Thoughts on TV Licensing

I recently wrote about the iPlayer, and made a throwaway comment about not having a TV licence, yet enjoying the ability to finally be able to legally watch TV programmes online, on my Mac. It sparked quite a discussion. Nick Reynolds (no relation) of the BBC kindly pointed out the new licence fee page on the BBC site. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but the legislation (of which more in a moment) has indeed changed. The page makes a good job of explaining the new situation:

“You need a TV licence to use any television receiving equipment such as a TV set, set-top box, video or DVD recorder, computer or mobile phone to watch or record TV programmes as they are being shown on TV.”

(This is all only relevant in the UK by the way. Americans *cough*, I mean the 56% of my non-UK visitors (of which only about half are from the US) may feel free to look away now).

I find this interesting. Before 2004, and in older documents, it used to say something more like

A TV Licence provides a legal permission to install or use television receiving equipment in order to receive or record television programme services. ‘Television receiving equipment’ can be a television set, a VCR, a set-top box, a TV-enabled personal computer or any other equipment designed or modified to enable it to receive television programmes.

The change is down to new legislation which came into force on April 1st (honestly) 2004, and was announced in a written ministerial statement by Tessa Jowell on 11th March 2004. More interestingly, the act itself is the Statutory Instrument 2004 No 692. The Communications Act (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004 (which was an update to earlier acts from 1926, 1949 and 2003. Part three, section nine says that “television receiver” means any “apparatus installed or used for the purpose of receiving (whether by means of wireless telegraphy or otherwise) any television programme service, whether or not it is installed or used for any other purpose.”

The thing that broadens it even further is the text in 9.2…

In this regulation, any reference to receiving a television programme service includes a reference to receiving by any means any programme included in that service, where that programme is received at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public by virtue of its being broadcast or distributed as part of that service.

So when the TV licence talks about using a computer, it no longer only means computers with TV receiving cards in them. Steve Hewlett does a good job of explaining this in a Media FAQ in the Guardian last year.

To cut a very long story short, any device that can receive live TV pictures, whether or not originally designed or intended to do so, must be covered by a licence if you use it for that purpose.

Let’s just take that in for a moment. Watching a live TV broadcast, regardless of whether you do it on your TV, your computer, or even (as Steve points out in that post) your mobile phone, means you must have a TV licence. He goes on to say that

…while the new regulations might have succeeded in redefining the term “television” to mean any device capable of receiving it by any broadcast or quasi-broadcast means, they still define a “television programme service” as essentially a live, real-time broadcast stream…

… while the regulations extend beyond traditional broadcasting to cover internet and mobile live streaming, receiving TV programmes on-demand, or say as part of an internet-based catch-up service, appears not to be covered.

If correct, this would mean if you only watched programmes on demand via new services – such as the BBC’s emerging seven-day catch-up facility, or in any way other than via a live broadcast stream, however delivered, you would not be liable to pay the licence fee even if you used your old-fashioned TV.

All very interesting. So, some observations and questions.

  • In the UK, while you (still) don’t need a TV licence to own a TV, you do need a TV licence to watch live broadcasts which originate from the UK, regardless of the equipment used. This would include the live stream of News 24.
  • (Currently) I can use iPlayer to watch TV shows without needing a licence, because they’re not being simulcast on the TV. I have not used Channel 4’s 4oD, but I believe the same is true. It’s a download service, not live broadcast, and even the new Flash streaming flavour of iPlayer is video on-demand rather than being “received at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public by virtue of its being broadcast”. Theoretically, I can continue to watch iPlayer without needing a licence, and only my conscience about supporting the programme makers to trouble me.
  • The TV licensing authority can already ask to see my TV, and I can tell them (and eventually show them) that I don’t use it to watch broadcast TV. If I don’t have a licence and I chose not to watch live streamed TV though a browser if it’s offered, will I have to prove that to them too?

Why all this interest in the licence? Well, we got rid of our household TV, video, and PC capture card a few years ago. We’d realised we were watching whatever was on, and not enjoying it any more. It was time to go cold turkey. There was a clearing of the house, and part of the cleansing ritual was to (probably a bit smugly) cancel the licence. If I went through the same process now, I’d probably have kept the licence, because the radio and web content is worth the money, but at the time I didn’t think so.

The thing that really put my off the TV licence was actually the licensing authority themselves. When I cancelled it, and again when we moved house, and again when we bought a TV set (not tuned or even connected to the antenna, but bought in order to more fully enjoy DVDs and the Wii) I was quite disgusted with the regular letters, often very aggressive in tone, demanding we purchase a TV licence, with no expectation that people might not actually watch it. The regular bullying was annoying, and rather hardened my will against the system.

Throw Away Your Television

Things are changing. My previous frame of mind was in a previous era, a time in which I wasn’t addicted to the amazing content on Radio 4, and when iPlayer didn’t exist. As the BBC (hopefully) continues to open up ways of me watching content on my terms, of course I’m open minded about paying for services I use. I sometime (rarely) even want to watch live broadcasts, especially things like Wimbledon and the World Cup. What I want is to be able to get content when I want it, and I want to be able to do that on a Mac as well as on Widows.

There’s an interesting loophole at the moment, by which I can watch shows through the on-demand services, as long as I don’t record or watch them from a live broadcast. Personally, I may soon choose to pay for a licence anyway, but I wonder how many people the BBC expects will actually be jumping in the other direction, and cancelling licences so they can use the catch-up services on iPlayer (and 4od) for free.


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  1. But surely, how do you listen to the radio? All those commentries about radio 4! Doesn’t that require a TV license?

    My problem is the opposite, when they stream stuff live I can’t get to it from the US, despite having a TV license in the UK… well not anymore… but I did until a few months ago. Personally I think if the BBC is going down this route they should go to a pay per play basis, and see how good their Internet service is… then you wouldn’t have to pay the year subscription, aka license.

    The problem with the TV licensing Authority is a result of Bliars Britain. Guilty until proved innocent, film everything, do nothing; tax everything pay for as little as possible. We always know better… and if we don’t don’t we’ll pay stupid consulting fees to find out…

    Will the last person to leave the country turn off the TV Set?

    Comment by Mark Cathcart — December 14, 2007 #

  2. There was once a radio licence. It was dropped once the majority of people were paying for a TV licence, which is now what funds the BBC’s TV, Radio and everything-else output.

    I find your situation (being a licence-holding Brit but not being able to access their services when you’re outside the country) very interesting.

    When I first heard of the iPlayer I was sure it would need me to enter some sort of TV licence number (do they have them?) in order to use the service. That would have been one approach, but little did I know the system had already been subtly changed.

    I can actually imagine that a great many non-UK residents (who tend to like and respect the beeb) would indeed pay for a licence/’subscription’ or even micropayments to get access to a decent streaming and/or download service that didn’t block them. It would be an another possible model, and perhaps a more long-taily, future-looking alternative to the current system of selling content into other geographies for broadcast distribution.

    Comment by Roo — December 14, 2007 #

  3. I’m not sure if this is quite right, Roo.

    I don’t think its about whether you choose to watch live television. It’s about whether you own equipment that is capable of recieving it.

    A television set with no ariel (or cable, or satellite dish) can’t get live television.

    But a PC with internet access can (in the case of BBC News 24 anyway as that is now always available on the BBC News website).

    Comment by Nick Reynolds (BBC) — December 14, 2007 #

  4. With respect Nick, I think you’re wrong on this point.

    There’s no way that even the new legislation covers the possession of equipment capable of receiving a live broadcast. It talks about the use of those things. Re-read the site you linked to earlier:

    You need a TV licence to use any television receiving equipment such as a TV set, set-top box, video or DVD recorder, computer or mobile phone to watch or record TV programmes as they are being shown on TV.” (emphasis mine)

    In exactly the same way as the previous regulations didn’t cover owning a TV (they covered using that TV to receive a TV signal), it’s now about using your equipment (TV/computer/phone/brain implant) to watch or record live broadcast TV, not just owning such equipment.

    Comment by Roo — December 14, 2007 #

  5. I think Roo’s right, as does the Guardian:

    Watching TV at home

    You need a licence irrespective if you want to watch live television. If you have equipment capable of receiving TV signals and its tuned in you will are required to pay. If you only watch DVDs at home then you are not required to pay. However TV Licensing (TVL) will expect your television not to display BBC1 or any other channels when they come round and turn it on and may question why you have an aerial on the roof. “If you watch live TV on any device, you need to be covered by a valid licence,” it says.

