ANY household watching or recording live television in the UK must hold a TV licence.
But it's becoming more costly to switch on the box, with the BBC TV licence fee set to rise from £157.50 to £159 from April 1.
It's the fifth year in a row that the licence fee, which funds the BBC, has gone up, increasing households bills.
The price hike will be a further blow to OAPs, who now have to pay their licence fee after the Beeb stopped making the scheme free for people aged over 75.
Let's take a look at how you can avoid paying – legally.
Do I need a TV licence?
A colour TV licence currently costs £157.50 a year – although it is rising to £159 a year from April.
Black and white licences cost £53, although again, these are rising to £53.50 from April.
The fee is set by the government and has risen in line with inflation every year since 2017.
A licence is needed by anyone intending to watch or record TV programmes while they are being broadcast.
Live TV in this sense covers all programmes on any channel, including soaps, series, documentaries and even movies.
It also applies if you're watching or streaming shows live on services such as ITV Hub, All 4, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, Sky Go, and more.
In addition, the rules apply even if you don't watch the shows on an actual TV – for example, if you watch programmes live on a PC, laptop, tablet or phone.
You also need a licence if you watch any BBC programmes or download them on-demand, including on BBC iPlayer.
Doing any of the above without paying for either a licence is a criminal offence.
If you're caught without one you need to pay in full as soon as possible or risk prosecution, plus a fine of up to £1,000 (or £2,000 in Guernsey) and any legal costs/compensation.
You can be jailed for non-payment of a fine imposed by the court.
How to watch TV legally without paying for a licence
THE following services are still openly (and legally) available to you – as long as you aren’t using them to watch or stream live TV:
- On demand TV – such as catch-up TV and on demand previews, which are available through services including ITV Player, All 4, My5, BT Vision/BT TV, Virgin Media, Sky Go, Now TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku and Amazon Fire TV. You can't watch or download programmes on BBC iPlayer without a TV licence.
- On demand movies – from services such as Sky, Virgin Media, BT Vision, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.
- Recorded films and programmes – either via DVD or Blu-ray, or downloaded from the internet.
- YouTube – Video clips that aren't live through services such as YouTube.
Can I legally watch TV without a TV licence?
Fortunately, there are ways to legally watch your favourite shows without paying the licence fee.
There are plenty of catch-up TV services, which allow the streaming or downloading of programmes after they have been shown on their respective channels.
If you only watch these you don't need to stump up – as long as you don't watch any BBC content.
If you're absolutely sure you no longer need one you can formally let TV Licensing know.
Although there's no legal obligation to do this, it will prevent an increasing number of letters coming your way.
The first thing to do as part of this process is cancel your payments.
If you pay by direct debit you can cancel it by filling out TV Licensing's contact form, confirming you no longer watch TV along with your current address.
You'll also need to cancel your direct debit with your bank.
If you pay with a TV Licensing payment card, you'll need to call 0300 555 0286.
Everyone who no longer requires a TV licence should then fill out a "No Licence Needed" declaration form.
Make sure you keep the confirmation email from TV Licensing as proof.
You may also be eligible for a refund if you won’t need your licence again before it expires, and you have at least one complete month left on it. Just fill in the request a refund form.
TV Licensing may visit your property to ensure you are telling the truth and no errors have been made.
The bureau says these inspections find one in five who have cancelled their TV licence actually still need one – that’s around 900 households a day.
A TV Licensing spokesperson said: “Fewer than two per cent of households don’t need a licence and there are more licences in force than ever before – 25.8million."
Do over-75s get a free TV licence?
Over-75s in the UK used to have a free TV licence, but were told in 2019 that they needed to fork out for the fee from June 2020.
However, due to the coronavirus crisis, this was delayed by two months – but OAPs stopped benefiting from free TV licences from August 1.
Since then, almost a million OAPs are refusing to pay the fee, even though they risk a £1,000 fine or a jail sentence if they refuse to pay the penalty.
The only exception is households with at least one person receiving pension credit – around 900,000 currently – who will not have to pay.
The government estimates 1.3million people who are eligible for this benefit are not claiming it.
It's really easy to check if you're entitled – here's our step by step guide.
If you do receive pension credit, the BBC says you may need to provide a copy of your most recent benefit letter, so make sure you hang onto it.
If you are blind or severely sight-impaired you are eligible for a 50 per cent discount on your licence.
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