The Prime Minister has mused recently about whether or not to scrap the TV Licence. Though it may be a gripe paying for a licence, what does the law actually provide for if you don’t? Amber Walker, a Solicitor in our Regulatory Law team, takes a closer look.

Action is taken against some 180,000 people a year for not holding a TV Licence. The law that requires purchase of a licence is in The Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004.

When do I need a licence?

In a nutshell, if you watch programmes at the time they are broadcast. You will also need one if you watch shows on the BBC’s iPlayer, regardless of when they are screened.

You don’t need a licence if you only watch programmes on so-called ‘catch up services’ such as Netflix (as long as they are not made by the BBC, so the BBC’s new Britbox service would still apply, even though it’s a joint service with ITV.)

Businesses which have TVs in reception areas will need one if they are showing live news channels, for example. If clips are shown via YouTube, a licence is not required (though if this includes music channels, other laws may apply in terms of the copyright.)

I only watch programmes on a computer, tablet or my mobile phone- do I still need a licence?

Yes, if you are watching them live or via iPlayer. The Regulations refer to a ‘television receiver’- any device which can be used to ‘receive’ programmes is included, so it isn’t just applicable to a traditional TV.

Can I actually go to prison for not having a licence?

A prison sentence wouldn’t arise because you didn’t have the licence in the first place. If you are convicted, you will be fined, and it is non-payment of that fine which could see you being locked up.

The initial fine can be any sum up to £1,000. You can also be ordered to pay some or all of the prosecution costs, as well as a Victim Surcharge (between £32 and £181, depending on your circumstances.)

It’s likely that any reforms will take some time to achieve but it would certainly be a popular policy decision. In the meantime, compliance with the law is still essential – very few people are only watching streaming services, and so most of us need to be aware of our obligations under the legislation. Should you be dealing with a TV Licensing prosecution, please do not hesitate to contact Amber for advice on 0113 284 5042 or via avw@ih.co.uk.