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Can You Go to Prison if You Don’t Have a TV Licence?


If you’re a long-term resident of the UK or have recently moved there, you’ve probably heard about TV licence fees.

You may have also come across articles claiming you’ll be charged with jail time if you don’t pay them. 

Before you call your lawyer and begin giving away your possessions, keep reading to find out which TV licensing rules are facts, and which are fiction.  

Why do you have to pay for a TV licence in the UK? What happens if you don’t pay for a TV licence? 

Let’s get started! 

Why Do People Have To Pay for a TV Licence in the UK?

TV licence fees fund the BBC. 

In the UK, anyone who watches live broadcast television must pay a TV licence fee of £159 per year. 

This includes watching live broadcast TV on a television, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. You do not have to pay a licence fee for watching on-demand content on streaming platforms like YouTube, Netflix, etc. 

These licence fees make up around £3.5 billion of the BBC’s £4.93 billion annual income. They allow the BBC to function without any advertisements, so that the TV shows, movies, talk shows, etc., don’t have to consider advertisers when creating content. 

Watch the video below explaining what TV licences are and why they exist. 

What Is A TV Licence Fee?

What Happens if You Don’t Pay for a TV Licence?

You will be warned, then fined if you don’t pay for a TV licence. 

close up view of TV license with glasses and pen

If you don’t have a TV licence but are suspected of having a TV, you will receive a warning letter from An Post. 

This letter will dictate that you will be prosecuted and fined if you do not purchase a TV licence. 

If you continue to ignore the TV licence fee, then an inspector will be randomly sent to your home to see if you have a TV. If they do find a TV, you will be taken to court and fined. 

Warning: There have been several TV licence scams, so if you receive a letter or email make sure it contains your full name, a section of your postcode, and other personal information. If you receive an email check that it’s from donotreply@tvlicensing.co.uk or donotreply@spp.tvlicensing.co.uk to ensure it’s from the official TV licencing company.  

How Much Is a TV Licence Fine?

A TV licence fine can vary depending on how many times you’ve been fined previously. 

If this is your first time being fined for not paying for a TV licence, the fine will be £1000. However, residents of Guernsey could face up to a £2000 fine for their first conviction. 

Every TV licence fine after the first one will be £2000. This does not include any additional compensation or legal fees. 

Can You Go to Prison if You Don’t Have a TV Licence?

You will not go to prison if you don’t have a TV licence. 

However, you could be sentenced to jail time if you’ve been fined by a court of law for avoiding the TV licence, then refuse to pay the fee. 

That being said, it’s extremely rare to be sent to prison for this. In fact, in 2020, no one had been sentenced to prison for not paying for a TV licence. 

What Should I Do If I Received a TV Licence Notice But Don’t Have a TV?

You should send a declaration form to the TV Licence Records Office. 

If you don’t have a TV, but received a letter from An Post threatening to convict you if you don’t pay a TV licence fee, don’t worry. They’re not about to chuck you in prison. 

First, it’s important to recognize that you may need to get a TV licence even if you don’t have a TV. 

Do you watch, download, or record content on the BBC iPlayer? Do you watch live TV on a streaming service, such as streaming a live football match on Amazon Prime? 

homepage of BBC Radio 4 on BBC iPlayer

If the answer to either of those questions is “yes”, then you need a TV licence, even if you don’t have a TV. 

Now that you understand if you need a TV licence, you can take the appropriate actions in response to the letter. 

If you need a TV licence, go ahead and pay the fee. 

If you don’t need a TV licence, you’ll need to fill out the Statutory Declaration Form (PDF), which is available in both English and Gaelic. 

Once filled, send it to your nearest TV licence records office. 

If you’re still confused about what you do and don’t need a TV licence for, watch the video below. 

TV Licence Rules What You Can And Can't Watch In Less Than 5 Minutes

How Can I Pay My TV Licence Fee Online? 

You can pay your TV licence fee online on the official TV Licencing website. 

TV license with TV license number and TV license fee

Paying your TV licence fee online couldn’t be easier. 

Pay for your TV Licence on the official TV Licencing website

Make sure you’re on the correct website and keep an eye out for phishing scams mimicking the official TV Licencing organisation in an attempt to take your money and steal your personal information. 

Select Renew, Card Schemes, or New Licence depending on how you wish to pay and if it is your first time purchasing a TV licence or not. 

Card Schemes give users the option to pay via their TV licence savings or a payment card. 

Renew and New Licence allow users to pay with their credit or debit cards. Enter the requested information and payment details. 

Presto! Now you have a TV licence that will last 12 months! 

How Can I Contact TV Licencing? 

You can contact TV licensing over email, chat, or phone. 

It’s better to be safe than sorry, so don’t hesitate to contact TV Licencing with any questions. 

You can contact them over email via their contact form or ask questions to their virtual assistant found on the same page. 

Alternatively, you can call them at 0300 790 6096

Wrapping Things Up

Don’t worry. You’re not about to be given life in prison for misunderstanding the UK’s TV licencing laws. 

Instead, you’ll receive a letter of warning, then a fine if you continue to dodge the fee. 

If you are taken to court and fined, you must promptly pay or you risk jail time. 

All this considered, the UK court system rarely opts to send people to prison (and use precious government resources) simply because they didn’t pay a TV licencing fine. 

If you do need to pay for a TV licence, head over to pay for your TV Licence on the official TV Licencing website or contact TV Licencing for additional support. 

What’s your experience with TV licensing laws? Has this article helped you understand the legal consequences you could face by dodging the TV licensing fee? 

Let us know in the comments below!


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