Do I need a TV licence? What you can watch for free plus Netflix rules

EVERYONE who watches or records any live telly in the UK must have a television licence but the rules are different if you mainly use on-demand streaming services such as Netflix.

Failing to pay the licence, if you need one, is a criminal offence but there are a few scenarios where you may not actually need one.

The standard TV licence fee costs £159 and covers watching live TV on any channel and downloading or watching programmes through BBC iPlayer.

The fee goes up each year and is set by the government in line with inflation.

Viewers started paying £1.50 more when the cost of a TV licence was hiked in April this year.

It's the fifth year in a row that the licence fee has gone up, adding to the rising cost of households bills.

The price hike has been a further blow to some OAPs too, because the licence is no longer automatically free for people aged over 75 and is now means-tested.

Let's take a look at how you can avoid paying for a TV licence – legally.

Do I need a TV licence?

A colour TV licence currently costs £159 a year.

A licence for watching a black and white TV costs £53.50.

The fee is set by the government and has risen in line with inflation every year since 2017.

A licence is needed by anyone intending to watch or record TV programmes while they are being broadcast live.

Live TV in this sense covers all programmes on any channel, including soaps, series, documentaries and even movies.

In addition, the rules apply even if you don't watch the shows on an actual TV – for example, if you watch programmes that are being broadcast live on a PC, laptop, tablet or phone.

You also need one if you record live TV and then watch it later.

Do I need a TV licence to watch Netflix and streaming sites?

You need a TV licence if you're watching TV shows being broadcast live on services such as ITV Hub, All 4, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, Sky Go, and more.

But you don't need a licence if you only use these services to stream shows on demand or through catch up.

You also don't have to pay the licence fee for streaming-only services such as Netflix.

If you watch any BBC programmes at all, whether live or streaming or downloaded them on-demand, including on BBC iPlayer – then you automatically have to pay the fee.

How to buy a TV licence

You can buy a TV licence – or apply for a free or discounted one if eligible (see below) – on the UK's official TV licensing site.

There are several ways you can pay for your licence, depending on what suits you.

You can set up a direct debit on the TV licensing website, choosing to pay the total cost once a year or a smaller amount monthly.

There's also a third option of paying every three months although you'll be charged an extra £1.25 on top of each payment.

You can also simply pay the full amount of £159 online or by calling 0300 790 6165 with a debit or credit card.

Paying smaller amounts by debit or credit card is also an option if you apply for a TV Licensing payment card by calling 0300 555 0286.

You can use this card to pay weekly or monthly at any PayPoint, over the phone, by text or online.

PayPoints can be found in many shops, newsagents and supermarkets – you can find your nearest here.

TV watchers can also pay for their TV licence using cash or a debit card at any PayPoint.

All you have to do is tell the person behind the counter that you want to pay for a TV Licence.

They will ask for your name, address and postcode.

If you are renewing your TV Licence, please show them the reminder letter we sent you.

You can either pay the full amount at the PayPoint but if you want to pay in instalments you'll need to get a TV licensing card to do so, using it to to pay weekly or monthly by cash or debit card.

What happens if I don't have a TV licence?

Watching live TV or anything on iPlayer without paying for a licence when you do need one is a criminal offence.

If you're caught without one you need to pay in full as soon as possible or risk prosecution, plus a fine of up to £1,000 (£2,000 in Guernsey or £500 in Jersey).

You can be jailed for non-payment of a fine imposed by the court.

How to watch TV legally without paying for a licence

THE following services are still openly (and legally) available to you – as long as you aren’t using them to watch or stream live TV:

  • On demand TV – such as catch-up TV and on demand previews, which are available through services including ITV Player, All 4, My5, BT Vision/BT TV, Virgin Media, Sky Go, Now TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku and Amazon Fire TV. You can't watch or download programmes on BBC iPlayer without a TV licence.
  • On demand movies – from services such as Sky, Virgin Media, BT Vision, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.
  • Recorded films and programmes – either via DVD or Blu-ray, or downloaded from the internet.
  • YouTube – Video clips that aren't live through services such as YouTube.

Can I legally watch TV without a TV licence?

Fortunately, there are ways to legally watch your favourite shows without having to pay the licence fee.

There are plenty of catch-up TV services, which allow the streaming or downloading of programmes after they have been shown on their respective channels.

If you only watch these you don't need to stump up – as long as you don't watch any BBC content.

If you're absolutely sure you no longer need one you can formally let TV Licensing know.

Although there's no legal obligation to do this, it will prevent an increasing number of letters coming through your letterbox.

The first thing to do as part of this process is cancel your payments.

If you pay by direct debit you can cancel it by filling out TV Licensing's contact form, confirming you no longer watch TV along with your current address.

You'll also need to cancel your direct debit with your bank.

If you pay with a TV Licensing payment card, you'll need to call 0300 555 0286.

Everyone who no longer requires a TV licence should then fill out a "No Licence Needed" declaration form.

Make sure you keep the confirmation email from TV Licensing as proof.

You may also be eligible for a refund if you won’t need your licence again before it expires, and you have at least one complete month left on it. Just fill in the request a refund form.

TV Licensing may visit your property to ensure you are telling the truth and no errors have been made.

The bureau says these inspections find one in five who have cancelled their TV licence actually still need one – that’s around 900 households a day.

Do over-75s get a free TV licence?

Over-75s in the UK used to get a TV licence for free, but now need to fork out for one, unless they claim pension credit.

The change came in last August, but pensioners have a grace period where the BBC would not prosecute.

That ended on July 31 2021.

In February, research found that almost a million OAPs refused to pay the fee, even though they risk a £1,000 fine or a jail sentence.

Since then, the number has dropped to 260,000 at the end of June, according to TV Licensing.

The only exception to the new rules is those households where at least one person receives pension credit – in which case you will not have to pay.

It's really easy to check if you're entitled – here's our step by step guide.

If you do receive pension credit, the BBC says you may need to provide a copy of your most recent benefit letter, so make sure you hang onto it.

If you are blind or severely sight-impaired you are eligible for a 50% discount on your licence.

Ministers officially shelved plans to decriminalise non-payment of the annual TV licence fee for another year.

But when the licence changes were announced, 28 Lords sent Beeb boss Tim Davie a letter saying the TV Licensing threats had created stress among the elderly.

One Brit was hounded by the BBC with a "threatening" TV licence letter after underpaying by just 3p.

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