What actually happens if you don’t buy a TV licence, and how to legally avoid doing so

No, they can’t just come into your house and check


Each year, every student house gets the dreaded letter they're going to receive an epic fine if they don't buy a TV licence. There's bright red writing in capital letters and everything. You'll probably ask yourself what happens if you don't buy a TV license?

Do scary people come bashing down your door, take away your television and demand you pay thousands of pounds on the spot? The answer is, no, they don't. This is what happens if you don't buy a TV license, and how to avoid legally doing so:

Who needs a TV licence?

This is the TV Licensing website's official statement about buying a TV licence:

You need to be covered by a TV Licence to:

• Watch or record programmes as they’re being shown on TV or live on an online TV service

• Download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer.

This applies to any provider you use and any device, including a TV, desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, tablet, games console, digital box or DVD/VHS recorder.

This does not include Netflix, Youtube, Amazon Prime etc.

What if I don't have a TV?

If you don't have a TV but still use anything like BBC iPlayer, you do still need a licence.

However, if you don't have a TV or use iPlayer, you still need to go on the website and declare that you don't need a TV licence. They'll just keep sending letters until you do.

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What happens if I don't have a TV licence?

According to the website: "You could be prosecuted if we find that you have been watching, recording or downloading programmes illegally. The maximum penalty is a £1,000 fine plus any legal costs and/or compensation you may be ordered to pay."

If you don't either buy a TV licence or declare that you don't need one, chances are you'll keep getting letters throughout the year. Sometimes, they'll even send specific dates they intend on coming to your house to check if you're breaking the law.

How do they detect whether or not I have a TV or use a TV downloading website?

A lot of people think there are some kind of 'detector vans' that drive up to your house and can tell whether or not you've got a TV. This is a total myth. The vans are for intimidation purposes, and the fear of them comes from various attempts at propaganda over the years.

TV licence people assume everyone has a TV or downloads TV online, they have absolutely no way of knowing if this is true or not other than to physically search your house.

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Can the TV licence people actually come to my house?

People from TV licensing can actually come to your house, but they can't come in without an official warrant.

If you're unlucky enough for them to chase up a letter and pay you a visit, they'll ask to come in and check if you have a TV. You have the right to say no and close the door.

There's a possibility they might follow up the visit with yet another letter giving you a date by which you need to buy a licence.

If you want to be a bit extra, you can legally remove the "implied right of access" from your doorstep and driveway. This means you can technically sue TV licence people for trespassing if they attempt to come to your door.

How can I avoid buying a TV licence?

There are many ways to legal loopholes to get around buying a TV licence, other than simply hoping for the best.

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1. Find other ways of watching shows and movies

Seems obvious, but the best way to completely 100 per cent avoid any TV licence drama is to use platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and NowTV. There is nothing illegal about these, and you do not require a licence to use them.

2. Unplug your devices

You can only be charged for watching TV on your laptop if your laptop is physically plugged into the mains in your house.

This means if you take your laptop to a friend or family's house who has a licence, or even take it to uni, you can download TV shows there. Make sure it's fully charged before you leave then go home and watch away, totally risk free.

The same goes for you TV – as long as it's not plugged into the mains, there's no proof you were watching it.

3. On Demand

You can't watch catch up TV without a licence, but you can watch shows on demand. Many websites offer these shows and they're totally okay to watch, it's pretty much only BBC iPlayer that isn't. Some examples are All4, Sky Go and ITV Player.

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