What Is TV Licensing And How To Save Money On Your TV License

TV Licensing is required in the UK to view live TV. Here are practical ways you can save money on your TV license.

tv license

Something that is confusing to people in other parts of the world is that, here in the United Kingdom, any household watching or recording live television transmissions as they are being broadcast via terrestrial, satellite, cable, or Internet transmission is required to hold a television licence.

And this law, reclassified in 2006 as a tax, doesn’t only apply to residential households. It also includes all hospitals, schools, businesses, and other organisations.

Lately, however, the TV licence has become a point of contention for many, especially with the major broadcasting networks increasing their fees for just about every premium channel or, in some cases, series.

The TV licence is also difficult to understand for many people as they look for ways to reduce their monthly costs and save money on their TV licence.

Keeping that in mind, we are going to tale a closer look at TV licences and share some ways that you might be able to save money on yours.

Let’s get started.

What Is TV Licensing?

As stated previously, both in the UK and the Crown dependencies, a TV licence is required by every household, school, hospital, and business if they want to view or record live television transmissions as they are being broadcast.

The TV licence, which was originally a radio licence, was introduced by the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1923 in November of 1923.

When first introduced, the licence cost just ten shillings (£0.50) per annum. However, in June 1946, the radio licence was extended to televisions and the cost increased to £2. It wasn’t until February 1971 that the radio portion of the licence was finally abolished.

For households, businesses, and organisations using the BBC’s iPlayer catch-up service, a licence is required to receive that video on demand programme services as well. This is another area where many consumers have shown their growing concern and resentment for the BBC.

TV Licence Misuse And Evasion

Anyone caught misusing their TV licence or trying to gain access to broadcasted programming via terrestrial, satellite, cable, or Internet transmission without a TV licence are subject to penalties including fines or jail. 

If you're caught without a TV licence, you will need to purchase one as soon as possible or risk prosecution, plus a fine of up to £1,000 (or £2,000 in Guernsey) as well as any legal costs or compensation.

To be clear, you cannot be imprisoned for TV licence evasion, but you will be jailed for non-payment of a fine relating to TV licence evasion imposed by the court.

Who Needs A TV License?

Who needs a TV license? Anyone who watches or records shows as they're being shown in the UK (considered live TV), needs to be covered by a TV licence.

This is the case regardless of the device you're watching on, be it a television, computer, tablet, games console, smartphone, digital box, DVD/VHS recorder, or any other internet connected device. Yes, that does include watching live TV on your mobile phone.

So, if you are watching live TV, you'll need to pay the fee.

However, if you only watch content after it's been shown on television (not live TV, you do not need a TV licence. This includes TV programmes downloaded or streamed after the original broadcast on other catch-up services. That is, unless it is viewed on the iPlayer.

The law states that you need a TV Licence to:

  • Watch or record programmes as they’re being shown on TV, on any channel.
  • Watch or stream programmes live on an online TV service (such as ITV Hub, All 4, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, Sky Go, etc.).
  • Download or watch any BBC programmes on iPlayer.

How Much Does A TV License Cost In The UK?

Now for the cost. Just how much does a TV license cost in the UK? Since its original licence fee of just £2 from June 1946, the TV licence fee has increased significantly.

Today, the annual cost is £157.50 for a colour licence and £53 for a black and white licence (yes, they still offer that). While this price is rather steep, the amount of television programming must be considered.

Where does the money from TV licensing fees go? The income the government takes in from the TV licence is used primarily to fund the television, radio, and online services offered by the BBC. How much is it? In 2017–18, TV licence income was £3.83 billion.

Not all of that goes to the BBC, but a large portion does. In fact, the TV licence fee accounted for 75.7% of the BBC's total income of £5.0627 billion in 2017–2018.

However, 17.1%, or £655.3 million, was provided by the government in the form of concessions for those over the age of 75. We’ll discuss this further shortly.

But Why Has My TV Licence Fee Has Gone Up?

Now, you might be wondering why your TV licence fee has gone up recently.

This is because of a white paper released by the government in May 2016 which announced that the TV licence fee will rise with inflation for the first five years of the Charter period, from 1 April 2017.

We can still see an increase over the next two years, longer if the increase is put on hold due to the COVID-19 crisis.

How To Save Money On Your TV License?

There are many ways that you could save money on your TV licence fee.

From impractical measures such as going without a TV licence and watching through your neighbour’s window (not recommended), to only watching content after it's been shown on television, saving money on your TV licence can be challenging.

But it doesn’t need to be that way.

If you are over 75 years of age, or you are partially blind, you live in a residential care home or sheltered accommodation, or you are a student, you can receive a discounted rate on your TV licence without sacrificing comfort or any programming options.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some ways that you can effectively, and legally, save money on your TV licensing fees:

How To Watch TV For Free Without A License?

Can you legally watch TV without a TV Licence? The answer is yes, but it isn’t as simple as that. There is a wide range of ways to legally watch your favourite shows without paying the TV licence fee.

  •  As long as you aren’t using the following services them to watch or stream live TV, you can use them without a TV Licence.
  • On Demand TV – these include 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.

Just be sure that you are not watching any BBC content with these services and you can legally watch TV without a TV licence free.

Also, if you feel that you no longer need a TV licence, and you are absolutely positive, you can formally let TV Licensing know. Although you are not legally obliged to do so, it can prevent an alarming number of harassing letters from being sent to your home.

