Do I need a TV licence?

20+ TV licence fee tips

You used to need a TV licence merely for having a telly, but now you can get away without paying the £159 annual fee – rising to £169.50 from April 2024 – if you only watch certain channels on catch-up. If you watch BBC iPlayer, you'll need a licence, but you won't for other channels' catch-up services. Confused? Don't be – this guide will take you through whether you should be paying or not, regardless of the device you watch on.

TV licence fee to rise to £169.50 a year from April 2024

The annual cost of a standard colour TV licence will rise to £169.50 from 1 April 2024, the Government has announced. It's an increase of £10.50 on the current price of £159 a year, and the first increase since April 2021. For full details, see the TV licence fee to rise MSE News story.

If you're currently paying for your licence in instalments, either by direct debit or payment card, you'll continue to pay a total of £159. You won't pay the new higher price until your licence is next due for renewal from 1 April 2024.

As the hike is still a couple of months away at the time of writing, for now we'll continue to use the current fee of £159 in this guide, which aims to help you decide if you need a licence to watch TV (legally).

  1. If you watch TV as it's being broadcast you need a TV licence

    Illustration of a television, tablet and smartphone that all say 'Live TV' on their screens.

    If you watch or record shows as they're being shown on telly in the UK ('live TV'), you need to be covered by a TV licence. You also need one if you use BBC iPlayer.

    What many may not realise is that this is the case regardless of the device you're watching on. For example, watching live TV on a phone requires a licence (though if you already have a licence at your home address you won't need an additional one for a mobile device used outside the home).

    The rule is... whether you're watching live TV on a television, computer, tablet, games console, smartphone or any other device, you'll need to be covered by a TV licence.

    However, you do not need a TV licence if you only watch content after it's been shown on television – UNLESS it's on BBC iPlayer. TV programmes downloaded or streamed after broadcast on other catch-up services are fine without one.

    You can buy or renew your TV licence online on the TV Licensing website.

    Quick questions

    • What counts as 'live TV'?

      The TV Licensing website says you DO need a TV licence if:

      • You watch or record programmes as they're being shown on TV, on any channel. For example, when watching or recording an episode of The Chase on your TV, on ITV.

      • You watch or stream programmes live on an online TV service, such as ITVX, Now or YouTube. For example, when watching an episode of The Chase via ITVX the same time as it's broadcast on ITV.

      • You watch or download any programmes on BBC iPlayer. This applies to all channels (including, say, +1 channels) on any mainstream TV platform, including Freeview, Sky or Virgin.

      It also applies to watching 'live TV' via internet-only services such as Amazon Prime Video and Now, but only if you watch content that's simultaneously being shown on a TV channel or is actually being broadcast live, for example a Premier League football match.

      But if you only use online services to watch content on demand, such as cat videos on YouTube or The Crown on Netflix, you don't need a TV licence.

    • How many licences do I need?

      Your TV licence covers your household, no matter how many TVs you have, but the rules differ for shared student accommodation.

      Additionally, if you pay for a licence at home, it'll cover you on a mobile device outside of your home too (subject to certain conditions – see the below point on mobile devices).

      If you move house it's possible to simply update your contact details or get a refund for a complete unused quarter – see How to get a refund.

    • Where does my money go?

      The cash funds public broadcasting by the BBC, allowing it to run without the interruption of adverts. It makes up about 71% of the BBC's income.

      The BBC contracts the collection and administration of the TV licence out to TV Licensing. According to the BBC, the money you pay is split as follows:

      • Television (55%)
      • Radio (16%)
      • BBC Online (10%)
      • BBC World Service (10%)
      • Other services and production costs (5%)
      • Licence fee collection and pension deficit cost (4%)

      For a more detailed breakdown, see page 55 of the BBC's Annual Report and Accounts 2021/2022. (While the BBC's Annual Report and Accounts 2022/2023 are the latest available, they don't include this information, so we've asked the BBC to supply us with it and will update here when we hear back.)

