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.
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 have 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, gathered more than 18,000 signatures.
The petition highlights that enforcing this change burdened students with a minimum additional £436.50 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 £150.50 to £154.50 per year as of April 1st 2019.
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.
So essentially, as long as you only watch iPlayer on a mobile device that can function without being plugged into power mains and that you avoid charging while you watch on demand shows, you’re exempt from paying (as long as your parents have a valid TV Licence, of course, and that their home is registered as your primary address – so your home when you're not at your temporary accommodation during uni).
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.
In other words, you're 'not covered' by your parents' TV licence, but really you are. This ‘one exception’ applies to pretty much every student who watches TV on demand – the only exception there being if you watch via a television, as this needs to be plugged into a power source while you watch.
TV Licensing says...
We reached out to TV Licensing about the loophole on Twitter, and here's what they said:
@SaveTheStudent Yes. As long as their parents have a valid TV Licence. You can call 0300 790 6113 to check if this exemption applies to you.
— TV Licensing (@tvlicensing) August 31, 2016
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 affect on this rule. If you have any doubts about whether you're covered, please call the number above.