BBC iPlayer and the TV Licence: Your questions answered
James R | On 09, Feb 2021
As of 1st September 2016, you now need a TV Licence to use BBC iPlayer to watch BBC programmes live, after broadcast or download them to stream offline.
Here’s what you need to know:
Why do I need a TV Licence?
It is a legal requirement to have a TV Licence to watch live TV on the BBC or any other channel in the UK. Previously, though, there was a loophole that meant viewers could watch BBC iPlayer programmes on-demand without a Licence – because the TV Licence was invented years before online streaming became the norm, the law was out-of-date, meaning that catch-up viewing was not included.
How much does a TV Licence cost?
A standard colour TV Licence costs £157.50 – the equivalent of £3.02 a week or £13.13 a month. From 1st April 2021, this will rise to £159.00.
Where does my TV Licence money go?
The fee covers nine national TV channels plus regional programming, 10 national radio stations, 40 local radio stations plus dedicated Nations radio services, the BBC news website, the radio app BBC Sounds and BBC iPlayer. As part the Beeb’s Royal Charter agreement with the government, the fee also contributes to the cost of subsidising free TV Licences for over-75s receiving Pension Credit – a cost that was passed from the government to the BBC. The few also keeps the BBC free of adverts and politically and commercially unbiased.
Will the TV Licence go up in price?
The TV Licence was frozen at its 2010 level of £145.50 until 31st March 2017, and now is rising in line with inflation every year until 2022.
How does the BBC enforce the TV Licence?
A spokesperson tells the BBC: “We are not going to use mass surveillance techniques, we are not going to ask internet providers for IP addresses, and in fact, we will simply use existing enforcement processes and techniques which we believe to be adequate and appropriate.”
Meanwhile, the BBC is currently asking users to declare whether they have a TV Licence when using BBC iPlayer, which means that anyone caught using it without a Licence will be known to have lied.
What happens if I get caught using a TV Licence?
It is an offence to use BBC iPlayer without a TV licence, as well as to possess or control a device which you know or reasonably believe will be used to watch live or on-demand TV without a TV licence. You could be prosecuted and fined up to £1,000 if caught.
Do I need a TV Licence for other on-demand services?
A TV Licence will not be needed to catch up with TV online through other on-demand services, such as ITV Hub, All 4, My5 or Netflix. That means if you do not have a TV and only use your computer to watch Netflix, All 4, Amazon Prime Video, or other (non-iPlayer) on-demand services, you do not need to pay a licence fee. Any live-streaming from TV broadcasters, though, does require a licence. A TV licence is also required to record programmes from any channel, as this requires them being recorded live when broadcast.
Do I need a TV Licence if I’m not using a TV set to watch iPlayer?
Yes, you still need a TV Licence, even if you are not using a TV set to watch BBC iPlayer: the new law also covers desktop computers, laptops, smart phones, tablets, games consoles, digital boxes and Blu-ray, DVD and VHS recorders.
Where else can I watch BBC shows without a TV Licence?
Some BBC shows are available on subscription services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which cost £8.99 and £5.99 a month respectively. Increasingly, though, these shows are being removed when their rights expire and most of them will then be available on BritBox, a new subscription platform from the BBC and ITV. BritBox costs £5.99 a month and includes such shows as Spooks, Inside no. 9, Classic Doctor Who and Happy Valley.
I’m a student sharing accommodation. Do we need more than one TV Licence?
No, if you have a joint tenancy agreement between you all, you can have a single TV Licence to cover everyone living at that address.
Is there a loophole so I can watch BBC iPlayer without a TV Licence?
There is one loophole left in the new law: students can be covered by the TV Licence at their parents’ address, providing that they are watching TV on a device that is powered by its own internal batteries – e.g. a tablet or mobile phone, while on the move – and it is not plugged into the mains when watching TV. Under those circumstances, you can watch BBC iPlayer without a TV Licence.
What’s worth watching on BBC iPlayer?
For weekly highlights and reviews of what’s available to stream, see our Best of BBC iPlayer column.