It's that time of year when thousands of Britain's finest young minds are preparing to take their first tentative steps into the world of academia.
Many first-year students will be wondering about the legalities of enjoying their favourite TV programmes in their new accommodation. The purpose of today's post is to provide some background information and summarise the key facts surrounding the TV licence.
If you're in a rush, it's probably easiest to head to our Resources page and download the free student factsheets. If not, please read on:
About TV Licensing:
The BBC is the statutory TV Licensing Authority, which is legally responsible for the administration and enforcement of the TV licence system. The BBC chooses not to undertake TV licence functions under its own name, but instead contracts a series of private companies to fulfill the role. These companies operate under the name of TV Licensing.
The major contractor is Capita Business Services Ltd, which is responsible most of TV Licensing's customer interaction. Capita employees conduct visits to unlicensed properties and gather the evidence needed to prosecute TV licence evaders. Capita, which has shareholders to satisfy, makes no secret of the fact that it manages TV Licensing as a sales operation. Like most sales operations, it seeks to maximise revenue by whatever means it can. Capita employees, who earn close to the minimum wage, receive attractive bonuses for selling TV licences and catching evaders. This partly explains why some Capita employees behave is such an aggressive and dishonest manner when they visit people's homes (see an example of TV Licensing doorstep intimidation).
A separate contractor, currently Proximity London Ltd, is responsible for sending menacing TV Licensing letters to unlicensed properties. Proximity were sacked from an earlier contract for printing lies in TV Licensing letters, but the BBC saw fit to reappoint them.
TV Licence Rules:
There are three general situations that a student might find them self in:
- Situation 1: Their property does not legally require a TV licence at all.
- As mentioned at the start of the article, a TV licence is only needed for those properties where equipment is used to receive TV programmes at the same time as they are broadcast on a normal TV channel.
- A TV licence is not legally needed for the following:
- Watching DVDs.
- Watching content that has been previously downloaded from the web.
- Watching non-live, on-demand content on video sharing sites like YouTube.
- Watching non-live, on-demand content on catch-up services like the BBC iPlayer.
- Watching non-live, on-demand content on subscription services like Netflix.
- Mere ownership of TV receiving equipment does not require a TV licence. It is perfectly legal to own a TV set without a licence, as long as it isn't used to receive TV programmes. Similarly it is perfectly legal to own an internet-enabled computer without a licence, as long as it isn't used to navigate to "live" broadcast TV programmes.
- Situation 2: They are already covered by a TV licence.
- A student temporarily living in rented accommodation (e.g. a hall of residence or student property) is already covered to receive TV programmes on an unplugged device, as long as their non-term time address is covered by a valid TV licence. An unplugged device is something powered by its own internal battery and without an external aerial. This rule is very useful and we consider that most students could adjust their viewing habits to benefit from it.
- If the university provides a TV in a hall of residence communal area, then that is normally covered by the university's own TV licence.
- Situation 3: They need to obtain a TV licence.
- If a student wishes to install (e.g. plug in a mains and aerial lead) equipment to receive TV programmes in their own self-contained rented room then they will need to obtain a TV licence.
- The rules on shared student accommodation are more complicated. Read our earlier article about multiple occupation of student properties.
Anyone who does not legally require a TV licence is under no obligation to communicate or co-operate with TV Licensing. They do not legally need to confirm their no-TV status and it will probably be a wasted effort if they did. We recommend that anyone in this situation ignores TV Licensing completely.
We are sometimes asked if a university (or college) would ever allow TV Licensing access to student rooms. That should never happen, as TV Licensing has no automatic legal right to enter any property. Furthermore, the university would have serious questions to answer if it did allow complete strangers, some of whom are highly dishonest and unscrupulous, to rummage around in a students' private space and personal belongings.
Remember that TV Licensing employees work for a BBC contracted company called Capita Business Services Ltd. They are simply salespeople with no special legal rights. According to TV Licensing’s own policies their employees must:
- Show their ID on request.
- Behave in a polite and courteous manner at all times.
- Leave immediately if the occupier of the room/property asks them to.
- Never threaten the use of a search warrant or the police.