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TV licence loopholes are closing

12:00am | & News

If you own and watch a television in the UK then you should have a licence for it.

Sounds simple doesn't' it? And not too long ago it really was that simple, back in the days when if you were watching a TV programme it would be on a TV set as it was broadcast. But times have changed, technology has moved on and things have got a whole lot more complicated.

In the UK the TV licence fee, currently £145.50 per year, helps pay for the BBC, the nation's public broadcaster and at one time its only broadcaster. But ever since the first commercial channel – ITV –appeared in 1955, some viewers have questioned if they need a TV licence, and why? 

Some people claimed they never watched the BBC, but only programmes on commercial channels, funded by advertising, so why should they buy a licence? Later, with the arrival of video cassettes and DVDs, some said they only ever used a TV set to watch their collection of videos and DVDs, so why should they have a licence?

In more recent years satellite and cable TV has meant a huge range of channels, prompting more and more viewers to rail against paying for a licence to fund the BBC when it is only one of hundreds of options available, especially if they are also paying a fee to a digital TV provider, such as Sky.

It has also become possible to watch programmes made for TV on a range of devices, including computers, laptops, tablets, games consoles and even mobile phones. So if you don't even own a TV, but watch TV programmes on your computer or smartphone, do you need a TV licence? And if you own a new 'Smart TV' and only use it access 'on-demand' and 'catch-up' TV rather than watching programmes as they are broadcast, does that need a licence?

Confusing isn't it? And the rules have just changed again. Prior to this month it was legal to use the BBC's "iPlayer" service without a TV license, provided you were only viewing content after it was first broadcast.

But from September 1st that loophole has been closed. Now anyone who uses the BBC iPlayer must own a TV licence, regardless of whether or not they watch programmes 'live' or on catch-up, and regardless of what type of device they use to access the service. In other words, if you're watching BBC iPlayer content through your phone or computer, you still need a TV licence.

The change is expected to particularly affect younger people, who are more likely to consume content through their smartphones or computers than via traditional TV sets. Students living away from home at college or university will need to be especially wary of the new rules. Getting caught out could mean a criminal conviction and a fine of up to £1,000!

The good news for viewers aged 75 or over is that they qualify for a free TV licence. However, it isn't automatic and you still need to apply for it.

For more details about who needs a TV licence, including ways to pay, click here to visit the official TV Licensing website.

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