence refunded if I stop needing it?

If you stop needing a licence midway through your term, you may be able to claim a refund for any remaining months. You can even apply for a refund retrospectively up to two years after the licence expired.

Can I get a discount on a TV licence?

There are a couple of circumstances in which you may be able to get a TV licence for free or at a discount.

If you or someone in your household is aged 75 or over and receives Pension Credit, you should be entitled to a free TV licence. 

If you are over 60 or disabled, and live in a residential care home, supported housing or sheltered accommodation, you can get a licence for £7.50.

If you or someone you live with is registered blind, you can get a 50% discount on your TV licence – so £79.50 in the current tax year, rising to £84.75 in April.

How do I get a TV licence?

You can visit the TV Licensing website in order to renew or buy a licence. There are several different ways to pay for a licence, such as via Direct Debit, or using a debit or credit card, or the licensing company’s own scheme, so choose the one that suits you best.

Bear in mind that you’ll be charged an extra £1.25 per payment if you pay via quarterly Direct Debit, which is an extra £5 a year, so consider opting for a different timetable or payment method than this one.

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