    That said, should the TV licence collection authorities appear at you door, you are not obliged to let them in anyway.

    Comment by Tom Loosemore — December 15, 2007 #

  6. The difficult thing is that you may have to prove that you’re not using the equipment to receive a TV signal, which is rather a logical fallacy because you can’t prove a negative.

    Kevin and I had no TV, no TV receiving equipment, and no aerial, so we had no TV Licence. You’re right, Roo, that TVL are an obnoxious bunch of arses – we got the threatening letters, which served no purpose other than to get my dander up. But they do have the power to insist on a search – they can get a warrant and a policeman in order to ensure you grant them access.

    Eventually, Kev and I got a TVEye USB receiver (no room in our flat for an actual telly) so we got a licence.

    But Nick, if your reading of the law was accurate, which I don’t think it is, then anyone with a computer or the right sort of mobile phone would be liable for a licence, even if they never used it to access live streaming TV. Now that’s absurd, as a computer’s primary purpose is not to receive TV, nor to display TV content, and it would be impossible to prove that you had never accessed the BBC’s streaming content (what with it being impossible to prove a negative and all that).

    The BBC’s current fundraising model is not only anachronistic, it’s also missing out on great opportunities to provide subscriptions to non-UK based users, which would both raise the BBC’s profile and bring in some earnings.

    Mind you, when I move to the US, I’m just going to buy my parents a Slingbox.

    Comment by Suw — December 15, 2007 #

  7. Nick Reynolds ? I knew this guy must have worked for the BBC and now I know. I once tried adding to the tv licence pages on wiki but someone called Nick Reynolds would always remove the links saying no outside links even though I explained both sides of the argument should be heard( plus it was in the outside links section). I told wiki that I suspected he was working for the BBC but they just done the usual thing and banned anyone that criticised the mighty BBC!

    This was after finding out 7500 BBC employee’s had been editting wiki with their own left wing pro BBC bias too!

    Comment by Sao Paulo — December 15, 2007 #

  8. Oh Sorry I forget your info is incorrect,

    ““You need a TV licence to use any television receiving equipment such as a TV set, set-top box, video or DVD recorder, computer or mobile phone to watch or record TV programmes as they are being shown on TV.”

    You only need a BBC TV Licence is you watch LIVE transmissions and so don’t need one to watch DVD’s and play games. The BBC just likes to mislead people so they can make as much as possible.

    You have to remember when dealing with the BBC TV Licence people is these are the lowest of the low and will try anything to get that commision

    Comment by Sao Paulo — December 15, 2007 #

  9. Good old Hansard (and good old TheyWorkForYou). I just found this response to a question, which nicely sums up where we are on this…

    Written Answers, Tuesday, 22 November 2005

    David Gauke (South West Hertfordshire, Conservative)

    To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

    (1) what representations the Government have received from the BBC requesting that the application of the BBC television licence fee be extended to premises which do not have a television but which have access to the internet;

    (2) what consideration the Government have given to extending the application of the BBC television licence fee to premises which do not have a television but which have access to the internet.

     James Purnell (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Media and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport)

    The Government have received no such representations from the BBC. However, the BBC, as television licensing authority, considers that the current definition of a television receiver in the licence fee regulations already extends to a PC that is used to watch television programme services over the internet, if they are received at the same time or virtually the same time as they are received elsewhere by conventional means.

    The Government have no plans for any changes to the current arrangements but, as indicated in the BBC Charter Review Green Paper published in March 2005, believes that changes to the existing funding model might have to be considered if in future large numbers of people are downloading audio-visual content from the internet and watching it on their computers or mobile phones, rather than using traditional TV services.

    (Emphasis mine.) So, what’s licensed here is

    • not a computer that is capable of watching, but one that is used to watch.
    • not programmes that have already been aired, but those that are being received at the same time (or virtually so) by traditional television broadcast. Of course received can mean ‘recorded’ as well as ‘watched’, so timeshifting a show yourself doesn’t mean you don’t need a licence.

    Yet again, I’m left wondering about the model here. It broadens the legislation to include internet delivery, but protects only the reception of live-broadcast television. I can’t help but think is going to be a decreasingly important part of people’s viewing habits.

    Comment by Roo — December 15, 2007 #

  10. Digging around further, there are some excellent stats about TV vs satellite vs computer vs broadband usage in London for the last few years, in response to a more recent written parliamentary question. I thought the table would make an interesting graph…

    Comment by Roo — December 15, 2007 #

  11. It is interesting to see what the BBC has to say on this matter where most people will be looking; on the iPlayer terms and conditions page. There is no mention of whether a licence is needed or not.
    Given the consensus that this not-as-live service does not require a licence, then this may not be so surprising.

    The News 24 streaming is as-live, so by all interpretations here, does require a license. However, absolutely no mention is made of this on any of:
    the Video and Audio page,
    the BBC News Player help,
    or even the Terms of Use linked from the streaming window itself.

    Now, I Am Not A Laywer, but assuming I agree to all of the T&Cs given for watching News 24 streamed, and if said T&Cs make no mention of needing a TV licence, then am I covered?

    There is another interesting (although possibly silly) point to consider; a black & white TV licence is available at almost 1/3rd the cost of a full colour one. A slightly anachronistic fact dating back to when the majority of TVs where still black & white; why should they pay the full fee when they don’t receive the full quality image? (as an aside, I would be intrigued to know how many households still only have B&W TVs)

    Given the premise that a reduced image quality has been deserved of a reduced license fee for the past 40 years (the colour licence was introduced in 1968), what of the approx 480×320 image I get when I do watch the streamed content? Like I said, possibly a silly point that doesn’t add anything to this discussion.

    Comment by Nick O'Leary — December 15, 2007 #

  12. Nick, I can’t tell how many black and white TVs remain out there, but I *can* tell you how many black and white TV licences there are.

    Yet again, Hansard + TheyWorkForYou to the rescue. I (with Google’s help) drew a graph based on the the answer to this parliamentary question from earlier this month. (The provisional number for 2007 is 40,758)

    Comment by Roo — December 15, 2007 #

  13. With a bit of digging around and searching, I also found a relevant FAQ page on the iPlayer site:

    Will I need a TV licence to watch programmes on BBC iPlayer?

    You do not need a television licence to watch television programmes on the current version of the BBC iPlayer.

    You will need to be covered by a TV licence if and when the BBC provides a feature that enables you to watch ‘live’ TV programmes on any later version of BBC iPlayer, which has this option.

    A ‘live’ TV programme is a programme, which is watched or recorded at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is being broadcast or otherwise distributed to members of the public. As a general rule, if a person is watching a programme on a computer or other device at the same time as it is being shown on TV then the programme is ‘live’. This is sometimes known as simulcasting.

    You cannot currently watch ‘live’ TV programmes as part of BBC iPlayer, however, we hope to offer this function in the future.

    What will happen if I don’t have a TV licence?

    It is a criminal offence to watch ‘live’ television without a TV licence or to posses or control a device which you know or reasonably believe will be used to watch ‘live’ TV without a TV licence. You could be prosecuted and fined up to £1000 (plus be ordered to pay legal costs) for these offences.

    That‘s actually pretty helpful.

    Comment by Roo — December 15, 2007 #

  14. I don’t live in the UK, so maybe I shouldn’t enter this debate. However, I do live in Ireland and since we have a TV licensing system which is closely modeled after the UK/BBC model I have some thoughts.

    The fundamental problem is that the government and the broadcasting authorities have not decided if this is either:

    1) A tax subsidizing the production of programs of cultural merit (in which case it would make sense to roll it into the income tax system and place a relatively higher burden on richer people in common with the distribution of other social costs).


    2) A subscription fee for access to the programs broadcast by the BBC (or RTE). It would be interesting to see what proportion of the population would subscribe if this model was used.

    My opinion is that the first option really applies. The government could easily abolish the license fee if they just made a relatively modest addition to the income tax rate. This would clarify what the money is for and would eliminate the need to waste effort defining and tracking down exactly who should pay.

    Comment by Brian O'Donovan — December 16, 2007 #

  15. I’ve as yet never had a TV since becoming independent (and I’m thinking given the amount of programs I actually like it’s cheaper to use DVD’s and OD services anyway)…

    And I’ve had exactly the same issue with the TV liscencing agression, as has my sister. Despite contacting them through every medium imaginable the letters continued to escalate in their threats and assumption I was guilty.

