What you can legally watch without a TV licence - and the rules for Amazon and Netflix explained

Do you need a TV licence?
Do you need a TV licence?
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The cost of the BBC licence fee rose by £4 per year to £154.50 earlier this year, as part of the Government's increases in line with inflation announced in 2017.

By comparison, a year of Netflix costs £83.88 per year for a basic plan or £119.88 for 4K UHD, while Amazon Prime Video costs £95.98 annually.

When do you need a TV licence?

In an age of Netflix, iPlayer, smartphones and streaming, the situation with TV content has never been more complicated. For several years, the TV licence only applied to live TV - meaning iPlayer was exempt - but this loophole has since been closed.

So when do you need a TV licence? Well, the answer is you pretty much always do if you watch TV, unless you can watch only Netflix and Prime for a year and never even sneak a look at TV channels or iPlayer for the entire year.

If you watch any live TV - including ITV, Channel 4, or Sky channels, you need a licence. If you use BBC iPlayer, on a TV, phone, laptop or any other device, you need a licence.

What TV services do not require a TV licence?

Without a licence, you can legally watch:

Netflix

YouTube

Amazon Prime

DVDs/Blurays

Non-BBC catch-up including ITV Player, Channel 4 on-demand, as long as it's NOT live

But if it was suspected that you were watching live TV or BBC iPlayer, you would need to prove that you are not accessing live TV.

If you cancel your TV licence, you may get a visit from TV Licensing, and if they decide you actually do need a licence, you'll need to pay the full annual licence fee, plus a possible fine of up to £1,000 on top.

What you cannot watch or record if you don't have a TV licence:

Any live TV on any Channel including Sky channels

Any BBC iPlayer, live or streamed later

Any +1 Channels

What the law says on the need for a TV licence - according to TVLicensing.co.uk

A TV Licence is a legal permission to install or use television receiving equipment to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on TV or live on an online TV service, and to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer.

This could be on any device, including TVs, desktop computers, laptops, mobile phones, tablets, games consoles, digital boxes, DVD, Blu-ray and VHS recorders. This applies regardless of which television channels a person receives or how those channels are received.

You don’t need a TV licence just to own or possess a television set (Photo: Shutterstock)

The licence fee is not a payment for BBC services (or any other television service), although licence fee revenue is used to fund the BBC.

The requirement to hold a TV licence and to pay a fee for it is mandated by law under the Communications Act 2003 and Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004 (as amended).

It is an offence to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on any channel and on any broadcast platform (terrestrial, satellite, cable and the internet) or download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer without a valid TV Licence.

Is it legal to watch TV programmes on a laptop or phone without a TV licence?

If you use a laptop (or any other device) to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on TV or live on an online TV service, or to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer, then, by law, you need to be covered by a TV Licence. So yes, it would be illegal.

Do I need a TV licence if I don't watch BBC?

A TV licence is a legal permission to install or use television equipment to receive (i.e. watch or record) TV programmes, as they are being shown on TV or live on an online TV service, and to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer.

This applies regardless of which channel you're watching, which device you are using (TV, desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, tablet or any other), and how you receive them (terrestrial, satellite, cable, via the internet or in any other way).

The licence fee is not a subscription to watch BBC programmes but mandated by law. Under the Communications Act 2003, the BBC in its role as the licensing authority has a duty to issue TV licences and collect the licence fee.

Do +1 channels count as live TV?

Yes. So you still have to have a TV Licence.

Do you need a TV licence to own a TV?

You don’t need a TV licence to own or possess a television set. However, if you use it to watch or record programmes as they are being shown on TV or live on an online TV service, or to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer, then you need a TV licence in order to do so.

Do you need a TV licence to watch BBC iPlayer?

Yes, you need to be covered by a TV licence to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV, on BBC iPlayer.

This applies to all devices, including a smart TV, desktop computer or laptop, mobile phone, tablet, digital box or games console. Even if you access BBC iPlayer through another provider, such as Sky, Virgin, Freeview or BT, you must have a licence.