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Student News

TV Licensing loophole revealed: Students don’t need a licence to watch iPlayer after all

Despite the recently introduced iPlayer TV licensing laws, the majority of students won't have to pay – thanks to this technicality.

bbc iplayer and man watching laptop

Credit (right): Bodnar Taras - Shutterstock

After reeling at the changes to TV licensing laws in the UK that would see students having to pay for a licence to watch BBC iPlayer, we discovered a bizarre loophole that suggests, in fact, there’s no need for students to pay up after all.

Originally the BBC announced that changes would be made to the licensing law in January 2017 that would force anyone who downloaded or streamed on-demand TV from BBC iPlayer to pay for a TV licence.

Back then we reported that the deadline for the changes to be enforced was suddenly brought forward to 1 September 2016 – which unluckily coincided with students going back to university. And it's still in force today.

TV Licensing has also made it quite clear that students play a big part in their decision to enforce the changes.

They stated in their press release:

Research by TV Licensing has revealed iPlayer is the most popular catch-up platform used by students, ahead of sites such as YouTube and services including Netflix.

A petition to exempt students from having to adhere to this new law was started by a student from Loughborough University and gathered more than 18,000 signatures.

The petition highlights that enforcing this change burdened students with a minimum additional £463.50 to cough up in order to cover themselves during a three-year degree – on top of rising tuition fees and the scrapping of maintenance grants this year.

Update: For those who do watch regular TV (and so need a TV Licence), fees increased from £154.50 to £157.50 per year as of April 1st 2020.

Not paying for a TV Licence is just one of our top tips for watching football on TV for less.

The TV Licence loophole for students

child watching television

The loophole, which is even featured in the official press release on the TV Licensing website, states that:

In limited circumstances, students can be covered by the licence at their parents’ address. The device must be powered by its own internal batteries – e.g. a tablet or mobile phone – and must not be plugged it into the mains when receiving television. This use is enabled by the regulations governing TV Licensing.

We’ve tried to do some digging to establish what the "limited circumstances" are that they speak of, but this appears just to be an attempt at a deterrent.

On another page of the TV Licensing website, we found a similarly strange message:

Your parents' TV Licence won't cover you while you're away at university.

There is just one exception to this rule. If you only use a device that's powered solely by its own internal batteries, you will be covered by your parents' TV Licence. However, you must not install the device (e.g. plug it into the mains) when using it to receive TV.

So, essentially, as long as you can answer 'yes' to all of the following, you can watch iPlayer without a TV Licence:

  • You're watching on a device that is functioning on its own battery power, without being plugged into the mains (e.g. a laptop or phone)
  • Your parents have a TV Licence
  • Your parents' home address is your main address (i.e. it's where you live when you're not living at uni).

TV Licensing says...

We reached out to TV Licensing about the loophole on Twitter, and here's what they said:

tv licensing tweet

Just to clarify – students have always been able to watch TV on an unplugged device under their parents' TV license. However, we're keen to make it clear that the new iPlayer changes to the TV licensing agreement will, bizarrely, have no effect on this rule. If you have any doubts about whether you're covered, please call the number above.


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