    In the end I had to write a really legally worded, deadlined, letter with references to the evidence of this and previous communications in order to get confirmation that I had said I had no TV. At that point a response came pretty quickly, but I shouldn’t have been forced to go to that level of extremes in order to get TV liscencing to admit the possibility that I might not own a television.

    On the original letter there should be a tick box, as there is for other reasons that you don’t have a liscence which says “I don’t have a TV.” Yes you could lie, but considering its been nearly a year since they said their inspection team would check the premises shortly I hardly think the blame in verification lies with me.

    I have been offered a TV set for free, which I’d use for DVDs and I’d rather like to get a wii, but TV liscencing are still apparently going to appear at the door at any minute, and given their previous level of belligerance I’d have to get something in writing from them that I could use it in this way before I’d give them the (true) arguement that I wasn’t using it to recieve TV.

    I’m wondering if there’s any way I can take the TV to bits so it can’t recieve TV signals (of course logically it can’t if its not connected to an arial. )

    Comment by will gorel — January 8, 2008 #

  16. You may be interested in this post:

    Comment by Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet Blog) — January 9, 2008 #

  17. Excellent post, Roo!

    I have precisely the same set of circumstances – having returned to the UK from Australia (where their TV is so poor I stopped watching it altogether) and rented a new house in the UK, we found no fewer than four demanding letters from TVLA.

    Unfortunately for them, we haven’t bought a TV, and I don’t want to – after I watched Little Miss Jocelyn on I-Player the other night.

    Nick Reynolds – unless you can explain that abomination of a comedy, then I’ll never watch BBC again. Awful.

    Anyhow, back to the subject – I was accused of being in contravention of the law after I discussed the above rationale for not getting a licence – thanks to this post I now know I was in the right. Which I also enjoy.

    Comment by Rob Scott — January 11, 2008 #

  18. […] Incidentally, to anyone who thinks that watching pre-recorded television programs on I-player would require a television licence, you are wrong: see this excellent post from Roo Reynolds for more details.  […]

    Pingback by » Little Miss Jocelyn - A Little Bit Shit » The World’s Greatest Blog — January 11, 2008 #

  19. This post has caught my attention as I’m currently considering losing my TV supply.

    Currently I have no choice but to get my TV through Virgin Media’s cable services as I live in a rented flat with no connected aerial, and I cannot have a satellite dish fitted.
    I would, however, like to keep my TV for watching DVDs in comfort, and playing games on my PS2 (and hopefully a Wii later this year!).
    (Unfortunately there is no package available which only allows access to VOD programmes – they all include the basic i.e. licensed content.)

    A few years ago, whilst lodging in one room of a friends house, I bought a TV card for my PC in order to watch and record TV on my PC.
    Within 4 or 5 days I received a bill for a TV licence! How did they know?! Well apparently whenever anyone buys equipment capable of receiving a TV signal, the TVLA are informed, and as there wasn’t a licence in my name at that address, they automatically sent out the demand.

    I called them, of course, to explain that the household already had a licence so would they please not hassle me, but the very nice lady explained that it was because I had a different name – and then asked whether I was renting a room there. I said yes, but asked what did that have to do with it? She said that I was supposed to have a separate licence. (In fact, my friend’s adult son who was paying to live in a room at the other end of the house should also have had a licence!). 3 licences for one (4 bedroom) house!
    There was a but, however: That if my equipment was for communal use – or situated in a communal area e.g. the lounge – then that was fine. Of course I confirmed this and I heard no more about it. Phew!

    At least this time, if I get Virgin Media to stop piping TV into my flat, I can prove that I am not even capable of receiving live TV (whether or not I should have to by the terms of the TVL wording). I feel for anybody who CAN receive TV but chooses not to, and would like to own a TV set for other uses.

    Comment by Stuart Ross — January 12, 2008 #

  20. I allowed my license to lapse recently but contacted TV Licensing first by phone. I was told I could have a TV as long as it was not connected to or receiving any live broadcast; that I should remove all cables/connections of receivers from the back of the TV and that a good idea would be to remove the actual connectors from the cables or tape up any connectors to arials, etc. just in case perhaps a ‘visitor’ might be tempted to view TV.

    Part of a recent e-mail from TV Licensing after I complained about their “harassing, abusive, threatening letters”;
    “In due course one of our Visiting Officers will call on you and confirm the situation. Once confirmed, we will update our records accordingly. This will protect your address from mailing, for a longer period than would normally be set at an address, as it has been confirmed that a set is not in use”

    I replied to the effect that I do still have a TV and use it to watch videos, DVDs and as a PC monitor.

    I await their next communication :/

    Comment by Wizb — January 26, 2008 #

  21. And so….

    “As you have let us know that you only use television equipment to view videos, DVDs. We have now updated our records to show that you do not need a TV Licence. However, I should advise you to make sure that the television and video are not tuned to receive television broadcasts, it is also advisable to ensure the equipment is not connected to any aerials. I must inform you that one of our Visiting Officers will visit your premises to check that the equipment being used does not receive broadcast signals.”

    Just have to wait on the visit from der Gestapo now.

    Comment by Wizb — January 28, 2008 #

  22. I am in the same position of not having a TV for 18 months now, yet the Stasi are expected to visit soon, as per their recent letter. TVL is run by Capita – what you would expect really. Just email back and say it is harassment and you will be contacting your MP. It stops the letters.
    I await the Stasi’s appearance and attempts to step over the threshold will be met with unrestrained useage of army acquired Aikido. And all this for the obsession that someone MUST be watching a box in the corner – to veg out on overpaid excesses like Jonathan Woss??? Go and read a book – far more educational!!

    Comment by Voice of the Voyager — February 25, 2008 #

  23. Hi ,

    I have had the same gestapo treatment .Trying to convince the TV people that I do not watch television.

    My question, can you watch Sat programs from outside UK without a licence?

    Comment by Tariq — February 28, 2008 #

  24. [Quote]Tariq:
    “can you watch Sat programs from outside UK without a licence?”
    You cannot view any televised signal as at is being braodcast.
    Easy way to think of it;
    you need to pay for the airspace that the signal passes through (even cable TV passes through airspace at some point before entering cable)

    Comment by Wizb — February 29, 2008 #

  25. Whats acctually happening is this guy roo is avoiding licence fees while enjoying previously broadcast material at the expense of others and is BREAKING THE LAW. Its quite simple if you want to watch what has cost money to produce you need a licence. Oh and Nick Reynolds from the BBC what are you doing about reporting this guy for breaking the law its quite simple here are his address details:

    [Roo says: I’ve removed my home address from the end of this comment]

    Comment by Gary — March 18, 2008 #

  26. ‘Gary’, I wish I knew why you are so angry. I can assure you that I’m not breaking the law by using iPlayer (as it stands now) without a TV licence. To quote again from the iPlayer FAQ:

    “You do not need a television licence to watch television programmes on the current version of the BBC iPlayer.

    You will need to be covered by a TV licence if and when the BBC provides a feature that enables you to watch ‘live’ TV programmes on any later version of BBC iPlayer, which has this option.”

    Comment by Roo — March 18, 2008 #

  27. If the BBCi player where to fall under the TV licence fee, so would youtube. Just because the programme may have been made by the BBC, it doesn’t, in my opinion, elevate it above any other ‘on demand’ streaming video.

    It could be argued that the ‘on demand’ service is a broadcast. The BBCi player server broadcasts the programme and the client receives it. However, the same could be argued for sending a video message on a mobile phone.

    “where that programme is received at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public” makes this situation fairly clear cut.

    A friend of mine suggested that it would be OK for me to use his slingbox (neat bit of kit that streams the output of and remotely controls a skybox). I won’t, it wouldn’t be legal.

    And then I pondered this. If I where to set up a webcam on my cat’s basket and broadcast it via, would the new regulations require you had a licence? It is, after all, no different to a TV signal, originates in the UK and can be watched simultaniously by members of the public” I guess my question here is, how does UK law define a broadcaster?

    I keep to the law on licencing very strictly. The good people at the TV licencing authority take such pleasure in writing threatening sounding letters with bold print talk of thousand pound fines and small print to mention these occur only if I am illegally watching TV.

