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Under the Communications Act 2003, everyone in the UK who watches or records television programmes as they are broadcast, as well as anyone watching or downloading BBC content on iPlayer, must be covered by a valid TV licence.

The 2003 Act  is  supported  by  the  Communications (Television  Licensing)  Regulations  (SI 2004/692) (as amended). The Regulations set out the various types of television licence, the criteria for obtaining them, the fees payable, and the different concessions available (including for people who are blind, people who are aged over 74 years, and people who live in residential care). The TV Licensing website gives further information on these areas.

A standard colour TV licence costs £147. Various payment options are available.[1]

The maximum fine for not having a licence is £1,000.[2]

Petitions calling for the abolition of the licence fee  

Petition 170931 calling for the television licence fee to be abolished received 125,958 signatures. The petition closed on 3 May 2017. It was due to be debated in Parliament on 8 May 2017 but this was postponed because of the General Election. The petition will now be debated on Monday 20 November 2017.

Petition 200239, also calling for the abolition of the licence fee, has received 12,731 signatures at 15 November 2017. The petition will close on 15 March 2018 and will be debated on 20 November 2017.  

In response to the first petition, the Government has said: 

“A licence is required in order to watch all live or nearly-live television content on any device in the UK or to stream or download any programmes in an on-demand programme service provided by the BBC”.

In response to the second petition the Government has said:

“A licence is required to watch or receive television programmes and is not a fee for BBC services. The government will maintain the BBC funding model for the duration of this Charter period”.  

Alternatives to the licence fee 

In February 2015, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a report on the future of the BBC.[3] Chapter 6 looked at the funding of the BBC and the future of the licence fee. This began by noting that some people see the licence fee as “anachronistic given the changes in communications and media technology and services over the last decade” and that some “dislike paying for a service they use seldom or not at all”.[4]

According to the Committee, the advantages of the licence fee are as follows: 

  • Simple and straightforward 
  • Secure and more predictable source of income which allows for long-term planning 
  • Meant in theory to maintain the BBC’s independence from commercial and political considerations 
  • Allows the BBC sufficient income to benefit from economies of scale 
  • Universality—where BBC’s services are available on a free-at-the-point-of-use basis
  • The charge is associated in people’s minds with paying for BBC services

The disadvantages are: 

  • It is regressive—all pay the same regardless of income or size of household 
  • No choice: it is compulsory for TV homes that do not use BBC services 
  • Expensive to collect 
  • 5.5% evasion rate[5]

Alternative mechanisms for funding the BBC include advertising and sponsorship, subscription, general taxation, or a mix of some or all of these. Public broadcasters in other countries are funded by a combination of licence fee or taxation and advertising (e.g. France, Germany and the Netherlands). The Committee looked at the alternatives before concluding:

There currently appears to be no better alternative for funding the BBC in the near term other than a hypothecated tax or the licence fee. However, the principle of the licence fee in its current form is becoming harder and harder to sustain given changes in communications and media technology and services, and changing audience needs and behaviours. Given this is the case, we do not see a long-term future for the licence fee in its current form…


We conclude that a degree of subscription could be a possibility in the future if the BBC moved to a more personalised service and this could be in accordance with Lord Hall’s vision for personalisation of BBC content consumption. However, careful thought would need to be given as to what content should remain universally available and free-to-air, and how this should be funded, protected from inappropriate influence and delivered to the public…[6]

[1]     TV Licensing website, Pay for your TV licence

[2]     Communications Act 2003 s363(4)

[3]     Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Future of the BBC, HC 315 2014-15, February 2015

[4]     Ibid, p70, 71

[5]     Ibid, p71

[6]     Ibid, p76

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