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How to save £8,000 by never paying for the TV Licence

Between the ages of 18 and 75 years old, many of us Brits will spend up to £8,000 on a TV Licence. Screw that, we say – here’s our guide on how to opt out, save that cash and still get access to the best telly.

A lot of people hate having to pay the TV Licence. Some people hate it for political reasons, others because they never watch the BBC or because they want to spend that money on other stuff.

But what some of us don’t know is that it is possible to opt out of paying the licence fee. The best part? You can keep your TV and continue to watch your usual shows – even those on the BBC. And you won’t even have to risk jail. Here’s how you can tell Auntie where to stick it.

How much does a TV licence cost?

The cost for a full colour TV Licence for one year is currently £145.50 – equivalent to paying £12.12/month. You can opt to pay for a TV Licence in quarterly or monthly instalments as well as up front. A premium of £1.25 is added per quarter if you pay quarterly and if paying monthly you usually have to pay £24 a month for the first six months and then £12.12 thereafter.

If you paid for your license on a monthly on an annual basis, over a period of 57 years throughout your adult life, you will have blown £8,293.50 – enough to buy a small family car.

If the idea of not paying the licence fee appeals then read on to find out how you can go about not paying as well as what you will and won’t be able to (legally) watch.

I’d like to save £8,000. How do I opt out?

The first thing you’ll need to do is tell TV Licensing, the body that keeps track of who has a licence, and tell them that you’re opting out. Doing this will see TV Licensing update its database, meaning you won’t get any of the letters that are mailed out to unlicenced addresses.

On the TV Licensing website there is an online declaration form you can fill in.

I’ve opted out. Now what?

ITV Player - free to watch without a licence, provided you're not watching any live TV
ITV Player: Free to watch without a licence, provided you’re not watching any live TV

Remember to cancel any Direct Debits you might have set up for monthly and quarterly payments. If you cancel midway through the license period, you will be refunded for any full unused quarters remaining on a TV Licence that are no longer needed.

Take note: it specifies three-month chunks, not individual months, so there’s no point opting out if you’ve got less than three months remaining on your TV Licence. Just opt out from the start of your next one.

Once you’ve opted out, you will receive confirmation from TV Licensing, but they may pay you a visit at random to verify your claim. You will be contacted again in two years to see if you’re still not watching live TV. If you are, then prepare to face the consequences – a fine of up to £1,000 (£2,000 in Guernsey). Failure to pay could land you in prison, not the act of watching without a TV licence.

Can I keep my TV?

Yes. Contrary to what the name suggests, you don’t need a licence to own a television. In other words, you’re free to use your TV to watch DVDs, Blu-rays, play games or access catch-up services like BBC iPlayer and 4oD.

What can I watch instead? 

OK, so you’ve cut the cord. You’re free. Congratulations. But thanks to a recent update to the TV licence law, the amount of content you can watch is more limited.

You are only legally allowed to watch BBC content without a TV licence so long as you, in the official words of the BBC, ‘never watch or record programmes on any channel as they are being shown on TV or live on an online TV service’ and ‘never download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer – live, catch up or on demand’.

This includes most of the programmes you get on BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, CBBC and CBeebies.

The law applies to any device you choose to use, whether that is a desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, DVD/VHS recorder, digital box or games console.

You are also free to watch content hosted on sites like BBC News and BBC Sport, provided it is catch-up only and not live.

Likewise, you are free to watch content from ITV1 to 4 and CITV on the ITV Player plus Channel 4, E4, More4, Film4, 4Music on 4oD, provided that you are catching up. The same goes for Channel 5 content that is being streamed on Demand 5.

The legal rule of thumb is, if it’s live and you lack a TV licence, you can’t watch it! And using iPlayer without a TV licence is illegal, too.

What about recording live TV?

Illegal, too, without a TV licence because although you may watch later, your TIVO box, VHS player or whatever you record with is capturing the content while it is being broadcasted live.

Is it easy to be caught?

Technically, there is nothing physically stopping you from watching live streams on these services. BBC and Channel 4 servers won’t magically shut their doors because it is unlikely those services can tell whether you have a license or not.

While streaming live TV sans-licence is illegal, TV Licensing inspectors would need to prove you are doing it when they come to call. But considering they catch 900 people a day, apparently, it does happen and they have equipment they can deploy to prove what they need to.

With that said, the BBC will require you to register personal details if you wish to keep using iPlayer from early 2017. It has said it will not use login details to catch TV licence dodgers but that may not always be the case.

Can I watch iPlayer abroad?

Nope. This is against the iPlayer terms of service. But you could download content before you go and watch it abroad providing you do so within 30 days of it airing.

Can I watch any live TV without a licence?

No – a TV licence is needed to watch programmes as they are shown on TV, no matter which TV channel or platform is showing them.

That includes streaming Sky channels through Now TV, Sky Go or Virgin TV Anywhere, or from a Slingbox, and even watching illegal live streams such as Premier League football games or F1 would be a TV Licensing offence, not to mention a breach of copyright law.

Is there a catch?

You don't need a TV Licence to watch catch-up content on your TV, laptop - or your phone
You don’t need a TV Licence to watch catch-up content on your TV, laptop – or your phone

There is a weird catch for students, actually. Providing you are watching live TV at your residence outside of term time (aka home) and your device is powered by batteries and unplugged from the mains and an aerial, it is acceptable by law. In other words, you can watch on a laptop, phone or tablet and get away with using your parent’s TV licence as long as it is unplugged at the time.

Anything else?

Then there’s Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Blinkbox, YouTube, Google Play, and iTunes not to mention a whole Internet full of torrent indexes and file sharing sites – if you’ve got a relaxed attitude towards the law and the whole ‘creators of TV shows getting paid’ thing.

You can have a Roku 3, Apple TV or a Chromecast plugged into your TV and you can be streaming BBC catch-up content without needing a licence.

You can watch Channel 4 shows on your laptop, or watch ITV content on your games console and Channel 5 shows on your phone.

If it’s not live and not on iPlayer, you are free to stream it. Got it?

To recap, here’s what you can do, legally and above board, without a TV Licence:

  • Use your TV as a monitor
  • Watch ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5 (catch-up only) on whatever device you want
  • Access BBC websites, including video streamed from BBC News and BBC Sport (except live streams)
  • Listen to BBC Radio
  • Stream content from Netflix, Prime Instant Video,, Blinkbox, Google Play, iTunes or any service of your choosing

Aside from that, we suggest tuning in to ‘the world outside’ which is currently being broadcast free to air. Books from your local library (if you still have one) are also free, as is fresh air and sunlight (where available).

Main image is derivative of ‘Broken TV 3’ by C.G Megee licenced under CC BY 2.0  (original can be found here: C.G Megee/Flickr).