Television licensing in the United Kingdom (historical)

Last updated

The first broadcasting receiving licence was introduced in 1904 to cover the reception of radio broadcasts. It is paid annually.[ citation needed ]


Historical timeline

Amateur radio reception licensing

The introduction of receiving licences was implemented by the General Post Office (GPO) using powers within the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1904. Section 2 of the Act allowed the Postmaster General to charge for the issuing of licenses permitting the "experimental" receipt of radio transmissions. The Wireless Telegraphy Act 1904 was introduced as a temporary measure, and required annual extensions by Parliament until replaced by the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1924.

A return made to Parliament in June 1906 showed that in the first two years of operation only sixty eight receiving licences were issued. By April 1913 the number had, according to figures then released by the GPO, risen to two thousand.

The First World War resulted in all licence holders receiving notice on 1 August 1914 from the Postmaster General that they were required to dismantle their receiving equipment, their broadcast receiving licences having been suspended.

In 1920, the Post Office licensed a small number of experimental transmitting stations, making general broadcasts.


At the instigation of the Post Office, the British Broadcasting Company was established in October 1922 by a group of radio manufacturers to produce radio programmes for the users of their products. Initially the broadcasts were funded by the sale of radio receiving sets, and carried sponsored programmes.

As part of the agreement with the Post Office, the Postmaster General started to apply a condition to broadcast receiving licences that the equipment used be "Type Approved by Postmaster General" and marked with the BBC logo.

Initially, the fee for receiving licences was 10 shillings, and remained at that rate until after the Second World War.

With the forming of the public British Broadcasting Corporation in 1927, the Post Office dedicated nearly the entirety of licence fee income to the funding of the BBC.


The standard broadcast receiving licences covered reception of the BBC's 405-line television service between November 1936 and September 1939 at no additional cost.

The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 led to the suspension of television broadcasts in the UK.

The television licence was introduced in June 1946 to coincide with the post-war resumption of the BBC service the same month. Television licences always included a licence to receive radio broadcasts.

From 1971, only the reception of television transmissions required a licence, and radio-only licences ceased to be issued [ citation needed ].

Colour television

The colour television licence (actually a "colour supplementary fee" of £5 on top of the existing monochrome licence) was introduced in 1968, following the commencement of BBC2 colour transmissions the previous July.

Changing cost of the licence fee

TV Licence 1946-2012 at NPV.png

The costs of the various licence fees have been increased over the years, and while this has often been done annually, there have sometimes been gaps of varying length, which will have resulted in an overall lowering of income in real terms to the BBC, sometimes at times of high inflation. The green line on the chart shows the computed split between radio:TV licences before 1970, and the split between colour:black-and-white from 1970 onwards, as indicated by the numbers shown in the lower table number of licences issued. The computed split is the simple value for the total of the licences issued (at whatever price) divided by the number sold.

DateRadio onlyMonochrome TVColour TV
Colour at
2013 prices [1]
November 1922£0.5 (10s)
June 1946£1£2
June 1954£1£3
August 1957£1£3 + £1
Excise Duty
October 1963£1£4
August 1965£1.25 (£1 5s)£5
January 1968£1.25 (£1 5s)£5£10£151.70 £174.70
January 1969£1.25 (£1 5s)£6£11£159.38 £182.38
July 1971£7£ 12£155.04
April 1975£8£ 18£156.69
July 1977£9£ 21£126.34
November 1978£10£25£129.89
November 1979£12£34£163.11
December 1981£15£46
March 1985£18£58£155.79
April 1988£21£62.50£145.87
April 1989£22£66£142.94
April 1990£24£71£140.47
April 1991£25.50£77£143.9
April 1992£26.50£80£144.11
April 1993£27.50£83£147.18
April 1994£28£84.50£146.30
April 1995£28.50£86.50£144.74
April 1996£30£89.50£146.23
April 1997£30.50£91.50£144.94
April 1998£32.50£97.50£149.33
April 1999£33.50£101£152.35
April 2000£34.50£104£152.36
April 2001£36.50£109£156.92
April 2002£37.50£112£158.59
April 2003£38.50£116£159.63
April 2004£40.50£121£161.70
April 2005£42£126.50£164.38
April 2006£44£131.50£165.61
April 2007£45.50£135.50£163.63
April 2008£47£139.50£162.64
April 2009£48£142.50£168.10 £192.54
April 2010£49£145.50£162.93 £187.93
April 2011£49£145.50£154.87 £178.63
April 2012£49£145.50£149.70 £173.11
April 2013£49£145.50£145.50 £167.99
April 2014£49£145.50£141.71
April 2015£49£145.50£138.92
April 2016£49£145.50£136.30
April 2017£49£147.00
April 2018£49£150.50
April 2019£49£154.50
April 2020£49£157.50
April 2021£49£159.00

The licence fee is frozen in cash terms at its April 2010 level until April 2016. Historical price conversion as per RPI figures from "Office for National Statistics - Dataset selector" . Retrieved 2013-08-24., RPI projections from "Bank of England - Publications - Numerical Parameters for Inflation Report Probability Distributions for CPI Inflation and GDP Growth" . Retrieved 2013-08-24..

