Entertainment & Arts

TV licence iPlayer change: What you need to know

Person viewing BBC iPlayer on their laptop Image copyright Getty Images

New TV licence rules have come into force, with changes affecting people who watch BBC programmes on iPlayer.

As before, anyone watching or recording TV programmes as they are broadcast must have a licence.

Here are the answers to some common questions about the legal changes.


How has the law changed?

Previously, only viewers who were watching shows live (as they were being broadcast) needed a licence.

That meant it was legal to watch content after broadcast via iPlayer without paying the annual licence fee.

From Thursday, people need a TV licence to download or watch almost all on-demand and catch-up programmes on iPlayer.


What can I watch without a TV licence?

The rules only apply to iPlayer, so you do not need a TV licence if you only ever watch on-demand or catch-up programmes through other service providers - as long as they don't use iPlayer.

This means that - for example - you can watch on-demand and catch-up BBC programmes on third-party services such as Netflix without needing a TV licence, but you wouldn't be able to watch any on-demand and catch-up BBC programmes on iPlayer through services like Now TV, Sky, Virgin, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast without a TV licence.

If you only watch on-demand and catch-up television, and you only ever watch it using services from other providers, such as the ITV Hub or All 4, then you also wouldn't need a TV licence.

If you only use iPlayer to listen to the radio, watch S4C TV on demand, or watch films or TV shows you have bought from the BBC Store, then you do not need a TV licence.


What are the rules for students?

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In certain circumstances, students may be covered by their parents' TV licence. TV Licensing says four conditions need to apply:

  • The student only ever uses a device that is powered by its internal batteries (e.g. a laptop, mobile phone or tablet device) to watch live TV or watch and download programmes on iPlayer
  • They have not connected it to an aerial or plugged it into the mains
  • Their permanent address (outside term time) is their parents' home
  • Their parents have a valid TV licence

So if you plug your device in to charge it while you are watching live TV, or catch-up or on-demand programmes on iPlayer, then you need a TV licence.

Students can find out more by visiting the TV Licensing student information webpage or by calling 0300 790 6113.

How can TV Licensing check whether I have a licence or need one?

TV Licensing details on its website the ways in which it can check whether you have a licence, including a database of more than 31 million addresses, and home visits.

A fleet of detector vans can "detect the use of TV receiving equipment at specifically targeted addresses within minutes", it says.

In a statement, a TV Licensing spokesman said it would not use mass surveillance techniques nor ask internet providers for IP addresses.

"We will simply use existing enforcement processes and techniques which we believe to be adequate and appropriate. Our current procedures enable us to catch those watching on devices other than televisions," he added.

A government White Paper did ask the BBC to consider the cost and feasibility of a verification or sign-in system for iPlayer, and it is understood that TV Licensing will consider the costs and benefits of such a system in the future.

At present, no major changes to the ways that iPlayer asks you about your TV licence are expected.

A BBC spokesperson said: "Previously, a pop-up window appeared asking viewers to confirm they've got a TV licence when they click to play live BBC content on iPlayer, and from Thursday, that will update to include on-demand BBC programmes on iPlayer."


What are the penalties for not having a licence?

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If you need a licence and do not have one, you are breaking the law and risk being prosecuted.

You could be fined up to £1,000 (the maximum fine is £2,000 in Guernsey and £500 in Jersey) - excluding any legal costs or compensation you may be ordered to pay.


Where can I get a licence?

TV Licences are available online from the TV Licensing website.

You can also purchase one by post or telephone, or at one of more than 28,000 PayPoint outlets across the UK.


How much does it cost?

A colour TV licence costs £145.50 per year, while a black-and-white TV licence costs £49.

There are some concessions for the blind and for care home residents, and there is no charge for people over the age of 75.

The cost to businesses varies.

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