    Comment by Ivan — March 20, 2008 #

  28. Couple points that others have mentioned that I’m currently pondering…
    1) As mentioned by Ivan-I think anything, anyone broadcasts, in whatever way, requires a license. So, if Ivan allows people to watch live coverage of his cat, would his millions of viewers need a license? I suspect so.
    2) You clearly need a license to watch stuff as it is being “received by members of the public'; is, in this definition, the word public limited to the UK public? Could we watch programs that are being streamed by (for example) American TV channels? If not, how are we to know if something is being broadcast at the same time as we are watching it?!
    By the way, I think 4od does show some stuff live, so worth keeping an eye on what you watch.

    Agreeing to the ToC doesn’t protect you from licensing legalities. ToCs are between you and the BBC, and wouldn’t override the law.

    I don’t like the way the TVLO harasses people with mail, or how you have to provide address details when buying equipment, or how they carefully avoid calling you a criminal in their letters. When I last moved I made a couple phone calls and sent a couple letters-after the second one which picked them up on how they had broken the data protection act (not using accurate details provided to them) they stopped bothering me for a year. Though, judging by recent post it seems a “I’ll get my MP on you” letter might be needed!
    Generally I think the inspectors themselves are fine-they’ve got little to gain from annoying people.

    Comment by Ben — March 27, 2008 #

  29. I think the days of detector vans are over – TVLO now use a database listing all addresses with a current TV licence gathered from those who had and renew licences or disclosed their addresses when buying a new TV.

    Now here is my question. If I am using a PC without TV card, and watching TV programmes on my PC via the internet…..if the TVLO were using a detector van my PC is not a TV receiver so will not emit any local oscillator signals from its circuity – what detector van’s look for, and if I do not own a TV or VCR or DVD-R…..what then? How will they know what I am doing in the privacy of my own home?
    With the advance of technology I think the days of the TV licence are numbered…..but guess the government of the day will find some other way to screw us over to the benefit of the BBC.

    Comment by Rental John — April 9, 2008 #

  30. There’s quite a debate as to weather the TV ‘detector van’ was ever abale to detect the RF emissions of a tuned circuit from an individual TV anyway. They where probably more of a threat than a serious method of detection.

    Comment by Ivan — April 11, 2008 #

  31. I believe battery operated devices like TV’s in caravans are exempt which would mean a mobile phone is but then the BBC has never let facts get in the way of things.

    You do not need a BBC TV Licence for a TV or computer unless you watch “live” tv and so just watching dvd’s & playing video games is fine.

    Also I think you’ll find the BBC is pushing the internet so much because they know less and less people are watching TV so are acting like a wounded animal looking for other means of funding.

    “If we saw, over time, that some people stopped receiving live broadcasts at all, stopped paying their licence fee, but continued to consume televison programmes, solely on-demand through the iPlayer (or other players), then we might have to consider talking to the Government about Part 4 of the Communications Act 2003 and the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004, so that they can then consider whether on-demand tv viewing might be brought within its aegis.”

    Don’t fall for the BBC lies. Knowledge is power & the sooner this dinosaur is left to fund itself the better ;)

    Comment by Sao Paulo — April 12, 2008 #

  32. Ivan the whole argument about the TV vans is flawed anyway. The TV detecter vans was only used to scared people because the evidence could never be used in court ;)

    Comment by Sao Paulo — April 12, 2008 #

  33. Do you wish to hear lies from the BBC? Well I was reading some freedom of information stuff about the BBC which asked them if people were employed to surf the internet to seek and crush any discontent regarding the mighty BBC. The BBC said in the reply that they do not do this in anyway. I would just like people to look at this blog and you’ll see Nick Reynolds from the BBC blog team because he spends most of his time on non BBC sites doing what the BBC has denied!

    Comment by Sao Paulo — April 12, 2008 #

  34. I recently had a visit from the TV licence people despite phoning them 18 months ago when i first moved into my house to explain that I do have a TV but it is only used for DVDs and a Playstation, and it was agreed that a licence was not needed. Anyhow, I explained all this to the people at the door which they politely asked if they could check the ariel lead was not in the back of the TV. Although I realise I didnt have to let them in, as I had nothing to hide, I figured it was in my favour to do so. They didnt mention internet access at all.

    Comment by Gill — April 12, 2008 #

  35. Having said that, I do not disagree with the concept of the licence fee at all, I just chose not to watch telly any more until I got broadband and discovered iplayer. If the law stated that a licence was required for the iplayer I wouldnt argue, I would probably just revert to watching stuff on youtube. and thats the issue with licencing internet tv is how would you determine what is licensable, iplayer, 4od, youtube, veoh, et al…

    Comment by Gill — April 12, 2008 #

  36. I have just joined the ranks of tv licence free households. I have declared my non-ownership of any aeriel connection and I gather I can expect an inspection visit at some point, it seems they check everyone now, this may be a new policy?

    Incidently, I still have a tv, currently marking time as a large black living room ornament. Its an old 28 inch crt and weighs roughly the same as I do, so moving it seems less sensible than asking someone to be very kind and buy me a DVD player for my birthday.

    Like Roo, my biggest reason was the attitude of the tv licencing folk, especially over the payment process. I have shared bills for almost all my life, and it so happens that the tv one has always been in someone else’s name, so this would be my first. And, since I’ve just had 6 months (unpaid) sabbatical, I’m currently a capital and savings free zone, so I’m trying to avoid large bills, which means paying £140-odd upfront is not a preferred option. There’s a quarterly payment scheme which charges an interest fee (I’m not sure how they justify it… I don’t watch the 4th quarter output during the 1st quarter, but I suppose it isn’t very far away from most car insurance schemes), but the weirdest option is the monthly direct debit.

    For the first 6 months, you pay double the normal rate, so that then “you are always 6 months ahead”. Leaving out the strangeness of being 6 months ahead, which strikes me as free interest for the beeb, my bigger question is … when do you get this back?

    I know of 4 ways: death, moving into a nursing home, leaving the country, or giving up your tv.

    How many people, when dying, or when moving into a nursing home, will think to advise tv licencing 6 months ahead of their change in circumstances, and stop paying?

    I’m willing to bet that hardly anyone gets to claim it back at all. I think the vast majority of those who pay by monthly direct debit end up donating those extra 6 months to the bbc. And those who pay annually probably donate around 6 months on average, for the same reasons.

    So my question to those of you who have given up a tv licence: did you remember to claim back or stop paying 6 months ahead of your decision?

    And I wonder, statistically, how many people really get those 6 months back?

    As a secondary reason, I don’t disagree with the concept of the licencing fee, but I think we should have the option of choosing between the fee or advertisements. I hate having to watch films without a loo/tea/fill the dishwasher break every now and then. I think DVDs should have an “interval” option too.

    Comment by Sarah Eggleston — April 17, 2008 #

  37. Oh damn, it’s probably licensing. Anyone know how to turn on UK-English spillchucking?

    Comment by Sarah Eggleston — April 17, 2008 #

  38. I had a visit from TV license officer today. She attempted to view my tv and gain entrance. I recognized her name from previous letters where they had convicted me of not having thus specific tv license on three separate occasions. All three were retracted from court later. The lady was the one who kept sending me letters further after the three convictions were retracted asking for the tv license and threatening more court convictions. I sent her away saying I did not watch tv. I unplugged all the cables and reset all the channels because I’m frightened of them. Last time to get there convictions they falsified that my personal tv license was a forged license. I did some checking on tv license fees and it seems aside from paying 6 months in advance they also add on 6 years previous to your fee and the total tv license fee consists of 7 1/2 years viewing fees over 1 years license.

    Comment by Cy — April 20, 2008 #

  39. There’s an interesting point here regarding the “more traditional” video on demand services i.e. Virgin Media.


    If I own a TV set, then in virtually all cases, that TV is physically capable of receiving broadcast channels that are subject to the TV license. However, as has been discussed, if I choose not to watch those live broadcast channels, yet still own that equipment (for alternate uses), then I don’t need the license.

    The interesting question that arises is what happens when you subscribe to say Virgin Media? They integrate the broadcast channels right into the interface, but if you choose to only watch the on-demand services, then in sync with the TV set rules, surely you still don’t need a TV license, even though your equipment is capable of receiving them.


    Admittedly, there’s a question of trust here – one more specific than when you just own a TV set. If a visiting enforcement officer can see that your TV has not been tuned to any of the broadcast channels, and there’s also no aerial to be seen, then there’s a pretty good argument that a license isn’t needed. However, if by a few remote-control button pushes the broadcast channels appear, then there’s only the word of the home-owner to go upon.


    I find myself in this exact situation. I love my DVDs, retro video games and YouTube etc., but really don’t care much for scheduled broadcast TV. Presently I’ve got a few Macs, and no license.

