The "Do I need a TV Licence if I only watch pre-recorded videos?" mini-FAQ

There seems to be a lot of mis-information and confusion circulating on the issue of whether one needs a TV Licence in order to own a TV / VCR / DVD player that is only used to watch pre-recorded material.

PLEASE NOTE: it has come to my attention that some of the information supplied on this page may be out of date in light of the following from the TVLA website:
On 1 April 2004, most of the television licensing provisions in the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 (as amended), the Broadcasting Act 1990 and the Wireless Telegraphy (Television Licence Fees) Regulations were repealed and replaced by similar provisions in Part 4 of the Communications Act 2003 and The Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004.

I have not yet had time to read this fully and understand the implications but you can find some of the relevant legislation at


The short answer:

If your TV and VCR/DVD player are only used to watch pre-recorded material (videos or DVDs) and never used to receive broadcasts, then you do not need a TV Licence. Keeping the broadcast receivers in the TV and the VCR de-tuned (DVD players don't normally contain receivers) is sufficient to prove to them that you do not use the equipment to receive broadcasts - but you must make sure that no picture, no matter how poor quality, is viewable on the screen. There is absolutely no need to physically modify, damage or remove the tuner or any other circuitry in the TV or VCR.

The long answer:

The TV Licensing Authority (TVLA) recently removed this helpful paragraph from the FAQ part of their site:

Q What if I only watch videos?

If a television or video recorder (VCR) can receive signals, then you need a licence. However, you don't need a licence if the equipment is not connected to an aerial, satellite receiver or cable and you only use it to watch pre-recorded tapes. This sometimes happens in schools and colleges.

The information on their site now (as of 8th Dec 2000 when I am writing this page) is not clear about this setup, for example under "Licence Evaders" it says:

Using a TV without the correct licence is a criminal offence. If you use a television or other equipment capable of receiving broadcast television programmes - such as a TV-enabled computer - without a licence you could face prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.

- which says that it is unlicensed use of the device, not ownership, that is illegal, whereas on the front page it says:

If you install or use a television receiver then you are required by law to have a TV licence.

- which implies that installing a TV, but never using it, still requires a licence.

Both of the "uses" in the above imply that any use without a licence is illegal - which is misleading at best and dishonest at worst. It is ONLY the use FOR RECEIVING BROADCASTS that requires a licence.

Under "Businesses", they clearly state:

If your business installs or uses any equipment, such as a TV set or TV-enabled computer, which is capable of receiving broadcast television programmes (and it is ever used for that purpose), you'll need a TV licence.

(note the "and it is ever used for that purpose"), and further down the same page:

Your business doesn't need a licence if the TV set cannot receive television programmes and is only used:

for closed circuit monitoring.
for watching pre-recorded videos.
as a monitor for computers.

- but they never actually categorically state that this is the case for residential users as well!

To clear this up I wrote to them in March 1998 asking them to confirm in writing that I did not need a TV Licence with my setup, which consists of a TV, a VCR, and a DVD player which are connected together using SCART leads and are only used for watching pre-recorded videos and DVDs. I had this reply stating that I did not need a licence as long as the equipment was not used for receiving broadcasts. I wrote back asking them to confirm how I could prove that I was in the clear if a Licensing Inspector were to call. They sent me this reply stating that de-tuning the equipment is sufficient.

Catherine Leah Palmer sent me a scan of a similar letter she received from the TVLA, clearly stating that a DVD/VCR and TV that are only used for watching pre-recorded material do not require a licence.

Sam Carey has sent me two scans of letters received from the TVLA. The first one was in response to an enquiry asking whether it is OK to use an unlicenced TV set to watch videos that have been recorded elsewhere (say, recorded from broadcasts received by a friend's licenced TV). This letter confirms that this is OK according to TV Licensing law, but notes that you may be breaking copyright laws by doing this. The second letter (scanned in two parts: part 1 and part 2) was received from the TVLA in response to a more general enquiry asking them why they use phrases like "using a TV without a licence is against the law" in their advertising, when this is clearly not necessarily the case. This letter also notes that you do not need a licence for receiving satellite broadcasts transmitted from outside the UK.

A summary of when you need a licence

Action Need a licence?
Own a TV No
Plug TV into mains No
Own a VCR No
Watch pre-recorded videos on your TV No
Own a DVD player No
Watch DVDs on your TV No
Own a games console No
Play games on your TV No
Connect aerial/cable box/satellite, tune channels, receive broadcasts YES if the broadcasts are transmitted from within the UK
Record broadcasts for time-shifting YES if the broadcasts are transmitted from within the UK
Watch recordings of broadcasts No, but the person who recorded them may be breaking copyright laws unless they were recorded solely for the purposes of "time-shifted viewing"

Also note that you will be required to give your name and address when buying or renting anything that contains TV tuner circuitry. This includes TVs, VCRs, TV cards for computers, and set-top boxes. These details will then be passed on to the TVLA who will send you regular letters if you do not have a licence at that address. The wording of these letters does not give an option that you might not need a licence; when I get such a letter I write in big letters across it "TV is not tuned in and is only used for watching pre-recorded videos and DVDs" and send it straight back. Each time they claim they have "updated their records" but I still continue to receive the letters.

On 14th October 2000 an item on the subject appeared in TheRegister. You can see the original link here, or in case TheRegister don't archive their content for long, the text of the article is here.

The Advocacy for Licence Fee Abolition have a FAQ similar to this one.

Mark Valentine (mark.valentine [at] has sent me a copy of a letter that he sent to The Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport). If you feel strongly on this issue, please consider sending a similar letter to her and/or to your MP. If you don't know who your MP is, have a look here.

Duncan Bennett has a great website with transcripts of all his correspondence with the TVLA and his MP while he tried to convince them not to constantly pester him for confirmation that he didn't have a TV.

Have a look at Erik Oostveen's site chronicling his battles with the TVLA since arriving in the UK in May 2001. The "Correspondence" section is especially worth a look!

The Daily Telegraph are running a "Free Country" campaign for the abolition of the licence fee. This link (you may need to register, but it is free) is the launch of their campaign and a list of links to related articles.

N. Jewell has written an article about the relevant laws and what happens if you are prosecuted, based on his own experience with being prosecuted by the TLVA and the research he carried out at the time. Well worth a read.

The Sunday Times journalist Jonathan Miller has a site campaigning for the abolition of the TV Licence.

This mini-FAQ is maintained by Vicky Larmour. Mail me with any questions or comments.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and the above does not constitute legal advice! I'm also not speaking on behalf of the TVLA, or indeed anyone except myself. To contact the TVLA for further information, call them on 08705 763763.

Document history:
Created 8th Dec 2000
Updated 13th Dec 2000 with comments from Mike Henry
Updated 15th Feb 2001 with comments from Rainer Thonnes, and external site links
Updated 19th Mar 2001 with scan from Catherine Leah Palmer
Updated 26th Mar 2001 with scan of "you don't have a licence" letter
Updated 25th Jun 2001 with Mark Valentine's letter to Tessa Jowell, MP
Updated 1st Aug 2001 with Sam Carey's scanned letters
Updated 25th Jan 2002 with Duncan Bennett's website link
Updated 6th Feb 2002 - formatting changes only to be compatible with more browsers
Updated 17th Feb 2002 - added second part of Sam Carey's second letter
Updated 6th Aug 2002 - added link to Erik Oostveen's site
Updated 26th Oct 2002 - added link to Daily Telegraph campaign and N. Jewell's article
Updated 16th Dec 2002 - added link to Jonathan Miller's site