Number of licences issued

The number of licences on issue at 31 March or 1 April by year is as follows:

YearTotalIssued free to
blind persons
Radio onlyRadio + B/W TVRadio + colour TVOver 75sConcessionary
1971 (1)(2)15,943,190N/AN/A15,333,221609,969N/AN/A
1972 (1)16,658,451N/AN/A15,023,6911,634,760N/AN/A

(1) Owing to industrial action within the Post Office the figures for licences in force (at these dates) do not reflect the true licensing position on those dates.

(2) Radio only and combined radio & television licences were abolished on 1 February 1971. From this date television only licences have been issued.

See also

Related Research Articles

The Isle of Man has an extensive communications infrastructure consisting of telephone cables, submarine cables, and an array of television and mobile phone transmitters and towers.

Telecommunications in the United Kingdom have evolved from the early days of the telegraph to modern broadband and mobile phone networks with Internet services.

Wireless telegraphy Method of communication

Wireless telegraphy or radiotelegraphy is transmission of telegraph signals by radio waves. Before about 1910, the term wireless telegraphy was also used for other experimental technologies for transmitting telegraph signals without wires. In radiotelegraphy, information is transmitted by pulses of radio waves of two different lengths called "dots" and "dashes", which spell out text messages, usually in Morse code. In a manual system, the sending operator taps on a switch called a telegraph key which turns the transmitter on and off, producing the pulses of radio waves. At the receiver the pulses are audible in the receiver's speaker as beeps, which are translated back to text by an operator who knows Morse code.

Television licence

A television licence or broadcast receiving licence is a payment required in many countries for the reception of television broadcasts, or the possession of a television set where some broadcasts are funded in full or in part by the licence fee paid. The fee is sometimes also required to own a radio or receive radio broadcasts. A TV licence is therefore effectively a hypothecated tax for the purpose of funding public broadcasting, thus allowing public broadcasters to transmit television programmes without, or with only supplemental, funding from radio and television advertisements. However, in some cases the balance between public funding and advertisements is the opposite – the Polish TVP broadcaster receives more funds from advertisements than from its TV tax.

Broadcasting Distribution of audio or audiovisual content to dispersed audiences

Broadcasting is the distribution of audio or video content to a dispersed audience via any electronic mass communications medium, but typically one using the electromagnetic spectrum, in a one-to-many model. Broadcasting began with AM radio, which came into popular use around 1920 with the spread of vacuum tube radio transmitters and receivers. Before this, all forms of electronic communication were one-to-one, with the message intended for a single recipient. The term broadcasting evolved from its use as the agricultural method of sowing seeds in a field by casting them broadly about. It was later adopted for describing the widespread distribution of information by printed materials or by telegraph. Examples applying it to "one-to-many" radio transmissions of an individual station to multiple listeners appeared as early as 1898.

Television in the Republic of Ireland is available through a variety of platforms. The digital terrestrial television service is known as Saorview and is the primary source of broadcast television since analogue transmissions ended on 24 October 2012. Digital satellite and digital cable are also widely used.

Television in the United Kingdom Overview of television in the United Kingdom

Regular television broadcasts in the United Kingdom started in 1936 as a public service which was free of advertising, while the introduction of television and the first tests commencing in 1922. Currently, the United Kingdom has a collection of free-to-air, free-to-view and subscription services over a variety of distribution media, through which there are over 480 channels for consumers as well as on-demand content. There are six main channel owners who are responsible for most material viewed.

British Broadcasting Company British commercial radio broadcaster (1922–1926); predecessor to BBC

The British Broadcasting Company Ltd (BBC) was a British commercial company formed on 18 October 1922 by British and American electrical companies doing business in the United Kingdom. Licensed by the British General Post Office, their original office was located on the second floor of Magnet House, the GEC buildings in London and consisted of a room and a small antechamber. On 14 December 1922, John Reith was hired to become the Managing Director of the company at that address. The company later moved its offices to the premises of the Marconi Company. The BBC as a commercial broadcasting company did not sell air time but it did carry a number of sponsored programmes paid for by British newspapers. On 31 December 1926, the company was dissolved, and its assets were transferred to the non-commercial and crown-chartered British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 United Kingdom legislation

The Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967, shortened to Marine Broadcasting Offences Act or "Marine offences Act", became law in the United Kingdom at midnight on Monday 14 August 1967. It was subsequently amended by the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 and the Broadcasting Act 1990. Its purpose was to extend the powers of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949, beyond the territorial land area and territorial waters of the UK to cover airspace and external bodies of water.