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  2. Only watch catch-up TV? You DON'T have to pay (unless you're watching BBC iPlayer)

    If you never watch the BBC and only watch TV using other channels' catch-up services, it's possible to ditch the TV licence legally and save yourself £159 a year, no matter which device you're watching on. This is because:

    You only need a TV licence if you watch or record TV as it's being broadcast or use iPlayer – if you only ever use other catch-up sites, you don't need one.

    A rule that came into force in September 2016 means you need a licence to legally use BBC iPlayer, even if you're only watching catch-up TV. But that doesn't apply to other catch-up services, so the likes of ITVXChannel 4 and My5 are legal to use without a licence as long as you're not using them to watch live TV.

    You can watch almost anything on these catch-up services: cartoons, comedy, documentaries, drama, films, soaps and sport. And because services such as ITVX are usually updated within an hour or so, if not sooner, you can watch the latest instalment of Coronation Street not long after it's been broadcast live on ITV.

    However, back in 2016, TV Licensing said fewer than 2% of households in the UK only watch catch-up TV – so don't cancel your licence unless you're sure you don't need it.

    How can I cancel my TV licence?

    If you're sure you no longer need a licence, you can formally let TV Licensing know. Although there's no legal obligation to do this, it says doing so will prevent an increasing number of letters coming your way.

    • Cancel your licence first. You can do this by filling out TV Licensing's refund and cancellation request form. Once your request is approved, your licence will be cancelled and you'll be refunded (if applicable) automatically. You don't need to cancel your direct debit if you have one, TV Licencing will do it for you (though it's good practice to check it's done so). If you pay with a TV Licensing payment card, you'll need to get touch using the TV Licensing contact form or by calling 0300 555 0286 (if you pay with a TV Licensing payment card) or 0300 790 0368 (if you pay by direct debit). Both numbers operate Monday-Friday, 8.30am-6.30pm.

    • Then fill out the declaration. Anyone who no longer requires a TV licence can fill out a 'no licence needed' declaration form – including those who pay in cash at certain shops or post offices, who don't need to do the above. After this, keep your confirmation email from TV Licensing as proof.

    • TV Licensing may visit. Once you've cancelled, you might find you get a visit from TV Licensing to check whether you actually do need a TV licence – it's previously said these inspections find one in five households do. If you do need a licence, you'll need to pay the full fee, and you could risk prosecution plus a fine of up to £1,000 (up to £2,000 in Guernsey).

    Here's some inspiration for ditching the licence from the MSE forum:

    I used the online form to cancel my licence (the refund arrived back in my bank promptly). I've never had a problem with harassment, just a quick letter when I purchased a new TV and another two years later which is what they say will happen.
    - CW18

    Quick questions

    • What will TV Licensing do to check if I need a licence?

      TV Licensing told us its enforcement methods are much the same as they've always been, such as sending letters to unlicensed addresses and visits from 'enquiry officers'.

      Users of BBC iPlayer are shown a message asking them if they have a licence, and are given the option to confirm that they do, to find out more or to buy a licence on the TV Licensing website.

      If you're caught watching iPlayer without a licence, the same penalties apply as if you were caught watching live television without one – potential prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000 (up to £2,000 in Guernsey).

    • Do I have to let TV Licensing into my home?

      Enquiry officers do not have any legal powers to come into your home unless they have a search warrant from a magistrate, or sheriff if you are in Scotland. They have an implied right under common law to come to your front door and let you know they are there.

      You have the right to refuse entry, but TV Licensing may then use other methods such as a warrant from court, or detection equipment, which can find if there is TV-receiving equipment in your home.

    • If I have a smart TV and only watch catch-up, do I need a licence?

      Yes if you're watching BBC iPlayer, but technically no if you only use other catch-up services. But proving it will be difficult, especially if your TV is connected to an aerial or satellite dish and is capable of receiving a signal, so it's possible you could find yourself in a tricky situation.

  3. You need a licence to record live TV on any device

    You'll still need a TV licence if you record 'live TV' content at the time of broadcast, using a digital recorder such as Sky Q or Virgin TV 360 (or even a good old-fashioned VHS recorder).

