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TV licence fines. What you should do next

You need a TV licence if you watch or record live TV programmes as they’re being broadcast, or watch or download BBC programmes on iPlayer. If you don’t have a licence or repay any arrears, you could receive a court fine.

It’s a criminal offence to watch live TV or use BBC iPlayer unless you have a valid TV licence. Without one you risk prosecution and can be issued a fine of up to £1,000.

You still need a licence if you only watch BBC iPlayer on a phone, tablet or computer.

Dealing with TV licence arrears

If you have arrears on your licence you should contact TV licensing to come to an arrangement to repay them in instalments. Arrears are normally passed to a debt collection company working on behalf of TV licensing. They’re responsible for arranging and collecting the arrears.

If you’re behind with your TV licence payments, you should aim to catch up as soon as you can. Failing to repay the arrears could lead to a fine and a criminal record.

Because of the serious consequences of not paying the licence fee, it’s important to treat any arrears as a priority bill. If you’re struggling to pay the arrears or your current TV licence, you should get debt advice.

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

If you don’t have a valid licence, the process that is usually followed is:

  • You’ll receive a letter asking you to get in touch and start making payments
  • An enquiry officer could visit your home to find out if you need a licence
  • If the enquiry officer finds that a licence is needed they will try to get evidence of this

Failing to pay at this stage could result in court action using the evidence collected by the enquiry officer. The court can issue a fine of up to £1000 which will show up if your criminal record is checked. Your TV licence must still be paid in addition to the fine.

How do I buy a TV licence?

There are many ways to buy a TV licence. You can pay weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually and choose how you’d like to pay, whether that’s by cash, Direct Debit, debit/credit card or by post.

To find out more about how to buy a licence visit the TV licencing website.

TV licence concessions

In some cases you can apply for a reduction on the cost of your licence. This applies if you, or someone you live with are:

  • 75 years old or older - you’re eligible to apply for a free licence by calling 0300 790 6112 or visiting the TV licence website
  • Blind and can provide appropriate evidence – You can apply for a 50% blind concession on your licence. However if you’re partially sighted you won’t be eligible for any reduction

What do I do if I don’t need a licence?

If you don’t watch TV at all or your property is empty or unoccupied you still need to contact TV Licensing and let them know. This should stop any letters being sent to the address for up to six months.

TV Licensing has a policy to visit some addresses reported as not needing a licence. If you’re found to be watching TV illegally you risk being prosecuted and fined up to £1,000.

Can I go to prison for not having a licence?

No, you can’t go to prison for not having a TV licence. The court can only give you a fine for this. But if you don’t pay, the court can take further action to collect the fine, including sending you to prison as a last resort.

This will usually only happen if you’re refusing to pay and other methods of recovering the fine, such as enforcement agents (bailiffs) or deductions from your wages or benefits have failed.

Struggling with TV licence arrears?

If you’re falling behind with your TV licence payments, or have a fine that you’re struggling to repay, then please call us. Our expert advisors can give you advice on dealing with arrears and getting your payments up to date.

You can also use our free online debt advice tool Debt Remedy or our 60-second debt test.

By answering a few simple questions we'll be able to tell you if you need debt advice. Answer the questions below and we'll help you understand how close you are to having a debt problem and suggest what your next steps could be.


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Foundation for Credit Counselling Wade House, Merrion Centre, Leeds, LS2 8NG trading as StepChange Debt Charity and StepChange Debt Charity Scotland. A registered charity no.1016630 and SC046263. It is a limited company registered in England and Wales (company no:2757055). Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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