    From watching my friend’s Virgin Media package, I’d really like to have those on-demand documentaries and films too, but to access them, I don’t want to have to also buy a license for the bundled broadcast channels that I just wouldn’t watch.


    Various Google searches haven’t specifically told me the law on this one either way… this blog post coming the closest.

    Sooo…. can anyone enlighten me on the rules here? If I subscribe to Virgin Media, and only watch video on demand, do I need a license?

    Comment by Francis Booth — May 5, 2008 #

  40. Maybe we could lobby Virgin to supply a “no-licence” bundle? I’d be interested in that too.

    Comment by Sarah Eggleston — May 6, 2008 #

  41. It’s all in the database? – You bet it is!

    I created a tool called TVL detector ( Basically it’s a database, which holds information on the whereabouts of TVL enforcement staff and their illusive TV detector vans. You can submit TVL sightings and register to receive email notifications whenever someone reports a sighting near to where you live.

    Erik Oostveen

    Comment by Erik Oostveen — May 10, 2008 #

  42. I phoned the licensing authority today and was told I could watch iplayer without a licence because it is not a live tv broadcast.

    Comment by Des Hiron — May 12, 2008 #

  43. Roo,

    I just wanted to say thanks for the article, I pretty much knew most of it anyway, but with an impending visit from the ‘licensing authority’ it’s useful to have the facts … particularly as I retain a de-tuned TV in my de-arialed home for watching DVD’s and playing games.

    Seems the TV licensing site has keeled over!



    Comment by Alasdair — May 28, 2008 #

  44. The whole idea of a licence for watching TV is archaic.
    Like the rest of the broadcasting firms, they should go the Advertisment route.
    For one thing they would make far more money and it would give us the chance to make a cuppa, when the ads come on.
    As no other country (worldwide) has this stupid rule, it should be stopped immediately.
    Especially considering we have to pay considerable pennies for the priviledge of watching Satellite programs.
    And for another thing, ‘why do we need a licence to watch’. Are they saying we need to be sure we have the experience to watch/turn the tv on, like a licence for a car?
    If everyone flately refused to pay it, there would be nothing they could do; they would have to go the Ads route.
    So, come on everyone, make a stand….

    Comment by Susie — June 1, 2008 #

  45. I prefer the ad model too. I gather the balancing argument is that for quality documentaries you need cross-subsidy. So, for example, no one funded by ads would ever make high quality stuff like, Planet Earth.

    Having sung in some very painful re-re-re-re- takes for “Songs of Praise” with excruciating degrees of perfectionism by the production team, I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the beeb to lower the bar on some of their quality requirements.

    But I admit Planet Earth and Blue Planet were pretty fabulous. I wonder how many more of that kind of thing are we likely to see?

    Comment by Sarah Eggleston — June 4, 2008 #

  46. PS In case it isn’t obvious, I did own a licence at the time when I watched Planet Earth & Blue Planet.

    Comment by Sarah Eggleston — June 4, 2008 #

  47. I don’t have a TV license. Its much cheaper to just buy the DVDs when they come out. There are only a few good programs which are worth watching so you save loads. Although now iPlayer has been invented you don’t even need to do that! (although the good stuff I buy to watch again anyway)

    Comment by James Tatlow — June 26, 2008 #

  48. I think the most sensible option, given the very high user rates for BBC content (TV and Radio) is to have the current fees for licenses absorbed into income tax and specifically budgeted for the BBC. This is essentially what happens in Australia, the ABC gets funded by the government through taxes and can thus broadcast ad free content.

    Comment by Patrice Cameron — June 28, 2008 #

  49. The BBC has it’s own fund raising powers, specifically so that it can hold the government to account. If the fee was a normal part of income tax, the government could do whatever it liked with it with impunity.

    Comment by kyb — June 29, 2008 #

  50. My own recent thoughts on this

    Your post was very interesting as were a number of the comments !



    Comment by monkeyleader — July 23, 2008 #

  51. So let me get this straight because I am not sure about this article. As I see it I do need a license for a PC with broadband internet connection as it can receive live broadcasts ? I don’t own a TV. So basically if I don’t pay the BBC they are black mailing me by making me a criminal and denying my right to use my internet connection and mobile phone. Let me see that is blocking me associating with my contacts. Blocking me from free expression in forums. Blocking me access to information. Blocking me from banking shopping and any other activity I wish to do on my internet and mobile phone connections. How would one prove that one as not accessed a live stream or how can the BBC prove you have without legally accessing your ISP records. Remember as far a s TVL is concerned you are guilty till you can prove your innocence I can’t see any ISP handing over records legally. There is a serious human rights abuse going on here and the BBC must be stopped. You can have access to anything you want but only if you buy a product you don’t want from the BBC ?

    Comment by marshy — August 4, 2008 #

  52. No. Despite which Nick Reynolds said in comment #3, you don’t need a licence just because you own a PC + broadband which is capable of receiving live broadcast.

    You need a TV licence to use any television receiving equipment such as a TV set, set-top box, video or DVD recorder, computer or mobile phone to watch or record TV programmes as they are being shown on TV.”

    e.g. you only need a licence if you watch or record TV (regardless of the equipment) as it is being broadcast live. Owning such equipment is not the same as using it to watch live TV.

    Comment by Roo — August 4, 2008 #

  53. >So let me get this straight because I am not sure >about this article. As I see it I do need a license for a >PC with broadband internet connection as it can >receive live broadcasts ?

    No that is incorrect, you only need a licence if you actually use your PC to watch live TV, the burden of proof lies with them.

    So we just need to have some great British
    stiff upper lip and send them packing!!

    Personally I shred without opening any correspondence from them, and have done for 10 years…

    Comment by Owen — August 7, 2008 #

  54. I think that there is an incredible amount of confusion as far as the correct implementation of the TVL requirements are concerned – but this is not restricted simply to ‘consumers’. It seems to me that the people working for TVL are themselves terribly confused.

    I don’t watch TV – haven’t done for a long time, and just use my set to watch DVDs. An ‘Enforcement Officer’ (what a title!) came to visit, and I confirmed that my television doesn’t even have an aerial.

    I was surprised, therefore, to receive a letter from Tim Upton, the Customer Administration Manager at TVL stating categorically that I had admitted to owning a televsion set, and to not having a licence, and that therefore I was breaking the law.

    He went on to state that he would be taking me to court, and I would be forced to pay an enormous fine unless I relented and bought a license within 7 days.

    I wrote back to Mr Upton pointing out his incorrect interpretation of his own rules, but despite two duplicate copies and reminders being sent to him, have never heard anything since.

    Perhaps it is time to update the licensing rules for the sake of those whose job it is to enforce them, as much as for those who need to ensure they adbide by them.

    Comment by Justin — September 14, 2008 #

  55. In reply to comment 36 – Sarah:-

    “For the first 6 months, you pay double the normal rate, so that then “you are always 6 months ahead”. Leaving out the strangeness of being 6 months ahead, which strikes me as free interest for the beeb, my bigger question is … when do you get this back?

    So my question to those of you who have given up a tv licence: did you remember to claim back or stop paying 6 months ahead of your decision?”

    Just took the decision to get rid of my TV and cancel the license. I had already paid for 3 months of next year’s license and this year’s had 3 months still to run. Refund for both came through after about one week of my phone call to TVLA.

    I’m now waiting for the threatening letters to start!”

    Comment by MistleyMatt — September 20, 2008 #

  56. TV – watch out folks – the signals get into your brain…..the amount of immoral tripe that is about has led us to finally get rid of it. You could call it ‘satan’s microwave’. It fries human brains. Please I urge all of you to switch off your sets and get out and smell the fresh air and start having ideas of your very own. Do not let yourself be brainwashed by others, dictating your very essence.
    I can’t wait for the arrival of those License people. I’ll give them my ha’penny’s worth.

    Comment by Magnus — October 19, 2008 #

  57. I don’t watch tv live but do watch stuff i download. Maybe a week or two later.

    I would tell the tvla about this fact. Even though i am getting the htreatning letter now, having not renewed my license. But i am put off telling them, because i read everywhere about all the mail they continue to send.

    This would be the same as spamming an email account. Or much like the rubbish adverts the post office now deliver (which they get paid to do by advertising companies).

    So how can these future mailing after informing the tvla That no aerial connection (have no sat). Is connected and have no tv. Except a dusty old one (never connected stored away for last 4 years) that may or may not get used as a console game monitor. Or of the portable tv that i use as a monitor for capture card editing of old camcorder film.