    This is because you're recording it as it's being shown on a TV channel. It doesn't matter when you watch it, how it was recorded, or on which device – you still need a TV licence to do it.

  4. You don't need a licence for watching on-demand content online (apart from on BBC iPlayer)

    Close up of someone watching Avatar on a tablet they're holding on their lap

    As well as catch-up TV (apart from BBC iPlayer), you can also watch programmes and films online on any device without needing a TV licence – as long as it's not something that's being broadcast live or appearing on a TV channel at the same time as you're watching.

    For example, you don't need a licence for Netflix as all its content is on-demand, and you don't need a licence for Amazon Prime Video provided you only watch on-demand content, but you do if you choose to watch live sports or pay extra for one of its live add-on Prime Video Channels.

    For full info on the options available, see our Watch movies & TV online guide.

  5. If you don't pay you could face a £1,000 fine

    Watching 'live TV' without a licence is against the law. TV Licensing has enforcement officers that carry out checks. Fee dodgers can face prosecution plus a fine of up to £1,000 (up to £2,000 if you live in Guernsey) if they're found to be watching 'live TV' or BBC iPlayer without a licence.

    You cannot be imprisoned for TV licence evasion in itself, although you can be imprisoned for non-payment of a fine imposed by the court.

  6. If you have a TV but don't watch it, you don't need a licence

    Green speech bubble with 'TV LICENCE URBAN MYTH' written inside in white.

    Many wrongly believe you need to be covered by a TV licence if you have the ability to watch 'live' television, even if you don't watch it. You only need a licence if you actually watch live television, or use BBC iPlayer.

    So, if you've got an aerial, a satellite dish, a television set or anything like that, but you don't actually watch live TV or use BBC iPlayer, you don't need a licence.

  7. Colour costs £100+ more

    The Government sets the price of the licence. Currently, a colour TV licence will set you back £159, but it only costs £53.50/year if you only watch telly in black and white – and according to TV Licensing figures from March 2023, 4,000 UK households still do.

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  8. Trick for students to watch live telly and use BBC iPlayer without a licence

    Teenage girl eating popcorn while watching something on a laptop.

    If you're a university student, depending on how you watch TV you won't need to get your own licence, even if you've moved into your own digs.

    It's a bizarre rule, which is hidden in TV Licensing's advice for students guide (p.3), and it says you won't need your own licence if:

    1. Your 'out-of-term address' (for example, your parents’ or guardians' address) is covered by a TV Licence.

    2. And you only use TV-receiving equipment (like a smartphone, tablet or laptop) that is powered solely by its own internal batteries.

    3. AND you're not watching TV on that device while it's connected it to an aerial or plugged into the mains.

    This means students whose parents or guardians have a TV licence are fine to use BBC iPlayer and/or watch live television on a smartphone, tablet or laptop that's not charging at the time, without having to pay for their own licence (as long as your parents' address is your usual place of residence outside term time).

    However, if you're watching live TV or using BBC iPlayer on a desktop computer, games console or television, you will need a licence. Whether you need to get one yourself will depend on your accommodation though:

    • Halls of residence. If you're in halls of residence you'll probably be covered for communal areas but not your own room. Check with your university.

    • Private accommodation. If you're living out of halls in a shared house and have signed a joint tenancy agreement, you'll need only one licence for the household. However, if you have separate agreements, you'll need one for your room.

    Remember, if you're only watching catch-up outside of BBC iPlayer, you don't need a licence regardless of where you live.

    If you do pay for a TV licence, as a student you may also be able to get a summer refund.

  9. Check if you're due a refund

    It may be possible to get a refund on your TV licence, if one of the following applies:

    • If you're moving in with someone who already has a TV licence or moving somewhere where you won't watch 'live TV' or use BBC iPlayer.

    • If you're moving abroad.

    • If you're 75 or over and receiving pension credit (or living with someone who is).

    • If you're moving into a care home.

    • If the TV licence holder has died, a refund may be due to the estate.

    • If you have two licences for the same address.

