A license to watch TV!? *gasp*

Arguably no country has done more to spread global democracy and personal liberty than Great Britain. However, the whole concept of a TV license and its enforcing authority reeks of indirect, petty, restrictive nanny-government involvement in an area that should be outside of its remit.

It is hard to believe but in the UK, it is mandatory to own a license in order to watch television. In fact, it is a criminal offence if you watch television without a license!

Imagine our surprise when within a week of moving in to our house we received a threatening letter from the TV Licensing Authority stating their records indicated no TV license on file for our address (the letter also emphasised the penalties – 1000 GBP plus costs – if we owned and used an unlicensed TV).

Of course, we own no television set and see no reason to own one if it is going to be taxed at a rate of GBP 140 per annum. So, we wrote back with a short, sharp response indicating we neither own nor plan to own a television. Shortly after, TV Licensing wrote back with another emphatic statement regarding criminal offences and penalties, and that we should expect a call from enforcement officers to determine whether or not we do need a TV license. This was about three months ago now and we have yet to hear from TV Licensing again.

Despite the aggressive, heavy-handed manner in which they are enforced by TV Licensing, it is worth being aware of certain aspects of TV licensing in the UK. Here is some information we have found out recently.

TV Licensing is essentially a subcontractor performing the BBC’s dirty work. They say that you should own a TV license if you watch TV in the UK. There are few exemptions (such as the over 74s). The license is renewable yearly and from April 2009 will cost a whopping GBP 139.50. Even if you do not own a TV but watch programs on the internet as they are being broadcast live on TV, you still need a TV license. If you own a TV but only use it for watching DVDs and videos then you can inform TV Licensing of the arrangement and they may grant an exemption.

We have not been able to find out the answers to these questions:

Do I require a license if I use my TV to watch only non-BBC television programes. (Why should you subsidise the BBC for watching Sky or other services you have already paid for?!)

Surely, it is only a matter of time before the anti-TV licensing brigade gain sufficient momentum to take a case to counter this unfair indirect taxation before the European Court of Justice.

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22 Comments on “A license to watch TV!? *gasp*

  • I can answer your closing question: Yes, you do need a TV licence to receive/record non-BBC programming (and any form of live TV programming for that matter).

    No, it’s not fair. Effectively many TV viewers are being taxed for a service they don’t want and in some cases can’t even receive.

    The heavy handed way TV Licensing attempt to scare people into compliance is documented further in my blog.

  • One comment on “if you own a TV but only use it for watching DVDs and videos then you can inform TV Licensing of the arrangement and they may grant an exemption”…

    You are under no obligation to inform TV Licensing of anything, and there is no exemption that can be granted if you do not require a licence.

    The situation is similar to a fishing licence – if you don’t go fishing, you can’t be granted an exemption from the fishing licence (since it does not apply to you). In that situation the licence is a licence to fish, not to own equipment that would let you fish (so you can own as many fishing rods as you like, and don’t a licence to do so).

    Similarly the TV licence is a licence to watch/record live television – if you do not do this then you have no need of a licence, and no need to have any interaction with TVL.

    More information on when you do/don’t need a licence is available on my site.

  • Thanks for the comment.

    You may not be under legal obligation to inform TVL, however TVL request you do (from the “official” TV Licensing web site):

    What if I only use a TV to watch videos/DVDs/as a monitor for my games console? Do I still need a licence?

    You do not need a TV Licence if you only use your TV to watch videos and DVDs or as a monitor for your games console.

    However, please notify us in writing that this is the case. One of our Enforcement Officers may visit you to confirm that you do not need a licence.

    Please write to us including your name, address and the reason you believe that you don’t need a licence at:

  • Have you seen the quality TV that is produced in the US, we get the “best” of it shipped over Stargate, Simpson 21/5 men. The TV licensing also insures our TV programs are of a usually higher quality, the BBC service, including the radio and web is paid for through that. It keeps the independent companies at the top of their game as the British public expect decent TV, if only they made more Scifi though.

  • Welcome to the beginning of Facisim which the goverment puts their reputation higher then what’s best for you or anybody ‘lower’ then them.

    You might as well fight it out and risk Jail/Prison for your moral rights as a human being as you will die some how any ways so you might as well die for what is right and what is right is no goverment interfertion with the media.

    Your choice. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • We have a tv we cannot even watch because the signal is so bad (and we don’t even get digital due to our location) and we’re still required to pay TV license even though we can barely switch it on!

    This is theft, plain and simple. What next? A license to own a table so table manufacturers can stay in business?
    Utter toss.

  • I absolutely agree with your sentiments regarding the TV licence and its enforcement in the UK.

