Money Wellness
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category iconcost of living
calendar icon30 Aug 2023

Millions receive warning letters from the BBC over unpaid licence fees

The BBC has sent warning letters to more than 36 million households who they believe have failed to pay their TV licence fees.

According to an investigation by the Telegraph, the BBC issued 6% more letters between 2002 and 2003 than it did in 2020.

The licence fee, which is currently £159 a year, is used by the BBC to fund programme creation across TV, radio and online. It allows the BBC to remain free from adverts and independent of shareholder and political interest.

The warning letter is the first step in the process the BBC will take against households who have failed to pay their licence fee. They’re designed to inform, warn and ultimately to encourage people to make payment, with the next steps being debt recovery and potential legal action.

The letters follow a series of measures introduced by the BBC in May this year designed to support people in ‘real financial difficulty’, these include:

  • Offering a simple payment plan to help spread the cost over 12 months
  • Working in partnership with free debt organisations to help anyone experiencing financial difficulty
  • Offering two-month breathing space on enforcement action for anyone in financial difficulty if they agree to be referred for independent debt help
  • Trail of new ways to prioritise debt recovery visits and increase opportunities for second-time evasion offenders to pay for a licence


Who needs a TV licence?

Anyone who watches the BBC live, or streams it via BBC iPlayer, must pay the fee. In addition, if you watch live TV from any broadcaster (even an international one) – you also need to pay the fee.

You don’t need to pay for a licence if you stream/watch any of the following:

  • Netflix/Amazon
  • DVD or Blu-ray
  • YouTube


What should you do if you’re struggling to pay your licence fee?

If you’re struggling to keep on top of your TV licence payments, you should get in touch with licensing as soon as possible.

If your drop in income is temporary and you expect to get back to normal soon, licensing will work with you to set up an affordable repayment plan.

You can call them on 0300 555 03000 or visit

If you don’t think your financial situation will improve, you could consider cancelling your TV licence. Doing so sooner rather than later will stop debt from building up and is a better choice than facing potential debt recovery and court action. You may also get some money back if you cancel your TV licence mid-contract.

If you’re having financial difficulties and meet certain other criteria, you might be eligible for a Simple Payment Plan.

This offers more flexibility to split the cost of the licence fee over 12 months, with either fortnightly or monthly payments. Therefore, if a payment is missed, it can be spread across the remainder of the plan.

Avatar of Caroline Chell

Caroline Chell

Caroline has worked in financial communications for more than 10 years, writing content on subjects such as pensions, mortgages, loans and credit cards, as well as stockbroking and investment advice.

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