    • If you have a licence, but will not watch or record programmes as they're being shown on TV or use BBC iPlayer before your licence expires.

    • If you've changed the type of licence to a cheaper one, such as a black-and-white licence, you may be due a partial refund.

    You can apply online for a refund up to two years after the expiry date of your licence. You may have to print the refund form and supply evidence. There's full information on the TV Licensing website, with details on how to cancel and the online refund form.

    Aged 75 or over and pay for a TV licence? You're now only eligible for a free TV licence if you get pension credit.

  10. Some are eligible for a cheaper licence

    Depending on your circumstances, it may be possible to get a discount on your licence.

    Take a look at the info below to see if any of these apply to you. If they do, get in touch with TV Licensing to see if you're eligible for a refund.

    You're 75 or older

    All over-75s used to get a free TV licence, but the rules changed in August 2020 and free licences are now only available to over-75s who receive the pension credit benefit.

    For full help on whether you need to pay or not, see the TV Licensing website or call its over-75s information line free on 0800 232 1382.

    The TV licence rules for over-75s living on the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are slightly different:

    • Isle of Man: Over-75s can claim a free licence if they get income support. The Isle of Man Government funds TV Licences for those who are aged 75 and over who don’t receive Income Support. See full info.

    • Jersey: Over-75s can claim a free licence paid for by the BBC if they are on a low income (plus under-75s if they permanently live with someone who's eligible). Full info on how to claim on the Government of Jersey website.

    • Guernsey and Alderney: Over-75s receiving income support can claim a free licence paid for by the BBC. If you're between pension age and 75 and receiving income support you may also be eligible for a free licence. To apply, contact States of Guernsey social security.

    • Sark: Over-75s receiving financial assistance from the Procureur of Sark can claim a free licence paid for by the BBC by contacting the Procureur.

    You're blind or severely sight-impaired

    If you or someone you live with is blind or severely sight-impaired, you'll get 50% off the cost of a TV licence, so it's £79.50 for colour or £26.75 for black and white.

    You must provide TV Licensing with a photocopy of one of these documents to confirm you're certified as either blind or severely sight-impaired:

    • The certificate or document issued by or on behalf of your local authority.
    • The certificate from your ophthalmologist.

    If you're only partially sighted or sight-impaired, you won't qualify for the concession. Details on how to apply for the discount are available on the TV Licensing website.

    You live in a care home or sheltered accommodation

    If you live in a residential care home or sheltered accommodation and watch TV in your own room or flat, then you need a licence. You may be able to apply for an ARC (accommodation for residential care) concessionary TV Licence though, if you qualify.

    This costs £7.50 per room, flat or bungalow. Both you and your accommodation must qualify. Check the TV Licensing website to see if you are eligible, and speak to your care home manager to apply, as they are responsible for arranging this type of licence.

    If your home doesn't qualify, you'll have to pay the full £159 licence fee, or £53.50 if you watch in black and white – unless you're blind or severely sight impaired, in which case you'll get 50% off.

    Got a question that we haven't answered? Tell us what you want to know – and what you know that we don't – in the TV licence forum discussion.

  11. Save by paying the right way, for example, don't pay by quarterly direct debit

    You can pay by credit card, debit card, bank transfer, online and through TV Licensing's own savings scheme. However, some payment methods charge more than others. Here are a few handy tips...

    • DON'T pay by quarterly direct debit. If you do, you'll pay a premium of £1.25 per quarter (£5 per year) more than paying by monthly direct debit, using TV Licensing's savings scheme or paying in one lump sum.
    • Pay on a cashback debit or credit card. You don't get charged extra for paying by credit card, so if you've got a cashback credit card, use it (providing you pay it off IN FULL each month) to pay over the phone or online, and get a slice of your cash back.

      Currently you can't pay for your licence with Amex, usually the top cashback card. For the best non-Amex alternatives (including a debit card that gets you 1% cashback on spending), see our Credit card rewards guide.
    • Pay by cash payment scheme. You can make weekly/fortnightly (first licence in 26 weekly payments, fortnightly payments thereafter) or monthly cash payments (first licence in six monthly payments, 12 months to pay thereafter) at PayPoint outlets, usually found in newsagents and convenience stores, using a TV Licensing payment card.