    In my view, in a modern democracy the state has no business in broadcasting. Does anybody think the BBC would exist if the internet had been created first? I resent being made to pay for something I do not want and do not use.

    And yes those letters from TV Licence Authority are downright threatening. Remember that those goons from TVL are not an “authority” as such, but a private company and have no more right to enter your home than I do.

  • One point that has been missed is that the TV licence also means you can watch TV on the BBC without any breaks for adverts (commercials). Films, sporting events, dramas etc. are so much more enjoyable without the constant interruptions.

    It is interesting how most 1 hour American made programmes only last around 45-50 minutes on the BBC as you just get to watch the programme and nothing else!

  • If you live in France you will have to pay a licence fee for your TV also. It’s included in your annual property tax. The store where you buy the TV notifies the authorities. The fee not only pays for TV but also national and local radio. The BBC has an excellent website also.

    Do you really think TV is free in the US ? The cost of the advertising is built into the price of everything you buy,so there is no choice there either whether or not you have a TV. Over 40 years ago Newton Minnow the chairman of the FCC said that American TV was a “wasteland”. I don’t think much has changed over the years,judging by the rubbish that is available on cable TV in Canada from the US.

  • MS I agree with you on the fact that costs are factored in – of course, like any business, these companies have to maintain their broadcasting equipment as well as invest in channels and programmes. This is what the BBC originally did back when it was set up. But it no longer has the monopoly on the telecommunicationsand broadcasting industry and the key element today, in the other TV services, advertising or not, is Choice. if you do not wish to subscribe to Sky TV for example, they do not harass you, threaten you, fine you and throw you into prison. This is the difference and is why the BBC Licence is such a problem for people.

  • The BBC is a unique and superb service. It is the most listened to broadcaster in the and british people should be, and most are proud of it.

    American tv is ruined by constant advertising and news that is horrendously bias.

    The tv licence stops this from happening, and ensures our tv is the best in the world.

  • Wether you agree with the licensing system is a philosophical question – but in my mind, anything that stops Murdoch and Sky from having a monopoly (and also annoys him intensely) is a good thing in my book. Sky do harass me, they keep ringing me up and putting crap through my letter box.

    Two small points – the Beeb is NOT a government organisation. Its run by Charter with an independant board. You know this is the case because every govt that comes to power always complains they are being unfairly represented by the BBC and every Opposition party says the BBC are gving the govt an easy ride!!!

    The other point is that BBC Radio is paid for by the licence fee as well, and most of the Beebs radio output is surely reason alone to keep the licence fee.

    I haven’t got any kids – but pay my taxes for schools because its the right thing to do and the law!

  • I disagree with Andy’s comment about “watching TV without any breaks for adverts on the BBC”, there is a break every 15 minutes for advertising which should pay for any and all broadcasting.

  • “judging by the rubbish that is available on cable TV in Canada from the US.”

    So if it’s so “rubbish” then why do Brits watch it every night?

  • yes but for people who DON’T want to watch anything on the BBC then why should they have to pay? This day in age it should be a package deal just like Sky Movies or Sky Sports. If you want the BBC package then you subscribe to it. If you don’t then you shouldn’t receive them or get charged for them. Simple

  • ??? no there’s not. not in the UK anyway. The only ads they show are for BBC programmes and they’re only on between shows and not during shows.
    There’s no commercial product ads at all on the BBC

  • I’m sorry you had such a negative experience what with the threats, I believe that you inherited the last owners malfeasance, I recommend you mention that you’ve just moved in and they will completely understand.

  • Regarding the European Court, I did indeed go first to court in the UK to fight what I believe to be an unfair tax. Currently my case is part of a class action against both the BBC and the British government in the ECHR.
    Reason: while many wonderful and laudable program content s produced and broadcast by the BBC their flagship news content is nowhere politically neutral as it should be according to its royal charter, rather BBC News is a left-wing, liberal propaganda machine spitting out New Speak on a daily basis.

  • It is hard to believe but in the UK, it is mandatory to own a license in order to watch television.
    Indeed it is, but that doesn’t stop you watching DVDs, playing games, or listening to the radio on an unlicensed set. In fact, you can watch TV on a computer without a licence if you’re doing so on a catch up service.
    (The letter also emphasised the penalties โ€“ 1000 GBP plus costs โ€“ if we owned and used an unlicensed TV).
    Which is bullshit and the person who wrote that letter should know better. I own an unlicensed television, but because it’s not currently in use, I don’t have to pay anything on it, and I still won’t have to pay once I am using it because you don’t need a licence just to own a TV, only to watch TV as it is broadcast, whether that be an actual TV or a computer.

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