This is a follow up to a previous post about the peculiarly British phenomenon known as TV licensing.  Several readers were decent enough point out answers to questions raised in that post, for which I am grateful.

In the light of ITV’s recent announcement that they will be laying off 600 employees in reaction to falling profits and asset depreciation, I felt I had to comment on another bizarre offshoot of the whole TV licensing situation in the UK.

My understanding is that a TV license is required in order to watch or record any live TV.  That’s any live TV.  So, no matter whether you watch ITV or Channel 4 or Sky or BBC1 on a TV then you must own a TV license.

However, the BBC take all the proceeds from the TV license.  So we have a very unique, anti-competitive situation where if you want to watch only Sky (as many people do), or even only ITV, then legally you must subsidize its principal UK competitor.  Is this fair market competition?

How has this situation remained unchallenged in the law courts for so long?  Perhaps there is something about the British psyche I have yet to fathom.


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.