The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






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.


Licence Fee in the UK

In the United Kingdom, these fees are set by Parliament and go directly to the funding of the BBC, enabling it to run without the need for funding by 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 (0.50) and in 2004 was 121 for colour TV and 40.50 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, video player 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 assumed to have a television, and are subject to repeated mailshots and visits by the enforcement agency, which causes 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 re-radiated 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.

Cash Easy Entry & Monthly Cash Plan

Since the mid 1990's there is a scheme available which was designed specifically for single parents and those claiming an Income Related State Benefit s, called Cash Easy Entry. The applicant or potential licensee will contact TV Licensing and register their details. They then receive a plastic swipe card to take to the Post Office or PayPoint and complete weekly instalments for the TV Licence.

There is also a Monthly Cash Plan card based scheme available for those people who:

Don't receive any benefits

Can't afford a license in full

Don't have a bank account

The Monthly Cash Plan works on the same basis as the Cash Easy Entry scheme and has been designed so as not to discriminate against those that don't receive benefits. Further details can be found on [1]


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

  • 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.

The Licence Fee in other countries outside the UK


The licence fee in Finland is 186.60 per annum for TV.


In 2004, the television licence fee in France (mainland & Corsica) is 116,50 € and in the overseas departments, it is 74,31 € (locals get RFO rather then France 2-France 3-France 5-Arte). Source


The licence fee in Germany is 193.80 € per annum for TV and radio.


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

South Africa

The licence fee in South Africa is R225 per annum for TV. The concessionary rate is R65. It is available for people:

  • A receiver of a social grant from the State, on the basis of being an aged or disabled person or a war veteran, as defined in the Social Assistance Act of 1992.
  • A person of 70 years or older, as from the beginning of the first licence year after turning 70, subject to certain provisions.


The licence fee in Switzerland is CHF 450.35 per annum for TV and radio.

North America

The reasons why the idea of a licence fee never caught on in Canada or the United States bear some differences.


The Canadian public broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation lagged slightly behind the private American broadcasters in providing radio and then television service to Canadians. Thus unlike the BBC, the CBC has always had to compete with other English language stations for its viewing audience - or more accurately, for most of its viewing audience. Many, but not all Canadians have access to radio and television signals from stations in the northern U.S. Thus, a licence fee to own a television a would almost certainly have been viewed as patently unfair by those Canadians who could only watch one and later two channels, while others would pay presumably the same fee and get four and later five. Moreover, by the late 1950s through to early 1960s, close to every Canadian household would acquire a television set, thus giving the argument that a licence fee is fair to those who do not own a television limited weight. As a result, the Canadian government chose to fund the CBC from its general revenues, although CBC Television also sells advertising to cover some of its expenses.

United States

In the affluent U.S., privately-owned radio (and later television) stations selling advertising quickly proved to be commercially viable enterprises during the first half of the twentieth century, which presumably proved to the American government that it did not need any sort of scheme such as a licence fee to force the end user to pay for the services he or she was listening to or watching. The United States did eventually create the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1967, which would eventually be used to help fund the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio. However, this endeavour is funded through general revenues, and PBS, NPR and their affiliated stations also receive substantial funding in the form of donations from private citizens.

Sources and external links

  • TV Licensing (United Kingdom)
  • Billag (Switzerland)
  • GEZ (Germany)
  • TV Maksuhallinto (Finland)
  • TV Licences (South Africa)
Last updated: 02-11-2005 01:31:59
Last updated: 05-02-2005 12:16:44