    How do you make sure the dvla (oops i meant tvla) do not continue to spam my letterbox with junk mail. Once told they should disapear not keep me on a mailing list. Many companies get a good telling off now if the keep sendingjunk mail, why not tvla.

    Thats the only reason i will not inform them, i do not want any further junk mail or correspondence from them.

    Comment by here — October 31, 2008 #

  58. Ok, so apparently we don’t need a TV licence to use the iPlayer AT THE MOMENT. However, if the BBC was to decide to change the iPlayer so that it CAN receive “live” broadcasts, then anyone using it WOULD need a licence:

    “You will need to be covered by a TV licence if and when the BBC provides a feature that enables you to watch ‘live’ TV programmes on any later version of BBC iPlayer, which has this option …”

    It doesn’t say what would happen if I use iPlayer without live broadcast and then, unannounced, perhaps on a Sunday afternoon, they suddenly decide to “upgrade” it to so that it does do “live”.

    Would everyone with iPlayer installed on a PC suddenly find that they have to have a licence, and can expect to get their collar felt without warning?

    Or (this would seem the reasonable thing, but it might be naive), would there be a new release of iPlayer and only people who CHOOSE to download this new version would be liable for a TV licence? And would there then be a choice of versions – live and non-live?

    Otherwise, I could suddenly find, with no action from me, and without even wanting it, I could become liable for a TV licence, even though I don’t watch TV, don’t have a TV, and never ever watch live TV on a PC.

    AFAIK, I don’t have iPlayer installed on my PC. I don’t even have RealPlayer – AKA “Real Spyware” – installed. I find I can watch YouTube etc. with what I have.

    Even the little videos on the BBC New page (which seem to be using “BBC Media Player” – I’ve no idea what that is, but it seems to be using Flash) don’t need iPlayer, as far as I can see. Although, confusingly, they do come with a logo that looks to me exactly like the iPlayer logo.

    But if and when the TV Gestapo come to call, I might find it hard to convince them that I don’t, can’t, won’t watch “live” TV on my PC, or in any other way.

    Comment by Dialogist — November 2, 2008 #

  59. I think the facts are pretty straight on this issue.

    It is clear that we should not have to pay £139.50 a year in order to receive 9 BBC television channels unless we make the choice to do so. We also should not be stopped from receiving other (separately funded) television channels from other providers if we choose not to pay this fee (and not receive the BBC content). However it is a law that we require to do so. The company that enforces this law (TVL) works on behalf of the BBC. The government backs TVL, the BBC and this law. Therefore this is a political issue. I have personally decided to not vote Labour in the next general election because of this one issue. The government has made its support of the TV License fee wholly apparent.

    I have previously voted for Labour in 2 of the past 3 general elections.

    Clearly my one vote will not make a difference. If you feel strongly enough about this issue I would suggest that you make it clear to the politicians who matter on this issue. The loss of thousands of votes would clearly be a cause for concern for the government. A collective approach on this subject will be the only way to gain action from those who have the power to make change. The way in which this fee is implemented and so aggressively enforced is clearly undemocratic.

    A BPIX Mail on Sunday recently found that 74 % of people asked said that the BBC License fee is unjustified.

    That is potentially a great number of votes.

    It is not the people who can afford to pay this license fee who will find it hard to find the money to do so. People who are already finding it difficult to make ends meet then have to pay the equivalent of the average yearly house insurance for television content that they would probably otherwise decide is too expensive as opposed to Free to Air. It is often the less financially advantaged that find television as the best option for entertainment.

    Comment by PLC — November 2, 2008 #

  60. I recently took the advice of a TV license forum which told me how to withdraw my consent for the salespeople (TV license enforcers – very threatening term!) to approach my property. They replied with a letter saying that if I didn’t give a name (although I signed it, they obviously can’t read) they do not need to obey common law – which I gave as my rationale.
    I don’t need a TV at my address, I don’t want to be assaulted or threatened or lies made up about my situation (as they are on record for doing). Therefore I don’t want to meet any of them without the protection of the police as independent witnesses. I also had the guff about interview under caution, but again no mention of tapes, provision of solicitors under PACE or how it would be a legal interview. I don’t think so! On that basis I could interview anyone and create any case against them. How do they get away with it?
    How can these people continue to be allowed to flout the law and be backed by the state. As someone said, perhaps Argos would like to interview me next about my possession of a catalogue and whether I use it with their permission. Stupid, but think about it for a second, it’s not dissimilar.
    Role on the abolition of the license and the end of bullying by government sanction.

    Comment by Chris — November 12, 2008 #

  61. Really interesting thread. Thankyou.
    I would like to add an anecdote regarding the activity of the ‘Enforcement Officer’.

    I begin by holding my hands up to having owned a TV without a current licence. I admitted this to the ‘officer’ who visited. So, my problem is that the law is abused at the doorstep. In brief, the conversation was:

    You are breaking the law
    OK, sorry.
    I will have to prosecute.
    But I am unemployed, the TV was a recent gift, I cant afford a licence at the moment.
    I will have to prosecute….
    (sob) OK.
    (at this point the law was put into his back pocket)
    ….unless you sign this direct-debit now.
    **But I have no money.
    You must sign this direct-debit now or I will issue a prosecution notice.
    (Repeat 5 times from **)

    Once he realised that he was not going to get his commission, the direct-debit form was put away and the ‘law’ once again became important. I was issued the prosecution caution.

    The guy was nothing more than a salesman with the power to legally caution!
    Yes, by law I was guilty. Yet, if I had the money, I could have easily avoided falling foul of the law. I can’t help feeling that I was issued the caution because I am currently unable to set-up a direct-debit….i.e. poor.

    (Incidentally, is there a chance that the EO’s insistence that I set up a direct-debit for which I had insufficient cash flow be considered to be incitement to commit fraud? Just a thought).

    Comment by Martin — November 17, 2008 #

  62. Hi I found this site really interesting,I dont have a tv and havent for some time, due to my opposition to the fee, but also I was not happy with my kids watching tv.I have to say apart from the first couple of days moaning they havent missed it at all, they have portable dvd players and a lot more time is spent doing other things ie reading, drawing even the dreaded piano practice.I know of several families who have also gone tv free lately. I do watch iplayer and itv catch up now and then. I have received a couple of letters I just shred them .. the tv twits can look round if they call, the old telly is long gone. Funny I do not get calls from the dvla asking if I have a car I dont!but I could be using one without a license! I think it is the mean little attitude of the enforcement agency that gets my goat.Just really heartened to see a lot more people questioning the fee.

    Comment by James — November 22, 2008 #

  63. I put a hammer through mine and sent photos of it after having a licence continuously for over ten years. The number of programmes I could watch diminished as they started to put more rock drummer soundtracks on the programmes I liked. I remember the last one I could watch was Gardener’s World, when they introduced a rock soundtrack to that it was the last straw. I wrote and told them I didn’t want to watch any more as I’d developed a phobia on account of the drumming – my ears are badly damaged and pain and ring when exposed to drumming.

    I asked if I’d be given time to sell the set but they delayed answering until the licence fee was due, saying they’d send people around. I didn’t want anyone trampling around my house so took the hammer to the set and sent pictures. Then I felt scared about the wall socket. I thought the cable came from somewhere like a communal arial, but when the water started pouring out of the side of the house I got into the attic and found it was an indoor arial.

    It was a newish house when I moved in ten years ago and 75% belongs to the housing association but such was my fear of the licence people that I then took the hammer to the wall socket and smashed it to bits, rather more damage than was necessary!

    The smashed in tube I kept on display for them to take a look at should they wish to but eventually couldn’t stand the sight of it though more pleasing to look at then Gardener’s World on account of the puerile drumming with every image of a tulip. Eventually I dumped the set, and replaced it with a nice water feature with a lamp under which are two naked lovers kissing by cascading waters from a vase on its side.

    I have a video recorder which I don’t use anymore since I smashed the set but I’m willing to take the hammer to that at a moment’s notice if necessary as it wouldn’t be worth the trouble of packing it for what I’d get for it on ebay.

    I do worry about my computer which I use a lot and bought new a couple of years ago. It has all sorts of things at the back which I don’t use and worry that there might be something in there that they bully and persecute me for, but I keep my fingers crossed as I don’t like much Utube things or the snippets you get. I tried to watch a DVD I bought at a charity shop on my computer – no player – and it was unwatchable because the action was all jerky. I hate mobile phones I’m afraid so they can’t get me there.

