A Student’s Guide to the TV Licence

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The rules surrounding the TV licence can sometimes feel like they are filled with ambiguity and it isn’t uncommon for students to drive themselves crazy trying to figure it all out. We really don’t blame you. This article aims to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the infamous TV licence by answering a few of the most common questions students have regarding it.

We hope it helps you out and if you spot anything that might be incorrect, please let us know by reporting the article. This can be done by navigating to the link in the sidebar on the right.

What is a TV licence and do you need one?

A TV licence provides you with the legal rights to watch live on any channel or TV service. It also gives you the rights to use BBC iPlayer. Generally speaking, you need a TV licence for your household if you wish to do any of the following:

  • Watch or record TV on any channel via a TV service
  • Watch live on streaming services
  • Use BBC iPlayer

Although this seems like it covers a lot of TV, it isn’t as bad you think. To clarify it all a bit further, we’ve listed some examples of services where you would need a TV licence and some where you wouldn’t below.

Do require a TV licence: Freeview, Freesat, Sky, Virgin, BBC iPlayer, Channel 4

Do not require a TV licence: Disney+, Britbox, Prime Video, Now TV*, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube**

(*) So long as you are not using Now TV to watch live events, such as live football.
(**) As with Now TV, as long as you are only watching videos on demand, not live.

Do students need to get a TV licence when moving into accommodation?

In the vast majority of cases, the answer is likely no.

If you don’t plan on watching live TV on either a channel or streaming service and you don’t plan on using BBC iPlayer, you don’t need a TV licence – don’t worry, this isn’t something that will change just because you’re a student.

Additionally, if your term time address (where you stay for university) is different to where you would normally reside, you can use your home’s TV licence under the condition that the device you use to watch live TV is battery powered, not plugged in to mains, and not connected to an aerial (see gov.uk for more information).

As silly as it sounds, yes – that means there is a big difference between whether you watch TV on a laptop on your bed or on a computer that is plugged in to the wall at your desk! I’m not certain how someone would check that this rule is being adhered to but nevertheless, these are the rules.

If you do wish to watch live TV or use BBC iPlayer from a device that is either plugged in to mains or connected to an aerial, you may very well be required to purchase a TV licence. Before you decide to get one, I’d recommend checking with your accommodation provider on the rules, as on occasion you could already be covered.

Don’t assume your accommodation has this sorted automatically. For example, Unite Students recommend students get a TV licence if they are bringing a TV into the accommodation. You can see their guidance on this here.

How much does a TV licence cost?

A standard single TV licence costs £159.00 per annum*. It’s worth noting that this amount can be spread across a larger span of time by use of a Direct Debit facility. For those of you hardcore enough to still get use out of your black and white TV, today’s your lucky day – your TV licence instead costs you £53.50 per annum. It was worth sticking with your TV set from the nineteen-thirties after all…

People who meet certain eligibility requirements, such as sight impairment or over the age of 74, can receive discounted (or even free) rates when getting for a TV licence. To learn more about TV licence concessions, click here.

As a point interest, according to a research briefing listed on the House of Commons Library site, the United Kingdom’s TV licence fees are the fifth highest in Europe. The top spot going to Switzerland which has TV licence fees almost double what ours are.

(*) As of February, 2023. For the latest price, see either tvlicensing.co.uk page here, or this gov.uk page.

Does a TV licence cover the person or the address?

According to tvlicensing.co.uk, although a TV licence is issued in the name of the person paying for it, the rule is that it covers the use of all television equipment at the premises specified on the licence. Put simply, it is almost always one TV licence per household.

That said, if you have separate tenancy agreements or have some other legal boundary between yourself and others at your property, you may have to get separate TV licences. If your household legal arrangements are complicated, it might be best to contact the official sources.

How much is the fine for not having a TV licence?

If you were required to have a TV licence, didn’t pay, and then got caught, you could be looking at a fine up to £1,000.  This fee is sometimes higher for certain locations, e.g., Guernsey.

You may have heard rumours about the notorious TV licence detector vans used by the BBC that could catch you watching TV illegally. We don’t actually know whether such vans exist or not as we’ve found some sources that say they do, and some that say otherwise. All we know is that in 2020, 52,477 convictions were made related to TV licence evasion so they must have some working detection methods.

Rather than being caught out by a BBC van, what will likely happen is you will be sent several strongly worded letters asking you to pay your TV licence. At this point, people typically start making payments. You might be familiar with the warning letters sent to remind you to pay your TV licence.

Having to worry about potential fines and prosecutions is not what you want to be worrying about when you are working towards a degree and tackling the other stresses of university life. The risk is not worth it so just make sure if you aren’t paying for a TV licence, it is because you don’t need one (which, as a student, you likely don’t, read above).

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