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Television licence

In some countries, if you own a television set, you will have to have a licence to receive signals on it. Television licensing is common in Europe, Africa and Asia, but less so in the Americas.

Table of contents
1 Licence Fee in the UK
2 Notes
3 Licence Fee in the Ireland
4 Sources and external links

Licence Fee in the UK

In the UK, these fees are set by Parliament, paid annually via the Post Office and go directly to the funding of the BBC, enabling it to run without advertisements. The licence fee, initially for radio sets (exempt since 1971), was mandated by the 1904 Wireless Telegraphy Act. The fee was originally 10 shillings and in 2003 was 116 (US$205) for colour TV and 38.50 (US$68) for monochrome TV. There are concessions for the old (free for over 75s) and the blind (50% off).

It is believed that approximately 5% of TVs are unlicensed. With the BBC's increased world output (including its online services) there has been a debate as to the abolition of the TV licence, which has been denounced as unfair by competing television companies.

According to the definition of TV receiving apparatus [1], a licence must be obtained for any device which is "installed or used" for receiving broadcasts, which potentially covers devices such as a tuner card in a PC or a portable television. However a television installed and used for some other purpose, such as a closed-circuit monitor or a games console, is exempt provided it is never used for receiving broadcasts.

Enforcement in the UK is done by maintaining a database of all addresses in the country, with electronics retailers being subject to large fines if they do not pass on the addresses of anyone buying television receiving equipment. Addresses with no licence are automatically assumed to actually have a television, and are subject to repeated mailshots and visits by the enforcement agency, which causes a great deal of resentment on the part of those with no television. In addition to the database, electronic detectors are used to pick up the small amount of energy reradiated by the local oscillator in the tuning circuitry. It's open to doubt how well the much advertised detectors would work on a tuner card within the electrically noisy Faraday cage enclosure of a PC: the simpler method of calling round and looking for the aerial or an operating television would seem more effective.

The scheme has been condemned as a regressive tax, in that the very poorest are those least likely to have a licence (which costs more every year than buying several second-hand televisions), and least able to pay the fine for not having a licence. A report ("TV sinners", March 1998) by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux pointed out that failure to pay the fine is the single largest reason for the imprisonment of single mothers.

However in its favour, it can be said that it does link use of a television to payment of the licence fee. This implies that if someone does not wish to watch television, they can choose not to pay for the service. This is an advantage over the alternative method of funding through advertising which forces everyone to pay for the television service, albeit indirectly, whether they watch television or not.


[1] The Wireless Telegraphy (Television Licence Fees) Regulations 1991 gives the following definition:

2. The following class or description of television receiving apparatus is hereby specified for the purposes of the definition of "television receiver" in the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949[5], namely such apparatus installed or used for the purpose of receiving television programme services, as defined by section 2(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1990, whether or not the apparatus is installed or used for other purposes.

Licence Fee in the Ireland

In 2003, the television licence in Ireland is 150 euro. It is free to over age 70 and some over 66.

Sources and external links