Hand pressing a doorbell intercom system on a brick wall.

The rules around TV licensing are old-fashioned and more complicated than you might imagine; in some cases, you need a license even if you don't have a tv, and in other cases, you can have a TV and not need a license. The key to deciding which camp you fall into is whether or not you watch terrestrial content as it is broadcast. If you do, the chances are you need a license. But in this age of catch-up, on-demand and Netflix, it's more likely than ever before that you can stay in touch with civilisation without needing a tv license at all. The TV License, currently set at £145.50 for colour and £49 for black and white (we said it was quite an old-fashioned system), is there to fund the BBC.

The beeb outsources the collection of the fee to third-party companies, including Capita. This, combined with the fact that one historically doesn't have a choice about whether to pay for the BBC, is why a lot of people object to paying the license fee. To be fair to the BBC, that £145.50 does include all live, online and radio content, so all told, it's not a bad deal, especially if you attend any of the free events, such as performances by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

However, you can consume all of that lovely, lovely content without necessarily requiring a license. If you have a television set but it cannot receive live broadcasts, you don't need a license. So, if your TV isn't connected to an aerial, digital or cable service, you don't need a license. You may wish to pay for one anyway since you are still using BBC content, but you don't need one. Similarly, if you don't own a TV but do use iPlayer, radio and online content, you don't need a license, provided you don't watch live broadcasts from any terrestrial broadcaster, not just the BBC.

You don't need to buy a TV License if...

  • * You don't own a TV set and don't watch live terrestrial TV broadcasts.
  • * Your TV is used solely for watching catch-up and on-demand content.
  • * You are over 75. You still need a license, but it's free.

You do need to buy a TV License if...

  • * You watch live broadcasts of any type on any device.
  • * You record live broadcasts of any type on any device.
  • * You pay to watch TV as it is broadcast, for example, pay-per-view boxing.

What to do if TV Licensing comes to your home

So you've double-checked and are sure you don't require a license, but you still get letters from TV Licensing. Some of the letters may threaten you with a visit from enforcement officers. You can safely ignore these letters if you are sure you don't require a license, or you can respond and advise TV Licensing that you don't require a license (there's a section on the enclosed form for that).

However, you may find that TV Licensing wishes to conduct an inspection. They make a big play out of their spy gadgets that let them check in on who is watching live tv. That's fine; they can do that all day long, but what they can't do is enter your home. Under no circumstances (even if you are illegally watching TV, not that we'd ever condone that) do you have to let inspectors into your home. A number of people have taken to recording enforcement office visits and posting the footage online to instruct others on how to handle similar situations.

The easiest way to get rid of a TV Licensing inspector is to tell them that you revoked their implied right of access. The implied right of access is there so that people with legitimate reasons to enter your property, such as delivery men or milkmen, can do so without fear of prosecution. Withdrawing this implied right confirms that you are not prepared to allow them into your home or to call at your door and that you've done your homework on your rights as an occupier.

They know that if they continue to visit your property after you've revoked their implied right of access, you will be well placed to sue for trespass and/or harassment. You can also do this by writing a letter to TVL, but to do so, you'll need to confirm your own name and address, which is not something everyone is comfortable with.