Only watch iPlayer? You're going to have to pay the £145.50 licence fee

BBC Licence

Until now thousands of students have been using a well known TV licence loophole, by avoiding watching TV as it’s broadcast and only catching up with BBC programmes on its iPlayer service. However, this loophole is now due to close.

It will soon be illegal to use the BBC’s iPlayer catch-up service if you don’t pay a licence fee, after the government unveiled plans to change the law in order to protect the BBC’s revenue.

“The licence fee will be modernised to require all those who consume BBC on-demand content (e.g. on BBC iPlayer) to pay the licence fee,” the government said today.

John Whittingdale, culture secretary said: “The BBC works on the basis that all who watch it pay for it. Giving a free ride to those who enjoy Sherlock or Bake Off an hour, a day, or a week after they’re broadcast was never intended and is wrong.”

"We will close the iPlayer loophole, meaning that those who watch BBC programmes on demand will now need a TV licence like everyone else."

As a result he said the government will be introducing new legislation “as soon as practical”. Secondary legislation is relatively easy for the government to introduce without excessive parliamentary scrutiny, meaning the law could be changed within months.

Older people (over 74), the blind, or those in residential care (retired and over 60 or disabled) get a free or reduced TV licence fare. Students on the other hand, are not eligible for any reduction.

Further to this, the law would be disproportionately expensive for students living in halls, as if there’s a separate tenancy agreement each tenant who rents a room in halls will need their own £145.50 TV licence, whereas someone sharing a student house with four others would only be paying £29 annually. This all comes at a time when BBC Three, the channel traditionally aimed at young viewers, has just become an online exclusive.

Fee dodgers can currently face prosecution plus a fine of up to £1,000 if caught watching TV without a licence. You cannot be imprisoned for TV licence evasion in itself, although you can be imprisoned for non-payment of a fine imposed by the court (and what student has £1000 going spare?)