When do I need a TV licence?

By Mike Atherton 14 Sep 2017
do i need a tv licence

The TV Licensing rules can be a bit confusing at the best of times – and in 2016, the regulations changed again to cover TV catch-up services. 

Dont worry if you're a bit baffled by it all, this guide will tell you everything you need to know and explain anything that might not make sense.

What's a TV Licence?


The TV Licence in the UK is a form of tax that's mainly used to fund the BBC – but you'll still need a TV Licence to watch any live broadcasts, whether they're from the BBC or any other provider.

When do you need a licence?


In the UK, a household will need a TV licence if anyone's watching (or recording) live TV broadcasts – whether that's through terrestrial, satellite or cable connections, or via the internet on something like a Smart TV, computer, tablet or smartphone.

That's always been the case. But since September 2016, you'll also need a licence to watch catch-up services on BBC iPlayer.

You'll usually only need one TV Licence for a household – but if you've got a second home, you'll need a separate licence. Boats, caravans (including static caravans), mobile homes, and vehicles are covered by your household TV Licence – but you're not allowed to watch TV in two locations at the same time, and you'll need to fill in a 'non-simultaneous declaration form'.

Live TV and Catch-up

The requirement for catch-up TV only applies to BBC iPlayer, so you can watch other catch-up services (like All 4, My5 and ITV Hub) if you don't have a TV Licence.

But that only applies to catch-up TV – so if you're using any of those services to watch live TV, you'll still need a licence.

  • Live TV: programmes that are broadcast live, or through a 'delay' service like TVCatchup.com. This applies even if you don't actually watch the programme live: if you record a programme to watch it later, it's still being received by your kit as a live broadcast. Channels that have a '+1', '+2', etc. also fall into this category.
  • Catch-up: refers to things you watch online through a service like BBC iPlayer or All 4. It's also sometimes called 'on demand'.

It doesn't matter what type of kit you use - the same rules apply to a TV, computer, tablet, mobile phone or anything else that lets you watch TV.

Streaming services

You don't need a TV licence to watch services like Netflix or Amazon Prime. But if you want to watch live TV broadcasts through these or similar services, you'll need a licence.

Premium channel services

You'll still need a licence if you want to watch TV from providers like Sky, Virgin Media, Talk Talk, EE and BT - because you're watching a live TV broadcast. The subscription fee you pay to them is on top of your TV licence. 

When is a licence not needed?


Since September 2016, you don't need a licence if:

  • You never watch live TV.
  • You never watch or download BBC programmes live, or via BBC iPlayer.

If you only ever watch catch-up or subscription services from other providers like All 4 or Netflix, you shouldn't need a TV licence. There are a few more exceptions where a licence isn't required:

  • You only watch S4C TV on demand.
  • You only use iPlayer to listen to radio.
  • You're only watching DVDs or Blu-rays, or digital content purchased and downloaded through a service like iTunes.

Over 75 TV Licence

If you're aged 75 or over, you still need to have a TV Licence – but you can apply to get one for free. For more information, visit the TV Licence page.


Everything we've mentioned so far still applies to students, but there are some exceptions and extra rules for student TV licences:

  • If you signed a tenancy agreement for your room, you'll need to have your own TV licence.
  • Shared accommodation that uses a joint tenancy agreement only needs one licence for the household.
  • A parent's TV licence doesn't apply to the student's temporary home, unless they're using kit that's powered by an internal battery and isn't connected to an aerial. This means that it's fine for a student to watch catch-up TV using a laptop or smartphone on BBC iPlayer, as long as it's not connected to a power supply. If you plug it in to charge while watching, you'll need a licence.

If you're a student and want to watch TV on a device running off the internal battery, you'll need to make sure:

  1. Your permanent address is still your parents' house.
  2. That house has a valid TV Licence.
  3. You only ever watch TV when your kit's running off battery power, and it's never connected to an aerial.

For more information, go to the TV Licensing website.

Hopefully that's all you need to know about TV licensing. If you need help with anything else, you can get in touch with a Team Knowhow Expert here.

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