Does the U.K. really have an annual TV tax?

I’m watching the local PBS station, which is currently in begging for money mode, with a pitchman in front of phone tables. Just following some commercials…I mean corporate underwriter recognitions, when he let this one out, “In Britian they have a $50 a year television tax to pay for its public TV.”

Is this true? How do they enforce it? Its not like I would let some stranger come into my place and count my TV’s. I could see a duty paid on the purchase of a television, but an annual tax? Maybe they have some universal cable for their TV, although didn’t Monty Python adjust that penguin on the top of the tv before it blew up?

They are playing a Heart concert now. Cool! The blond sister must be 50 or so and she’s hot. The brunette…can still sing. I’m good for about 20 minutes before the fund raising resumes.

Yep. You buy a license to operate your television. It’s enforced by mysterious men in mysterious vans driving around and measuring EM radiation from your house.

Is it really a BBC license fee?

This has been discussed on the SDMB plenty of times but is not easy to search the archives for. Here are a couple of recent threads though:

How do TV detectors work
what’s the deal with the “TV detector van” in Britain?

BBC financing is controversial and is subject to frequent review, but of course in a purely commercial environment, every time you buy a product that’s advertised on TV you make a contribution to the programmes that advertising pays for whether you watch the shows or not. No such thing as a free lunch you see.

Some form of tax is used to pay for public service broadcasting in most European countries.

If I recall correctly from my days in Japan, each household was required to pay a 2000 yen television fee each year that went toward NHK. A men went door-to-door collecting the fee and giving stickers to show that you could display near your front door to show that you were on the up and up. The first few times he came, I truly didn’t understand what he wanted. After I figured it out, I enjoyed pretending not to understand so I didn’t have to pay. Unfortunately, he eventually caught me when my Japanese girlfriend was visiting, so I quickly fell into line and proudly displayed my sticker.

It still seems that much of the “honor system” would have to be in place. To have people in vans scour every street, every house, every flat for EM radiation would be a cost in itself, with results that could be argued if desired, although the amount of the tax is less than a traffic ticket. Of course, it may be a lot easier than it seems to me.

Well they don’t scour every street and every house. I believe you have to present your license to the retailer in order to purchase a TV. And the van-people only scour a sampling of houses that have expired licenses or none at all (most houses have them.)

No different than cheating on your income taxes, really. The IRS only has time to examine a small sample of the returns closely. So you might get away with it once in a while.

No you don’t.

It is important to note that this is an important funding method for the BBC, which carries no independent advertising (it advertises its own products, usually quite subtly, but there are no advertisment breaks in programmes aired on BBC). It is rather more that $50 though.

No, however, retailers of televisions are obliged to report your details to the TV licensing authority when you buy one. (I think this even includes second-hand TVs).

You don’t have to present your licence to buy a television, BUT when you buy a new telly you need to fill in a form that is sent to the TV licencing authorities so they know you now have a television, and can check to see if you have a licence.

The TV licencing authority has a database of every address in the country, so they know whether or not you have a licence (one licence covers as many televisions as you can cram into your home). Since the vast, vast, vastly overwhelming majority of houses have a television (and therefore a licence) all the licencing authority needs to do is send out a reminder every year.

Houses without a licence are either breaking the law, or don’t own a television. The licencing authority assumes everyone owns a telly and hence constantly harrasses everyone without a licence, sending them threatening letters and lurking outside their houses with the infamous detector van. This is, of course, exceptionally annoying for people who genuinely don’t have a television, since there is no reliable way to convince the authorities for this. I am aware of several anecdotal accounts of people who don’t have a telly who have bought a licence just to get the authorities off their backs.

Anyway, the fee goes directly to the BBC, not the government. Note however, that you need to pay the licence to own a television per se, even if you never actually watch the BBC.

The BBC’s charter is up for review in 2006 at which point there will be considerable debate over whether to retain the licence fee.

Indeed it is - it’s currently £116 a year for a colour TV, or about US$190.

Some would argue that this is a small price to pay for being able to watch a programme for longer than six minutes at a stretch without some guy in a cheap suit trying to sell you pile ointment.
On the other hand, some of that money inevitably finds its way into the pockets of Alan Titchmarsh’s gardening “slacks”, so the system is by no means perfect.

For my home there are two slight variations for the address and the TV licensing people have both on their database. I buy my license every year for the variant I use for all correspondance, which is also the one on the lease and electoral register. This does not stop them sending me threatening letters now and again. Only once in twelve years did they send around an inspector - in the middle of the day mid-week when everybody is at work - duh. I wait patiently for an opportunity to wave my valid license in an inspectors face.

I do not believe, regardless of whether or not the technology is effective, that the detector vans are much more than a deterant.

I think most people support the licence fee actually. I certainly do. I like not having adverts and it means that the Beeb doesn’t have to submit to the will of advertisers. Not only that, but there is a knock on effect that other channels dare not have too much advertising or they won’t be able to compete. I’d hate to get to a situation like in the States - start credits, adverts, 10 mins, adverts, 10 mins, adverts, end credits, adverts. Their 30 min programmes are only 22 mins long!

The licence fee is currently a whisker over £100 per annum per household, actually (about $150). It doesn’t make any difference how many TVs you have (more than one of course) although there are discounts if you only have black and white TVs or you are deaf or blind.



I know of no such requirement. Nothing can stop me going into a shop, buying a TV and, if asked for an address, telling them to mind their own business.

The shop may have other reasons for asking for your address (credit check, delivery etc) but I know of no law that requires they pass this onto TV Licencing. Indeed, such a move could be illegal under data protection laws.

Neither do I know of any requirement for shops to register with TV Licencing that they are selling TVs. So if they never notify TV Licencing, how is TV Licencing ever to know that they’re not telling them when they sell a TV?

Apparently I forgot last year’s increase. And is the dollar really down to 1.64 to the pound? Good heavens. This time last year it was 1.4!


Futile Gesture, as a student I worked for two weeks in Tandys (forgive me). We were certainly told that when selling a telly we had to have the form filled out that we sent to the licencing authorities.

Anecdotal evidence at least that it is true.


If you have a Black & White TV , but own a video recorder you must have a coulour tv licence, because the Video receives & records colour.


Would that be Tandys, the shop where they tried to get you to fill in a form with your address on if you bought absolutely anything?

From the TV Licensing website.