A guide to the TV licence Scotland

Written by Chris Thornton | 6th of December 2023
TV licence Scotland

In Scotland, and the United Kingdom, all households must purchase a TV licence to watch live TV. Yes, in this day and age of subscription TV channels, the archaic system we have in place in Scotland forces most Scottish people to purchase a licence (£159 per year) or face severe penalties - a fine of £1000.

The main part of the laws surrounding TV licenses is watching live TV; this includes devices such as tablets, mobile phones and computers - you need a TV Licence if you watch any live broadcasts, use BBC iplayer or record live TV.

Many Scots see the TV licence as just another tax, and it is very much a blanket policy foisted onto the public that is expected to be paid... or else!

If you are of a rebellious mind, you can choose not to pay the TV licence... unfortunately you will incur the wrath of TV Licensing and what is known as a "TV Licensing Goon".

My wife and I do not watch live tv; the TV is hardly ever on as we are so busy with other things. We opted to no longer pay the TV Licence to save a little money. Following protocol, we detuned our TV and informed TV licensing directly on their website that we no longer required a licence.

We thought that would be the end, but wow, what can only be described as extreme harassment followed. Weekly letters from TV licensing began to arrive, with big bold red lettering. They look like unpaid bill letters, and the language used within is always very aggressive and warns of fines and visits from "enforcement officers".

The letters are designed to cause worry and persuade you to purchase a licence, even though you do nothing wrong by not watching TV. We held steadfastly and accumulated a huge pile of these threatening letters.

A letter I received. TV licensing payment card. TVlicense

Eventually, we did receive a visit from an enforcement officer (at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, no less). These enforcement officers can have the reputation of being pushy, rude and aggressive as they receive a commission for every household they can prove has no licence but are watching live TV. The chap that visited us was completely polite, though.

After many letters, we expected this visit, but the officers have no legal powers to do anything; they cannot forcibly enter your home. We opted to say "no thanks" to the officer and simply shut the door. Non-interaction is the best way to handle any enforcement visit.

What's covered by a TV licence?

  • Television sets

  • Laptops & computers

  • Tablets

  • Mobile Phones

  • Any device capable of receiving or streaming live broadcasts

What can I watch without a TV licence?

  • Non-BBC programmes on streaming services like Netflix and Disney+.

  • DVDs

  • Youtube videos (no live streams of live TV).

  • CCTV

TV receiving equipment. How to stop paying TV licence

History of the TV licence

Originally a radio licence, the TV licence was created in 1946 after World War 2 to fund the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). For a sum of £2 per year, you were entitled to watch black and white broadcasts from the BBC, the only channel available.

At this time, the post office was in charge of the administration of licences.

The BBC began broadcasting in colour in 1967, and an additional "colour supplement" of £5 was added to the existing £5 black and white licence. £10 for a TV licence would have been very expensive in the late 1960s.

By 1991 the BBC had taken control over the television licence fee collection and enforcement as well as issuing TV licences. Capita was awarded the contract in 2002 to manage the TV licensing system on behalf of the BBC.

The positive side of television licensing?

In some ways, the TV licence has been a good thing; the mass funding it has provided has created some world-class TV programs and documentaries by the BBC. Although many Scots would disagree, the BBC News service has long been considered one of the most trusted sources of factual news globally.

BBC criticisms

Presenter salaries & logo

In recent years the BBC has come under criticism for the high salaries paid to presenters (some earning in excess of £400,000 per year) and extravagant rebranding campaigns for their very basic official logo, estimated at £1.7 million.

Poor program quality

The main issue many have with the BBC nowadays is the quality of their fictional programs. Stalwarts like Dr Who have only a fraction of the audience they used to due to poor writing and characterisation, whilst shows from other broadcasters like Netflix with Stranger Things or HBO with Game of Thrones attract huge audiences. The BBC churn out depressing soaps like Eastenders; there is really nothing of value on the channel anymore apart from occasional wildlife documentaries, which are fantastic.

With the BBC's enormous budget, surely they could produce some fantastic TV on par or superior to the subscription-based services. It does not seem good value for money when you can sign up to Netflix and get good quality programmes for £131.88 per year - £27.12 cheaper than the BBC.

Jimmy Savile scandal

Jimmy Savile was a superstar in the UK during the 1980s on the BBC 1 TV channel with his show "Jim'll Fix It". The program featured children who would have their wishes granted by Jim, for example, going to Disney World or meeting Dr Who. The child would also receive a large square medallion with "Jim fixed it for me" written on it.

Unfortunately, it came to light that Jimmy Savile was a prolific paedophile and even abused some children who had taken part in his TV show. The BBC received major criticism over the scandal, and rumours of a cover-up of Savile's terrible antics are something the BBC has never managed to shake off.