Pye (electronics company)

Pye Ltd was an electronics company founded in 1896 in Cambridge, England, as a manufacturer of scientific instruments. The company merged with EKCO in 1960. Philips of the Netherlands acquired a majority shareholding in 1967, and later gained full ownership.

Television licensing in the United Kingdom TV licensing in the United Kingdom and Crown dependencies

In the British Islands, any household watching or recording live television transmissions at the same time they are being broadcast is required by law to hold a television licence. This applies regardless of transmission method, including terrestrial, satellite, cable, or for BBC iPlayer internet streaming. The television licence is the instrument used to raise revenue to fund the BBC; it is a form of taxation.

Television licensing in the Republic of Ireland Overview of the television licensing system of Ireland

In Ireland, a television licence is required for any address at which there is a television set. Since 2016, the annual licence fee is €160. Revenue is collected by An Post, the Irish postal service. The bulk of the fee is used to fund Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), the state broadcaster. The licence must be paid for any premises that has any equipment that can potentially decode TV signals, even those that are not RTÉ's. The licence is free to anyone over the age of 70, some over 66, some Social Welfare recipients, and the blind. The fee for the licences of such beneficiaries is paid for by the state. The current governing legislation is the Broadcasting Act 2009, in particular Part 9 "Television Licence" and Chapter 5 "Allocation of Public Funding to RTÉ and TG4". Devices which stream television via internet do not need licences, nor do small portable devices such as mobile phones.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is the national broadcaster of the United Kingdom. Headquartered at Broadcasting House in London, it is the world's oldest national broadcaster, and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees, employing over 22,000 staff in total, of whom more than 19,000 are in public-sector broadcasting. The total number of BBC staff amounts to 35,402 including part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff.

TV detector van

TV detector vans are vans, which, according to the BBC, contain equipment that can detect the presence of television sets in use. The vans are operated by contractors working for the BBC, to enforce the television licensing system in the UK, the Channel Islands and on the Isle of Man.

General Post Office

The General Post Office (GPO) was the state postal system and telecommunications carrier of the United Kingdom until 1969. Before the Acts of Union 1707, it was the postal system of the Kingdom of England, established by Charles II in 1660. Similar General Post Offices were established across the British Empire. In 1969 the GPO was abolished and the assets transferred to The Post Office, changing it from a Department of State to a statutory corporation. In 1980, the telecommunications and postal sides were split prior to British Telecommunications' conversion into a totally separate publicly owned corporation the following year as a result of the British Telecommunications Act 1981. For the more recent history of the postal system in the United Kingdom, see the articles Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd.

Raidió Teilifís Éireann Irelands public service broadcaster

Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) is the national broadcaster of Ireland headquartered in Donnybrook, Dublin. It both produces programmes and broadcasts them on television, radio and online. The radio service began on 1 January 1926, while regular television broadcasts began on 31 December 1961, making it one of the oldest continuously operating public service broadcasters in the world. RTÉ also publishes a weekly listings and lifestyle magazine, the RTÉ Guide.

The history of broadcasting in Australia has been shaped for over a century by the problem of communication across long distances, coupled with a strong base in a wealthy society with a deep taste for aural communications in a silent landscape. Australia developed its own system, through its own engineers, manufacturers, retailers, newspapers, entertainment services, and news agencies. The government set up the first radio system, and business interests marginalized the hobbyists and amateurs. The Labor Party was especially interested in radio because it allowed them to bypass the newspapers, which were mostly controlled by the opposition. Both parties agreed on the need for a national system, and in 1932 set up the Australian Broadcasting Commission, as a government agency that was largely separate from political interference.

Radio was introduced in Canada in the late 1890s, although initially transmissions were limited to the dot-and-dashes of Morse code, and primarily used for point-to-point services, especially for maritime communication. The history of broadcasting in Canada dates to the early 1920s, as part of the worldwide development of radio stations sending information and entertainment programming to the general public. Television was introduced in the 1950s, and soon became the primary broadcasting service.

Commercial Radio Australia Industry organization for commercial radio broadcasting in Australia

Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) is the peak body for the commercial radio broadcasting industry in Australia. CRA was formed in 1930 as the Federation of Australian Radio Broadcasters.


  1. UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved February 2, 2020.