It's possible to cancel your TV licence, save a heap of money and still watch TV legally – although not in real time. We explain exactly what you need to do
Whether or not the TV licence fee represents good value for money is a matter for ongoing debate but there’s no way to avoid paying it if you want to watch TV legally in the UK. Or is there?
In fact there is one very easy way to watch TV legally without paying the licence fee and it has been made possible by TV broadcasters themselves. The tricky part is how to do it with a traditional TV and without attracting the unwarranted attention of the TV Licensing authority. And that’s where Computeractive can help.
We want to clarify that we are not making a judgement in this article about the validity of the licence. The process we are about to outline will be convenient for some but not for others.
We accept that many people passionately defend the notion of a publicly funded broadcaster. Those are arguments for you to consider and judge.
But if you are prepared to adjust your household's watching habits, or already have, and do not wish to contribute to the many services provided by the licence fee, read on. If not, then note that this article also contains plenty of information on how to use catch-up services to make sure you don't miss favourite programmes.
What the law actually says
Many people believe that a TV licence is required if you want to watch TV. Indeed, with the threat of fines of up to £1,000 (not including legal fees) for watching TV without a licence, most of us cough up for one without a second thought.
However, the law isn’t that broad. According to the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations and other associated Acts, a TV licence is required only when ‘receiving equipment’ is used to view a TV programme at the same time as it is being broadcast.
To be clear, it doesn’t matter if the ‘receiving equipment’ in question is a television, set-top box (such as Sky or Freeview) or computer, or if a programme is received via TV aerial, satellite dish or internet connection.
The only proviso is that if a TV programme is watched, or recorded for later viewing, at the same time as it is being broadcast, then a TV licence is required.
Sharp-eyed readers may have a spotted a loophole here and it’s a loophole that represents the difference between having to pay £145.50 for a colour TV licence (or £49 for black and white) each year and not having to pay a penny. And we’re not talking about waiting until your 75th birthday to become exempt from TV-licensing legislation.
This legislation was created at a time when the only way to watch a TV programme was to sit in front of the telly as it was being shown, which meant everyone with a TV had to have a licence.
The advent of domestic video-cassette recorders (VCRs) threatened this status quo but, as ‘time-shifting’ a TV programme onto video cassette still required it to be recorded as it was being broadcast, a small tweak of the legislation dealt with the problem.
However, a VCR could also be used to watch pre-recorded programmes provided by a third-party – movie tapes and so forth – so did that require a TV licence too? It did not and still doesn’t – that’s when the TV-licensing loophole was created.
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