You need a TV Licence for iPlayer (Attention students!)

Andrew Rowland | 6 September 2016 | comments

Up until 1 September, you did not need a TV licence if you only watched catch-up and on-demand television online. Now you need one to use BBC iPlayer for all purposes, which will especially affect students, many of whom don’t take a TV with them but rely on watching online.

The law used to be that you only needed a TV licence to record or watch broadcast television live or slightly delayed (e.g. by pausing and continuing a short while later). And you still do, whether you watch through an aerial or satellite dish or via the Internet, and regardless of where the programme comes from. So you need it for all channels, even subscription ones you pay for, and for foreign broadcasts you might get from satellite or the Internet. That applies to all types of devices too, from set-top boxes to Xboxes and from TVs to mobile phones.

The wording of the law meant that if you avoided live broadcasts and only watched on-demand or catch-up television, you did not need a licence, since those services are sent to your device personally and not broadcast for everyone to watch at once. You don’t need a licence for Netflix or YouTube, for example.

All of that remains the case, but now you must have a licence if you use BBC iPlayer for any purpose except S4C or listening to radio. You used to be able get away with it if you avoided the Watch Live feature in iPlayer, but no more! With fines of £1000 plus costs and compensation, you need to make sure you are covered by a licence. Students in their own rooms are not covered by a halls or University licence. If you share accommodation but have an individual tenancy agreement, you need a licence. If you have a joint tenancy agreement then all of you can share a licence, so long as you don’t have an individual entrance each or pay utility bills separately. If the landlord provides a television, check whether he or she has licensed it.

Note that the new requirement only applies to BBC iPlayer. You can still use All 4, My5 and UKTV Play etc. without a licence, so long as you avoid live feeds and use catch-up/on-demand only.

There is just one loophole. If your main residence has a licence, e.g. the family home, and you only use portable equipment that is not plugged into the mains or an aerial, you don’t need a separate licence, for broadcast TV or catch-up. This leads to the odd situation that if you watch on your laptop or tablet using the internal battery, you’re fine. But the moment you plug it in and watch at the same time, you need a TV licence. So charge your device when you are not watching. Simples.

Unfortunately, paying for a licence is as arcane as the other rules. The cheapest option is to pay a year up front, £145.50. If everyone covered by your licence goes home for the summer, you can claim a refund, but only for complete 3 month periods.
If you pay quarterly, there is an extra £1.25 fee every quarter.
If you pay monthly or weekly, you end up paying more than £230 for the first year because they charge enough to pay for the licence in 6 months or 26 weeks, and then you start paying in advance for the next year — not funny if you are on limited means, though you don’t pay more in the long run.

If you have any questions, head over to where they will probably be answered.

© Andrew Rowland 2016

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