    I’d imagine I’d have to get Housing Assocation permission to get rid of the arial in the attic and it might be a criminal offence to chuck it without asking as it’s part of the house and doesn’t belong to me, well, maybe 25% of it does but I’ve dealt with the part that I suppose I could claim, and I’ve filled in the dents of my anger around the socket when my anger died down – months later.

    I’m skilled enough to remove a tv card from the computer if need be but I think maybe the connection is for using a tv as a monitor rather than receiving tv on the computer.

    I’ve looked around for a monitor as I have a couple of cameras and like to video things which I’d like to watch but can’t anymore. They don’t seem to be available in the shops so my film making has become defunct too.

    Even if they took the funding from taxpayer’s money I wouldn’t want to watch it with all the drumming which makes me a bit sick to be honest, but I’m very much against taking it from the taxpayer as I wouldn’t want to be paying vast fortunes to individuals like J. Ross and Ant and Dec and all the others who just make me sick and are vastly wealthy on the backs of others. Really, most of it is idiotic – the rest is boring. Once you turn off rock you’ve no time for it I think.

    Take my advice, buy yourself a box of watercolour paints, a pad and tell them to ‘stuff it’.

    Comment by francie2002 — November 22, 2008 #

  64. People should remember this:
    TVLA have NO POWER IN LAW to enter your property. The ‘enforcement officers’ who may turn up on your doorstep are private employees of a private company with no more rights than you, I, the butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, and you should never *ever* let them into your home.

    I have no tv and after dozens of letters from the TVLA I wrote to my MP. The correspondence between my MP and the chairman of the BBC made it perfectly clear that the beeb would rather continue demanding money with menaces than simply accept a person’s word that they don’t need a licence.

    Ignore the letters and simply bin them. Be polite to the ‘enforcement officer’ if one turns up on your doorstep, simply courteously inform them you don’t need a licence, say a firm goodbye and close the door.

    They won’t get a ‘search warrant’ because that requires giving evidence of an offence before a magistrates court (“Laying an information”), and simply not having a license is not sufficient evidence for the local mags to issue a warrant.

    You don’t have to speak to them. You don’t have to open the door to them. And you most certainly do not have to let them into your home.

    Anyone who tells you differently either works for the BBC or Capita.

    Comment by Gary2 — November 27, 2008 #

  65. I haven’t owned a TV for years as it’s mostly crap and I just wouldn’t watch it.

    I have always advised TV licensing and they have eventually responded with the ‘OK but don’t forget IF you do use equipment to receive/record we’ll be sending the boys round’. Scary !

    Anyway, I’ve used iPlayer for about last year and have NEVER watched LIVE broadcasts using PC. Therefore, I should be legal.

    However, I’ve just noticed they’ve added live functionality, which I will NOT be using.

    So, in fact, according to current legislation I should not need a TV license but the BBC seem to be saying that as soon as live functionality is added to iPlayer, I need one. Er? How’s that then? If I never watch LIVE broadcasts, I’m not breaking the law.

    Seems to me TV Licensing are second only to the Child Support Agency and their IQOR cronies. Now those people are real legalised gangsters and should be stopped immediately-but that’s another subject.

    In the meantime, I’m about to move and will get ADSL broadband. I really don’t want most of the BBC content. Eastenders, the news and maybe some comedy programs is all I’d ever watch and it doesn’t have to be ‘live’ streaming for me.

    I might just never use the iPlayer site again. Whatever happens, I will never buy a TV or a license.

    I’d rather they stick their TV programs where the sun don’t shine and be legal than be ripped off for a load of drivel I can’t stand.

    Comment by Anon Ymous — November 27, 2008 #

  66. […] in December, I explained why I didn’t have a TV licence, and hadn’t for many years. I also said “As the BBC (hopefully) continues to open up […]

    Pingback by Roo Reynolds - Licensed with a Licence — November 29, 2008 #

  67. You all seem a bit confused about the TV license in relation to radio reception. No license is needed to listen to BBC or comercial radio broadcast in the U.K. Many years ago a tv license was required. Now the Tv license covers tv only – no tv = no license required.

    Comment by jim — December 18, 2008 #

  68. They don’t exactly make it obvious, but a little digging found the following quotes on the TVL website:

    “You do not need a TV Licence if you only use your TV to watch videos and DVDs or as a monitor for your games console.”

    “If you only use a digital box with a hi-fi system or another device which can only produce sound and can’t display TV programmes, you do not need a TV Licence.”

    Comment by 4Candles — December 19, 2008 #

  69. Roo – you say that you need a license to ‘watch live broadcasts which originate from the UK’.

    But according to TV Licensing, you need one to watch live broadcasts which originate from outside the UK too. See this from the TV License website, written to foreign military personnel (as if they are the only people who could possibly prefer to watch overseas broadcasts rather than British TV!):

    Does this apply to watching it on a TV, or do you think it includes live streaming from overseas websites (e.g. CNN?) If so, how does a user actually know if something is being simulcast with a TV broadcast in another country (i.e. do I ring up a friend in the US [or the TV company themselves] to ask ‘is this being shown on CNN at the moment?)

    The way out of this problem would seem to be for TV Licensing to say that anything ‘live’, however distributed, requires a TV license. But then this of course includes Traffic Webcams etc.!

    [Roo adds: thanks. I’ve struck out the ‘which originate from the UK’ bit.]

    Comment by Martin — January 20, 2009 #

  70. Hi Roo,

    Since your original blog post the BBC have further (sneakily I might add, with a little text link at the bottom) changed the policy so that when using BBC Iplayer you need a tv licence if you wish to watch a live broadcast (now that you can live stream online) however you do not need one to watch the standard catchup shows. So to legally use Iplayer you either need to only watch shows after they have been shown, or buy a tv licence.

    Comment by Simon Loftus — February 15, 2009 #

  71. Umm… I don’t think that’s sneaky, or a change in the policy. I think that’s pretty much in line with what everything above says, Mr Loftus. A TV licence is required to watch live TV (whether that’s using the new feature of iPlayer or any other mechanism).

    Comment by anon — February 15, 2009 #

  72. Does anybody know if it is possible to get the bbc to block all bbc t.v. programmes being received at my address so that i no longer have to pay a licence fee for programmes i do not watch.i watch one programme a day from the intire bbc t.v. output,i will not be watching ANY when this programme ends it’s run and in any event i could watch it the next day on the bbc i player.In my opinion,the programmes broadcast by the bbc on t.v.would insult the intelligence of a set of mess tins,why should i be forced to pay for c**p i have no disire to watch? why can we not have the option not to receive bbc t.v. broadcasts and so not be forced to pay a licence fee for programmes i/we do not want to watch?i am sure tv sets could be made that do not receive bbc t.v.programmes,this would make it easy to prove that you do not view live bbc t.v. broadcasts.To get back to my original question,is it possible for the bbc to block it’s t.v.signals to a stated address or could they send some one round who could block t.v.sets from receiving live t.v. broadcasts.Sean.

    Comment by sean dobson.bc.dmm — March 11, 2009 #

  73. Sean, the TV license does not give you permission to watch BBC broadcasts, it gives you permission to watch *any* broadcasts.

    The law is that if you watch live broadcasts, you must own a TV license, whether those broadcasts are BBC, ITV, Channel4 or whatever. It’s irrelevant that the money goes to the BBC, without a license, you aren’t allowed to watch other channels either.

    If you don’t want to buy a TV license, then don’t. These days, there’s plenty of content available for free online.

