How you can legally watch TV without a licence


TV detector van

There are plenty of people who resent paying their TV Licence: they see it as a £145.50 annual tax that they shouldn't have to pay. Now, as the number of services offered online are expanding, they are seeing an opportunity to throw out the TV, switch to 'on-demand' services and save the cash.

But it's not quite as easy as that.

The TV Licensing people say that when people cancel their TV licence they may go round to check the property. They point out that during one in five of these visits they discover that a TV licence is actually required for the way the household is using TV services. So before you consider this approach it's worth understanding the rules properly.

When you don't need one

There's certainly no requirement to have a licence just because you own a TV, it all depends on how you use it.

You don't need a TV licence to watch catch-up TV. If you only ever watch through things like the iPlayer and 4OD, after the programme has already been broadcast, then you can save yourself the licence fee. The TV Licensing peple say that this appies to under 2% of people in the UK in a typical week.

If you take this approach you can watch movies and TV series through services like LoveFilm and Blinkbox, either paying a subscription or paying individually for the things you choose to stream. You don't need to have a licence in order to use these services.

You don't need one to watch DVDs and videos on a TV either.

The catches

However, you need to be careful. Even if you watch TV on a computer, laptop or your mobile phone, if you ever watch or record live TV on it then you'll need a licence. This includes any of the 'on demand' services that make the programme available online at the same time as it is broadcast, including the iPlayer. And it applies to all channels, not just the BBC.

If you don't pay for a licence it means you cannot record live TV either - because it counts as using the live services.

If you choose to take this approach you'll never be allowed to slip, because the Licensing Authority says it has ways of detecting whether you have been watching programmes live, and that it makes unannounced visits to check.


It's worth highlighting that it's never worth failing to pay and just hoping for the best. More than 155,000 people were convicted by a court and faced fines of up to £1,000 last year for trying to dodge paying for a licence: the courts have actually jailed a total of 107 people for failing to pay up.

Declare it

Even if you genuinely don't need a licence you will continue to receive reminders from the Licensing Authority once you stop paying for it, so you'll need to declare that you don't need one. You can fill out a form on the website. It will ask if the property is occupied, and if you tick that someone lives at the property then you will be on the list for a check up. You don't need to fill out this form, but if you don't you may continue to receive reminders.

For some people, the saving is worth the effort and the vigilance required to avoid watching live TV.

Over 75

Of course, when you hit the age of 75 you're free to go crazy, and watch as much live TV as you like without paying a penny, because at the moment people aged over 75 are exempt. All you have to do is apply for a free licence and you're home free. There's no telling how long this will last, given the noises that various political parties are making about cutting universal pensioner perks, but for now, you're free to watch for free without the fear that a detector van is lurking round the corner ready to spoil your fun.

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