      Once you've set up paying this way, you can also pay over the phone, by text message, online or via the TVL Pay app, available for Android or iOS devices.

      The advantage of paying this way is you don't have to pay in one lump sum or by direct debit. But you will end up paying for the first year's licence in six months. Once that's done though, meaning you're six months ahead, you will then have 12 months to pay for your next licence.
  12. New annual licences DON'T usually last a full year – so time it right

    You'd think a new annual licence would last a year, yet for many they won't. That's because when you get a new licence it expires the following year at the end of the month prior to the one you purchased it in, NOT exactly a year after you bought it.

    So if, say, you bought a licence on 12 October 2023, it would run for the remainder of that month and for the following 11 months, until 30 September 2024.

    The only way you can be sure to get the full 12 months is to buy at the start of the month, so make sure you do this (or as near as you can to then so you're not without a licence when you need one) to get the maximum value.

    TV Licensing says setting end-of-month expiry dates keeps its costs down and means more can be invested in BBC programmes and services, though it seems a bit cheeky to us. Of course, if you're renewing, you'll be renewing at the start of the month anyway so it shouldn't be a problem then.

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  13. If you don't pay, TV Licensing can check

    TV Licensing's database of around 31 million addresses is the main tool for catching evaders, and it claims to catch an average of over 1,000 people watching without a licence every day.

    If TV Licensing believes you're watching 'live TV' or using BBC iPlayer without a licence, enquiry officers may pay you a visit. They can't enter your home without permission, but can apply for a search warrant to do so.

    They may also use detection equipment such as vans and handheld detectors. However, TV Licensing won't go into exactly how its detection methods work. It says: "We would not want to reveal information useful to potential evaders".

  14. Your licence covers you outside your home for a mobile device

    Young woman laughing while watching something on a smartphone.

    Your licence doesn't just cover you watching TV at home, but also watching or recording shows as they're being broadcast on TV or using BBC iPlayer, on any of these devices:

    • Computers, including laptops and tablets
    • Mobile phones
    • Games consoles
    • Digital boxes, including Freeview, Sky and Virgin
    • Blu-ray, DVD and VHS recorders

    As long as the address where you live is licensed, you're also covered to watch TV outside your home using any device powered solely by its own internal batteries and not connected to an aerial or plugged into the mains. This includes your mobile phone, laptop and tablet.

    This rule also applies to students living away from home – they're covered by their parents' licence as long as their parents' address is their usual place of residence outside term time (and their device isn't connected to an aerial or plugged into the mains at the time of watching).

    But if you have a second home, your licence registered at one property won't apply to the other – you'll need to pay for two licences. For more info, see the point below on separate licences for second homes.

  15. Even if you pay Sky or Virgin, you still need to cough up

    Sorry, but it's the law. Under the Communications Act 2003, and the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004, you need a TV licence, no matter how you receive the programmes.

    So even if you're paying to receive TV via BT, Now, Sky, TalkTalk or Virgin Media, you'll still need to cough up for a TV licence as well.

    You need a licence if you're watching pay-per-view TV

    If you're paying to watch a programme and are watching it at the same time as everyone else who's paying to watch it, you will need a licence – even if you don't watch any other live TV and regardless of the fact that you've already paid to watch it.

    For example, if you pay to watch a boxing match on Sky Sports Box Office or NFL game on Dazn, you will need a licence to watch it as it will be broadcast live at a specific time.

  16. Some students with a licence can get a refund for summer

    If you're a student who bought your TV licence during the academic year, and you're going home over the summer or because you're finishing your studies, you may be eligible for a refund when you leave your uni digs, if you've already paid for the period you won't be there.

    If you pay monthly, simply contact TV Licensing to let it know you no longer need the licence and ask it to stop your payments.

    How much can you get back?