Over 75s lost their free TV licence

Over 75s recently lost their right to free TV licences; only those on pension credit will now receive a free licence. With the cost of living increasing significantly, this was seen as a high additional cost for the aged.

Accusations of bias

Particularly during the Scottish independence debate before the referendum in 2014, many accusations were thrown at the BBC over bias towards maintaining Scotland within the union.

Professor John Robertson came under direct attack from the BBC after his research showed a clear bias during the referendum campaign. His research covered a year from September 2012 to September 2013 and analysed 620 hours of news broadcasts on the BBC program "Reporting Scotland".

Please see more in the video below.

The future of the TV licence in Scotland

There has been much discussion about the future of the TV licence. Should it remain as it is? Should it be abolished? Should it just become an official tax on all households regardless of if they even have a TV or not!? All of these have been considered!

I personally think the BBC should launch its own subscription-based service, and if people like what they are producing, they will sign up. Forcing people to purchase a licence, all of the administration behind it, criminalising people over such a trivial thing in this day and age seems like pure madness.

In January 2022, Nadine Dorries, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, announced a freeze to increases in funding for two years, and that "The days of state run TV are over", and "The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors, are over". New plans are being considered to replace the BBC funding model... if it actually happens remains to be seen.

TV licence in an independent Scotland

In the event of Scottish independence, Scotland would likely form its very own TV corporation. Scotland's culture secretary mentioned in 2013, prior to the last independence referendum, that Scotland would have its own licence fee funded broadcaster.

If this is still the intention, it is unfortunate they will continue with this highly unpopular licence fee; why not take a different path?

Do I need a TV license in Scotland?

Only if you watch TV, record live TV or watch BBC programmes on BBC player, including catch-up shows.

Do I need a TV licence if I only watch Sky, Virgin etc?

Yes, any live television broadcast requires a licence, even pay-per-view events.

What happens if you don't pay for your TV Licence in Scotland?

The official line is that if you do not need a TV licence, you simply inform TV Licensing, and that is all that is required. In reality, it doesn't work like that; you will receive threat letters and visits from enforcement officers pretty much forever more - at least that is my personal experience.

TV Licensing logo. Record television programmes.

Is a TV licence legally enforceable in Scotland?

Yes, under the Communications Act 2003, the BBC is authorised to collect and enforce the TV licence fee in Scotland. The Scottish Government have no control over this act; it is reserved to the UK Government.

Directly from the Communications Act 2003 -"a person who installs or uses a television receiver without a licence is guilty of an offence".

Do I have to allow TV Licence Enforcement Officers into my home?

No, they have no power to enter your home to investigate TV licence evasion. However, if they have a search warrant from a magistrate, then entry must be given. The BBC has stated that applying for a search warrant would be very unlikely, and they prefer to use detection equipment instead.

If you happen to have a visit from an enforcement officer with a search warrant, it can be worth calling 101 and asking if a police officer can check the warrant and act as a witness to the proceedings.

How many people have been prosecuted for non-payment of a television licence in Scotland?

A minimal amount of people have been prosecuted for TV licence evasion between 2017 and 2020, as found in a freedom of information request.

  • 2017-2018 - 6 prosecutions

  • 2018-2019 - 7 prosecutions

  • 2019-2020 - 4 prosecutions

Hopefully, this puts your mind at ease when you receive warning letters in bold red font. The minimal prosecutions above were all instigated by enforcement officers. Do not interact with them; close the door and shut the investigation down there and then.

Youtuber ChilliJonCarne outlines the process well in this video! (strong language).

Remember, you should pay for your licence if you are watching live television programs.

Are TV detector vans real?

They are not real. This was originally a PR stunt to scare people into thinking they could be detected breaking the law by watching TV without a TV licence.

Many still think they are real, but honestly, they look so fake in the original advert, and to date, no detector vehicle has been used to prosecute someone for TV licence evasion. Surely if the vans were real this would be the perfect form of evidence...

How much does a TV Licence cost in Scotland?

  • £159 per year for a standard colour TV licence. This is the full licence fee.

  • £79.50 for the blind or severely sight impaired.

  • £53.50 for a black and white TV set licence.

  • £7.50 for a concessionary TV licence in some circumstances.

  • Free TV licence for over 75s receiving pension credit.

  • You will require a separate TV licence if you have a second home.

Find out more on all price brackets on the TV licensing website.


So there we have it; Scotland is still within the grips of this maddening TV licensing system.

Hopefully, common sense will prevail, and the UK government will stay true to its word on changing the BBC funding model.

If you watch live TV - pay your licence fee; it's the law.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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