For years the TV licence has been the subject of debate in the UK – do I need to pay it? Can they track what I watch? But most recently, with online streaming, the questions have become even more complicated. Now changes are coming.
Anyone is able to watch streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime without paying a licence fee. You can even watch the BBC iPlayer, gratis. This feature will clarify the changes coming into effect in 2016 so you know where you stand and if you can save that £145 yearly fee.
Do I need to pay the TV licence fee?
If you watch live broadcast TV of any kind you need to pay a licence fee. It’s that simple. That also means that if you record anything from live TV you will also need to pay. It’s not about when you watch it but the fact that it’s broadcast live.
The fee is £145 per year and that applies to live TV watched on a television over an aerial, a laptop, smartphone or tablet over the internet. The way you get it doesn’t matter, it’s the fact that it’s being broadcast live to a paying audience that means you need to have paid up too.
Is BBC iPlayer licence fee free?
Since launch the BBC iPlayer has been free to use. The BBC has said that’s cost it about £150 million per year. It’s been largely catch-up content that has sat it alongside the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime meaning no licence fee was needed. The iPlayer also now offers live broadcast TV so that will soon change.
The BBC has been pushing to change the fee for a while so it can make money from its iPlayer content. From 1 September 2016 everyone will be required to pay the TV licence fee to watch BBC iPlayer, live or catch-up. With over 25 million licences dished out in 2015, lots of households are covered anyway.
The BBC does not require a login to watch iPlayer. This should stay that way as digital barriers would start it down a slippery slope towards subscription based service standards.
What TV licence rules are important?
There are two main rules you need to be sure you don’t break:
Don’t watch live TV and don’t record live TV.
If you have an aerial connection or otherwise you’re at risk if you’re not paying for a licence. Also if you have a recording device attached to something capable of live broadcast you’re also at risk. So pay up.
If you open BBC iPlayer live you’ll be asked if you have a TV licence so be sure you do before selecting yes.
Do I need a licence for a set-top box?
Smart TVs and set-top boxes now allow for catch-up TV content to be delivered over an internet connection. Does this need a licence?
Largely they do not need licences. This is because most of the content delivered via catch-up services are just that, catch-up – not live.
As long as your smart TV or set-top box is only delivering shows and films that have already aired, you won’t need a licence. iPlayer will warn you if you’re selecting its live content by asking you if you have a licence anyway, so there’s no excuse for getting it wrong.
Do I need to pay if on mobile?
Currently watching anything on your smartphone or tablet when out and about can incur charges. This is thanks to an old rule that applied to people watching portable televisions which meant a TV licence was needed, and still is.
The rule states that if a device is powered by its own batteries you’re ok and won’t need to pay, so mobile should be ok. But technically if that device is plugged in, even charging, fees technically apply.
Obviously, in the real world, you should be fine, but it’s good to know where you stand legally.
Check out some other interesting loop-holes, laws and myths about the TV licence in our ‘Five myths about the British TV licence busted‘ feature.