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
How to not watch live TV
Watching TV programmes exclusively on VHS or DVD box sets isn’t a particularly convenient option for most people, nor is it a cost-effective way to avoid paying £145.50 for a colour TV licence. However, since 2007 there has been another, far cheaper option for watching time-shifted TV, for which we can thank the BBC.
This was the year the BBC launched its iPlayer service, as a way for viewers to watch programmes online that they may have missed when originally broadcast on TV. BBC iPlayer made most TV programmes available for viewing, via the internet, for up to 30 days after the date of their last broadcast and its success led to ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 launching similar services of their own.
Currently, all these services can be freely used without any kind of registration or login in the UK (although ITV plans to introduce ‘micropayments’ for certain programmes later this year) and, while the commercial broadcasters’ options aren’t quite as comprehensive as the BBC’s, all provide instant access to a remarkably wide range of programmes.
The important point about iPlayer and its ilk is that they’re ‘catch-up’ rather than ‘simulcast’ services, so only make programmes available for viewing online after they have been broadcast by more traditional means. Because they don’t allow TV programmes to be watched or recorded at the same time as they are being broadcast (with one exception, of which more later), that makes their use exempt from TV-licensing legislation.
Now, there was a time when missing a programme when it was first shown was something to be avoided if at all possible, but the way in which many people watch TV has changed radically in recent years.
The popularity of digital video recorders (DVRs) such as Sky+ means that time-shifted viewing is now commonplace and recent figures from TV-viewing-figure organisation BARB show that 9.1 per cent of all TV is now watched in this way, and that figure rises to 16 per cent for soaps and 20 per cent for drama series.
So, ditching live TV and watching nothing but catch-up is not only a legal way to avoid paying for a TV licence fee, you may already be doing it.
Opting out of TV licensing
Although it’s legal to cancel a TV licence, or choose not to renew when the time comes, and simply watch catch-up and other ‘non-live’ programmes from that point on, there are some steps that should be taken to make the transition more straightforward.
Notifying the TV Licensing authority of your intention will not only prevent it from sending renewal reminders, it will also cancel any direct-debit payments that may be in place and may result in a refund for any time remaining on a current TV licence.
However, a person who declares that they no longer need a TV licence may be subsequently visited by the TV Licensing authority to check that this is the case, since the authority reckons that almost one in five declarations are made erroneously.
So, in order to comply with the legal requirements for licence-free TV use and satisfy the TV Licensing authority, it makes sense to take some practical steps to ensure that a live TV signal cannot be received.
For this, the TV Licensing authority suggests disconnecting the TV aerial from the TV or set-top box and sealing the input socket with tape, but it’s also prudent to ‘de-tune’ the TV to prevent the accidental reception of channels.
With most modern TVs, you just need to retune (the option may be labelled ‘Search for new channels’ or similar) with the TV aerial unplugged: the TV will find no channels, so will be unable later to accidentally tune into one. Any other equipment whose sole purpose is to receive a live TV signal, such as a Freeview set-top box or standard satellite receiver, should be removed from the setup.
Any satellite or cable TV subscriptions should be cancelled. If there are recordings still to be watched on a DVR, its TV input should also be disconnected. Both satellite and cable TV services still require a TV licence, even if only ever used for premium subscription channels.
Updating your subscription status