    You can only claim for full calendar months while not living in student accommodation. So say you go home from uni on 22 June 2024 and your licence runs till 1 September 2024, you could claim the cost back for the whole of July and August. But if the licence runs till 25 August 2024, you could only claim for the whole of July.

    You can claim up to 11 months back and have up to two years after your licence expires to make a claim. You get back what you paid, which tends to be £13.25 a month – depending on your payment method.

    You can only get a refund if moving to a property with a licence

    Refunds are only available if you're moving to a licensed address over the break, such as your parents' or guardians' home. If you're moving straight to a new address that isn't licensed you won't be able to claim a refund (unless you're planning to no longer watch live TV or use BBC iPlayer). But you can take your TV licence with you by changing your address.

    How to claim

    You need to complete the online refund form. You may need to provide supporting evidence, in which case you might have to print out your request and send it off by post if you're asked for paper copies of bank statements or bills. Find details on how to get the refund, plus other info for students, in the TV Licensing advice for students guide.

    Can I get a retrospective refund? Yes, the good news is you can claim retrospectively for any complete months you no longer needed the licence provided less than two years have passed since it expired. So if, say, you moved out of your student digs on 25 June 2023 and your licence expired on 28 August 2023, you could still claim for July 2023 up to 27 August 2025.

    How do I prove when I moved out? You'll need to show evidence of when you no longer need your licence from. This could be a tenancy agreement, council tax bill, final water bill or confirmation letter from your university showing your term dates. 

  17. Using other BBC websites doesn't require a licence

    Green speech bubble with 'TV LICENCE URBAN MYTH' written inside in white.

    You need a TV licence if you watch or record 'live' TV or use BBC iPlayer. If you don't do any of these, you don't need a licence.

    So you don't need a licence to, say, read anything on the BBC News website, or watch clips on the BBC Sport app or website.

    But if you watch content on the BBC iPlayer website or app, you will need a licence. Since 2016, this has included catch-up, as well as live TV.

  18. Renters need a licence, lodgers don't

    If you rent a property – either a whole property or a room in a shared home – you must be covered by a valid TV licence to watch or record television as it's being shown on TV, or use BBC iPlayer.

    Usually you'll have to organise this yourself (or between yourselves if in a shared house). Speak to the landlord first though, just in case they already have a licence for the property.

    If you live in self-contained accommodation such as a separate flat or annex, then you need your own TV licence.

    If you're a lodger and/or have a relationship with the homeowner (such as being a family member, partner, nanny, au pair or housekeeper), you'll be covered by their licence, provided you live in the same building and don't have your own cooking or washing facilities.

    For more info if you're renting, see the guidance for tenants and lodgers on the TV Licensing website.

  19. You may need a separate licence if you have a second home

    If you have a second home, and while there you watch or record television programmes as they're being shown on TV, or use BBC iPlayer, you need a separate TV licence for that property.

    The only exception is if your second home is a static caravan, mobile home or moveable chalet, but only if no one will be watching live TV or using BBC iPlayer there at the same time as someone is doing so in your main home. In this case you won't need a second TV licence, but you'll need to sign a declaration stating this.

    If your second home is a boat or touring caravan/vehicle, you won't need a separate licence. There's full info on the TV Licensing website.

  20. Listening to the radio doesn't require a licence

    If you had a radio but not a television, until 1971 you had to pay for a radio licence. These days, you don't need a licence to listen to the radio, including BBC stations. This applies however you listen, even if you listen on a television or via BBC iPlayer – provided you don't also use them to watch TV.

    This is because while the Communications Act 2003 states that a "television receiver" must not be installed or used unless you have a licence, the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004 defines a television receiver as anything installed or used for receiving "any television programme service". Therefore, if you're only using your TV to listen to the radio, it isn't defined as a TV receiver.

  21. Watching live foreign TV in the UK does require a licence

    If you watch 'live TV' from a channel that isn't broadcast in the UK (including those picked up via satellite or online), you need to be covered by a valid TV licence.

    This is regardless of the country of origin or the language of the broadcast.

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