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GB Mag Explains: What is a UK TV Licence?

Rob Stares

All you need to know about getting a UK TV Licence

GB Mag Explains: What is a UK TV Licence?
You'll get a frosty reception from the law if you don't get one... TV Licence Photo: James Cridland

IF YOU’VE got a TV in your UK house or flat, then you’ll need to have a TV Licence to go with it. But did you know that you may also need one if you watch British TV on your laptop or games console too? GB Mag decided to study the tricky world of licencing, so you don’t have to…

As you’re in Britain, there’s a good chance that you’ll know what the BBC is. The British Broadcasting Corporation is the largest broadcast service in the world, providing impartial news, sport (and Dr. Who) to the UK and across the globe through its Word Service network.

Unlike other broadcasters in the UK, the BBC isn’t backed by a wealthy businessperson. It actually gets its money from UK residents, with every home, office and caravan that uses a television asked to pay a fee of £145.50 every year to be able to use the service – and, crucially, to keep the company running. It also keeps the BBC free of commercial adverts, which is nice.

Admittedly, it is quite a lot of money. But if you break it down into how much it costs per week (£5.60), it’s about the same as a fast-food meal or a few drinks at happy hour. There’s no additional charge for having High Definition (HD) channels.

What do I need a UK TV Licence for?

If you watch or record any television programmes as they’re being broadcast, then you need a TV Licence. This includes watching live broadcasts on a computer, laptop, mobile phone or DVD/video recorder. You don’t need a licence if you only use the television for playing computer games or watching films.

Please note: If you have a subscription-based system, such as Sky, Virgin, BT or Top Up TV, you’ll still need to pay your subscription to that company as well as your TV Licence.

How often do I pay?

The TV licence covers you for one year. You can pay yearly, quarterly (every three months), monthly or weekly. There are a number of ways to pay, including credit/debit card and cheque. Click here for the full list.

What are the penalties if I don’t pay?

The TV Licencing company have a small army of people who search for people without a valid licence. Being caught without a licence is a criminal offence in the UK, so you could end up in court and fined up to £1,000 plus legal costs. It’s worse if you live in Guernsey*, as the fine is up to £2,000!

I’m not sure if I’m covered – what shall I do?

If you’re renting your accommodation, then check with your landlord. Being in student halls doesn’t always guarantee that you have a licence for your place either, so check your tenancy agreement before you start watching.

As a student, it’s likely that you’ll spend a few weeks/months away from your uni dwelling. To show that they’re not bad people, the TV Licencing Authority will allow you to claim back times when you’ve not been at your uni address during ‘out of term’ times, such as the summer break. Visit their website to find out more.

* As Guernsey is a small island situated in the English Channel, it’s doubtful that you do!

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