    Comment by thelaw — March 11, 2009 #

  74. I am a little confused by the reply from THELAW.It is only required to have a licence to view B.B.C. programmes,if these broadcasts were blocked,how could you be prosecuted for watching or recording any none B.B.C. broadcast?what would be the offence since you are not required to have a licence to watch or record programmes from other T.V. services.My question was,can the B.B.C. signal be blocked so that you can watch and record programmes from other T.V. services without the T.V.L.A. having a leg to stand on? Why should i have to pay a compulsary licence fee to the B.B.C.? I think that the quality of B.B.C. programmes is so low that they would insult the intelligence of a set of mess tins and i now watch only one B.B.C. programme a day,as from Monday this will go down to zero.The B.B.C. produce the same types of programmes as the commercial channels,why would they do anything else when there is a compulsary licence fee in place? The difference is that unlike the B.B.C.,i do not have to pay directly for c**p i do not watch.Yes,i do know we pay in the shops for the advertising costs.Why can the B.B.C. not be made a subscription service such as sky and others that would solve the problem for everybody who resents paying a compulsary licence for programmes that are similer and no better,often worse,than those produced by the commercial T.V. stations.If the B.B.C. were not running so many digital channels that nobody watches and paying obscence fees to some presenters with OUR MONEY,then maybe they could produce higher quality programmes for B.B.C, 1 and 2. Perhaps some smart Barrister could take the question of the compulsary licence fee to the European Court Of Justice?The B.B.C. might just as well be commercial given the numbers of trailers it runs for it’s own programmes and they have admitted that there will be more repeats,more! have you seen the schedules lately?More game shows,more quize shows,in fact,more of the c**p they currently show.Why should we be forced to pay for this?If the B.B.C.was forced to become a subscription service,unless they got rid of all these “jobs for the boys” digital channels and the obscene fees,unless they started to produce far better programmes,they would loose millions of viewers and they know it which is why they want the compulsary licence fee to remain in place.Sean Dobson.BC.DMM

    Comment by Sean dobson.bc.dmm — March 14, 2009 #

  75. “It is only required to have a licence to view B.B.C. programmes”

    No. That’s not actually true.

    Comment by Roo — March 14, 2009 #

  76. Why is it that the tvl just wont accept some people dont watch tv, they think we are either liars thiefs or just plain mad

    Comment by papalon — July 3, 2009 #

  77. I have found some of the comments upon this site humouress, factual and advantageous in discovering how to defeat the TVL … I thought we beat them in World War 11 … oh no, sorry they were the gestapo/nazi’s …. strange how TVL conjure up such images in ones mind :)

    For those who say that the TVL do not still use detector vans, sorry but they do, I have the misfortune to stop briefly to answer a call outside a building and see a dreaded van depart the said premises :(

    If only I have stopped a few feet further then I might have saved some innocent person being further harrassed by this disgraceful outfit .. oh well always another day to try. (ps they were leaving at about 3 pm ish) most likely to try to catch kids watching tv after school.

    Anyway ….. Television Licences, do I really need one?

    I must confess to actually owning several of these confounded machines, but this does not mean I necessarily need a licence.

    I have one TV in my bedroom, which is connected to a DVD player, it’s there if and when I ever choose to watch it. The TV is not connected to an ariel nor to any channels as such but is tuned to receive pictures from a small camera that shows any callers to my home. I presume that I am not required to have licence for this TV.

    I also own several small portable TV’s that are stored within my loft space, I presume as none are plugged in to an electricity supply, and are not connected to any ariel, I do not need a licence for any of these either.

    I then own a TV that I use as a quad screen for my home based CCTV system, again this is not tuned into any television programmes and has no ariel, I presume no TV licence is required for this set.

    I then own a small entryphone with video screen which is situated within my lounge to let me see any callers in advance of my considering to open the door to ascertain who they may be (I play safe and act dumb if I am unsure of the caller) so presume yet again I do not need a licence for this bit of telecommunication device.

    I then have a 60″ wide projection screen, which does not have any kind of receiving equipment whatsoever, so that doesn’t need a licence,

    Then I have a rather large TV … which is capable of receiving television programmes, but is not connected to any ariel, or tuned into any channels but is connected to a Wii and a PS3, a DVD surround system and also serves as a pc. So I am guessing that as this is not tuned to any Television Channels, and has no ariel connected it is also exempt under the present legislation.

    I am unsure of what the position is if I connect my Sky box to it, as then it is capable of receiving live TV broadcasts which is an iffy situation. its not illegal to own such equipment, just to watch it as it’s being broadcast live.

    As it is possible with a sky box, or virgin one to watch programmes on demand such as pay per view, you only require a licence to actually watch programmes that are broadcast to all, as pay per view, is actually a mini home cinema and not a television broadcast.?

    I then own a portable dvd player which is fitted inside my touring caravan, so this is exempt unless I add a freeview box to it to access tv channels, somehow I cant see TVL raiding every caravan site in the UK to check on all possible caravanners ….. they would stick out like a sore thumb lol.

    Finally, I own an iMac which I use to view iplayer and others such as utube etc, and a laptop that I can also access these sorts of programmes upon.
    I understand it is perfectly possible to download various programmes upon your pc, and then stream it to your TV or Monitor as it would be in such instances …. and as that is not being broadcast live or simultaneously as the terminology states, this too is exempt from requiring a TV Licence.

    So all in all, I think I have the perfect solution to any future visits from TVL, yes they are writing to me with the standard threatening letter, but as I can see them approach my home a long time before they even get near the door (which wouldnt be opened anyway) Don’t you just love CCTV, I guess I will just ignore their pathetic threats and continue to shred the letters as I have done to date.

    Or am I doing something wrong?


    Comment by kazzie — September 11, 2009 #

  78. If I was to puchase a TV License for a Black and White TV but used a Colour TV would they no or find out ?

    BTW – Colour TV Licence (£142.50)
    Black and white TV Licence (£48.00)

    Comment by Ricky — September 30, 2009 #

  79. I want to watch the odd catch-up programme through my TV and Virgin box (my laptop broadband connection is rubbish), /after/ they are broadcast. I don’t really want to pay a license (having just got rid of it), unless I had to, ie. if it was illegal to do so.

    But the TVL say that you don’t need a license to watch iPlayer, (as long as you’re not watching live). And presumably this is the same for 4od and other services you can catch-up on online.

    So, it seems quite a grey area using a Virgin box for catch-up that /can/ receive live broadcast…

    …but aren’t there plenty of people in this situation? And a growing number at that given the rise in on demand services? Shouldn’t TVL/BBC spell it out?!

    Even though it would seem to be legal, In the end I’m probably going to leave the Virgin box disconnected. Yea, that’s right! I’m scared of those big bad bullies and their court threats! I don’t want the hassle!

    Comment by Hannah — October 10, 2009 #

  80. If you have a black and white license, I understand they harrass you for not having a colour license.

    The license is for the use of equipment for receiving ‘live’ broadcast/simulcast. Since iPlayer for non-live doesn’t need a license, it would be perverse to require a license for non-live Virgin, but it would be wise to seek a ruling first.

    You could simply write to TVL for clarification as follows: do you need a license to subscribe to a mixed TV service like Virgin’s which provides live and non-live content, if you don’t watch the live content?

    Virgin may keep records of what you’ve watched – these could possibly be seized as evidence.


    Comment by Tim — November 13, 2009 #

  81. I agree and disagree with many of the comments above. I currently own two monochrome television sets and no colour television sets simply because of the nostalgic value, the reduction in television licensing (£142.50 to £48) and the fact that I don’t notice the lack of colour at all after the first three minutes of watching it (It is only TV after all). I agree that they should never harass any person with threatening letters or, god forbid, the “Secret Police” knocking at your door as the DVLA, as said also above, do neither. I, however, would rather pay for the license than have to sit through adverts that are more mind-numbing that the actual programme itself and offer no intellectual value whatsoever. I still like the idea of having separate licenses for colour and monochromatic television sets, and would have a lot to say if they were ever to scrap that license and charge me the full colour license. All in all I think the license should stay in place for the people who want to use it, as for the people who would rather not watch the BBC’s television service, they should be harassment-free for as long as they don’t watch the service.

    Also, regarding online services that broadcast live programmes, they should have the option to be ignored by the user if they so wish as to avoid the license and should not be forced into paying for a service which they do not use. I also think it obsured of the TVLA to force you to have a license if you watch live ITV and C4, or any other channel for that matter, because thats what the ad’s are for and why the BBC gets all of the money. It’s another desperate attempt for moraless corporations to claw every last penny they think they deserve (which more often than not they don’t) from the honest taxpayers hands. I have one last issue I would like to be addressed, and that is the 7 1/2 year’s worth of license to keep you “6 months ahead of payments.” These fees should be repayed to the person or the estate of the person, upon cancelation of their television license or death, without the licensee having to go to the effort to claim it back. It should go without saying that those fees should be handed back without the effort on their behalf because after all, it’s their money.

    Comment by Jack McAteer — August 6, 2010 #

  82. The Communications Act 2004 Section 11 defines a television set as ‘not being a computer’. See

    I see that one needs a license to view ‘a television programme’, but what is a ‘television programme’, how does it differ from viewing a film on, say, Netflix? I can find no definition anywhere.

    Comment by Raphael mankin — June 10, 2013 #

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