How To Cancel Your TV Licence

Cancelling your TV licence should only be done if you are absolutely sure that you can do without one. With that being said, we are going to take a look at how to cancel your TV licence.

Let’s get started:

Cancelling Your TV Licence

The first thing to do is cancel your payments.

  • Cancel direct debit payments by filling out TV Licensing's contact form and confirming that you no longer watch TV. Be sure to include your current address.
  • Then, cancel your direct debit with your bank.
  • To cancel payments made with a TV Licensing payment card, simply call 0300 555 0286 and follow the prompts.
  • Fill out a "No Licence Needed" declaration form and be sure to keep the confirmation email from TV Licensing as proof of your cancellation.

If you won’t need your TV licence again before it expires, and you have at least one complete month left on it, you may be eligible for a refund. To apply for a TV licence refund, you will need to fill in the request a refund form.

TV Licensing Bureau Inspection

Be aware that, once you cancel your TV licence, TV Licensing may visit your property to make sure that you are telling the truth and that there haven’t been any errors made.

A spokesperson from the TV Licensing bureau stated that these inspections “often find that 1 in 5 households that have cancelled their TV licence actually still need one.”

They went on to state:

“Fewer than two per cent of households don’t need a licence and there are more licences in force than ever before – 25.8 million." - Italics ours.

In fact, it is estimated that more than 900 households a day are found to still need a TV licence.

Are You Due A Refund?

In some instances, you might be due a refund on your TV licence.

These include:

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

TV License For The Over 75

If you are aged 75 or over, is your TV licence free? This used to be the rule until just recently. Now, there are certain stipulations and restrictions in place which require over-75s to pay for a TV licence.

The new rule is that over-75s who receive the pension credit benefit will still receive a free TV licence. All others will have to pay for one.

However, if you are aged 75 or over, whether you're still eligible for a free TV licence or not, you should wait until you receive a letter from TV Licensing explaining your fees.

Over-75s In The Channel Islands And The Isle Of Man

How does this affect those aged 75 or over in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man? Over-75s living on the Isle of Man don't get a free TV licence automatically, they must apply to claim back the full cost of their licence. And the Channel Islands have their own rules:

  • “Jersey: Over-75s can claim a free licence if they (or a partner) are on a low income.
  • Guernsey: Those aged 75 and over before 1 Sept 2016 are eligible for a free licence, and over-65s claiming income support may be eligible. Call Guernsey social services on 01481 732 500 for more info.
  • Sark: Over-75s aren't offered free TV licences.”

TV License For The Blind Or Partially Blind

If you are blind or severely sight-impaired you might qualify for a reduced rate on your TV license. If you, or someone you live with, is blind or severely sight-impaired, your TV licence will cost just £78.75 for a colour set or £26.50 for a black and white one.

How can you prove your condition and qualify for the reduced rate? You must provide TV Licensing with a photocopy of one of the following documents:

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

Those who are partially sighted or sight-impaired, don't qualify for the concession.

TV License For Students

All students require a TV licence to watch or record live television transmissions as they are being broadcast via terrestrial, satellite, cable, or Internet transmission.

Students do not receive a discounted rate on their TV License; however, they might be due a partial refund if they bought a TV licence during the academic year and went home over the summer.

Be aware, however, that you can only claim for full calendar months while not living at your student accommodation and you can claim up to 11 months back.

This is only for students who have paid for a TV licence in full. Students who pay monthly should contact TV Licensing to let them know that they no longer need a TV licence and request that TV Licensing stop your payments. 

You have 2 years after your licence expires to make a claim.

How To Pay For Your TV License

tv licensing

There are many different ways to pay for your TV Licence and, according to the TV Licensing website, these include:

You Can Set Up A Direct Debit

  • Pay the total cost of your licence once a year
  • Pay a smaller amount each month
  • Pay once every 3 months. 

As you will make most of the payments after you’ve received your licence, there is £1.25 extra charge every 3 months when you pay this way.

You Can Pay Using A Debit Or Credit Card

  • You can use a debit card or a credit card to pay for the total amount of your TV Licence (£157.50).
  • Call us on 0300 790 6165* or pay online.

Apply For A TV Licensing Payment Card

  • You can use this card to pay weekly or monthly at any PayPoint, over the phone, by text or online.
  • Call 0300 555 0286* to get a TV Licensing payment card.

You Can Pay For Your Licence At Any PayPoint

  • Pay in one go at any PayPoint.
  • Or pay in smaller amounts at any PayPoint.

Channel Islands And Isle Of Man

  • Pay for your TV Licence at your local post office instead of a PayPoint.

Send A Cheque In The Post

The cheque has to be for the full amount of the TV Licence (£157.50). Make sure you write your name and address on the back. Send it to:

TV Licensing


DL98 1TL

How To Renew Your TV License

 Renewing your TV licence is a simple process which can be done a number of ways.

You will receive a reminder by post or by email from TV Licensing when your licence is due for renewal. Then, you can renew your TV licence in person at your local post office, online through TV Licence Online, by phone, or by direct debit, using forms available from your TV Licence Records Office.

To renew your TV licence, you will need the following information:

  • If renewing at the post office, a reminder notice so that the barcode can be scanned at the counter.
  • If renewing online, the 17-digit TV reference number and 5-digit PIN so that you can log on.
  • If renewing by phone, the 17-digit TV reference number.

There you have it. Everything you have ever wanted to know about your TV licence including why it’s needed, who needs one, and how to go about getting one. Be sure that you understand every aspect of the TV licensing process before deciding to renew or cancel your TV licence.