TV Tax

Are you fed up with …

If you only use a TV set for watching videos (tapes and / or discs) you do not and have never needed to pay the yearly TV 'licence'.

Despite many often-repeated discussions on various news-groups which resolve the issue for a while, there is still confusion as to when a licence is required. Simply put, if and only if you watch television programmes that are transmitted or broadcast (either by radio or over cable). Having written to Bristol in March 2001, I received a letter which defines the position very clearly :

A television licence is a legal permission authorising the installation and use of television receiving apparatus for the purposes of receiving and recording television programme services transmitted, or up-linked, from within the United Kingdom. So you do not need one if you record anything from an external source such as a video camera or other VCR / DVD deck. Note that the bit about transmissions outside the UK being exempt was changed in 2005 as further proof that this is a true TV tax and nothing to do with so-called 'funding' – see the final paragraph of this page.

A DVD player is a means of playing back a pre-encoded optical disk and is monitored via a television set. The set may be de-tuned to prevent the receipt of licensable programme services and disconnected from any means of signal conveyance. Therefore, when used in this mode of operation, the television equipment would not attract payment of the fee. The same would apply to a video player used for a similar application.

I understand that recording DVD apparatus is available, but currently retails at prohibitively high cost. In common with technological innovation, such units will eventually become more generally available and need to be licensed, when tuned, as we understand they are television receivers. Upgrading your equipment from a tape-based VHS deck to a DVD system makes no difference, and the fact all of the decent units have Freeview tuners is as irrelevant as the older sets having analogue tuners. It's whether or not they are used that is the issue.

Similarly, a video cassette recorder is a television receiver, in the same way as a set, but without a display screen, but the means to record television programme services. Therefore, a licence is necessary if the device is tuned to receive licensable services. And a licence is not needed for watching any pre-recorded material.

Notice the equipment only needs to be rendered unable to receive a transmission such not being tuned or connected to an aerial; it does not have to be modified in any other way such as removing the tuners (which would be impossible nowadays anyway as it's all in software, not the manual sliders or rotary switches of old).

Also, it seems that only live broadcasts are licensable. An un-named TVLA rep was quoted during February 2006 in this article as saying [my emphasis] "It does not matter where the programme is being broadcast from. If you are watching live TV in Britain, you need a licence. … If you are watching live TV on a mobile phone or laptop, you do need to be covered by a valid licence. If a customer currently has no licence they will need to obtain one to watch live programmes on their PC. Any device used to watch or record TV programmes as they are being broadcast, such as through an aerial, or otherwise-distributed including via broadband, internet streaming or wi-fi, must be covered by a valid licence. This is the case whether you are watching or receiving a programme via a PC TV, mobile phone, PDA or any other device."However, at the moment, and in theory only, anyone who uses a transcription service or pay-as-you-view, where the broadcast signal is delayed, will not need a licence. Until they do, of course, and how long does the delay have to be – half a second, half an hour? It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if they soon tried to tax you for watching pre-recorded material too.

Neither is it even your obligation, let alone lawful duty, to inform them you do not need to pay the tax, as was recently (15 May 2006) confirmed by Shaun Woodward, the Department for Culture Media & Sport's Parliamentary Under-Secretary : "A television licence is required to install or use a television receiver, as defined in regulations made by the Secretary of State, rather than a television set. Members of the public who do not require a television licence are under no obligation to inform TV Licensing of the fact."

Should you be visited by one of the TVLA's "officers", remember that they have the same legal right of entry to your home as any other member of the public : none. They may only enter at your express invitation, and if they force or swindle their way in with threats to which you submit, can then be treated like any common trespasser. If they then assume you are breaking the law, they may apply to a magistrate for a search order, but this needs evidence, and as yet nothing provided from detector vans has ever been admitted, probably because they have never even been proven to exist outside their own advertising.

Further and more detailed information can be found at