Life around the world

Friday, 6 March, 2015 - 11:15

A licence to watch?

by HelenW

The other day, one of my colleagues at the Mexican university where I work asked me if it was true that you need a licence to watch TV in the UK. He had read about it in an English textbook and just couldn’t understand such a strange concept.

But yes, it is true. In the UK, a TV licence is required for anyone watching TV programmes at the same time as they are broadcast, either on a television itself, or via a live streaming service on the Internet.  Currently, such a licence will set you back £145.50 ($224 USD) per year. This money is used to fund the BBC’s public channels, as these channels are free from adverts and therefore receive no advertising revenue. 

Although my Mexican colleague found this a hard concept to grasp, TV licences (or equivalent taxes) are actually required in approximately one third of countries in Europe, and in several countries in Asia and Africa. Prices range from around £3 per year to over £270.

With such a high cost, it’s perhaps not surprising that over 200,000 people were prosecuted in the UK in 2013 for failing to buy a TV licence. Most were given a fine of up to £1000, but 50 people were in fact sent to prison. 

Some people argue that, with the increasing popularity of digital or cable subscription services such as Sky, and with many people now favouring on-demand services like Netflix, our television-watching habits are changing. The TV licence is arguably now nothing more than an outdated and redundant relic.

Fortunately, the TV licence is free for people over the age of 75, and half-price if you are blind or severely visually impaired. It is perhaps surprising, however, that there is no reduction in cost for people on a low income, especially considering how well known the UK is for being a generous welfare state. 

For me, television is an extremely important part of the culture of a country. Be it gathering round to watch your country win (or lose) a penalty shoot-out during the world cup, or finding out who shot whom in the country’s favourite soap opera or drama, it is my belief that watching TV should not be a luxury reserved for the rich, but a pastime to be enjoyed by all, regardless of income.

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