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TV licence issues for tenants and lodgers

tellyI was contacted by a journalist yesterday querying the need for a lodger to obtain a separate TV license fee.

Why, she demanded, does a lodger need to get a separate license fee when a hotel can have one license for the whole hotel?

So I thought I would have a quick look at it this morning and take a look at the situation for tenants too.

The first port of call is the TV licensing website.  This states that

  1. only one license needs to be obtained where tenants rent on a ‘joint and several’ basis ie they all sign the same tenancy agreement
  2. separate licenses need to be obtained where tenants have separate tenancy agreements for their own room and shared use of the common parts

So far as 2 is concerned, the site goes on to say “This licence will also cover the communal areas” so presumably if tenant A has a license and chooses to have her telly in the communal areas, tenants B and C can watch it there.  They will only need to get their own license if they want to watch their own telly in their own room.

The information on the site about lodgers is a bit confusing and contradictory.  It says:

If you live in self contained accommodation such as a separate flat or annex, then you need your own TV Licence

Implying that if you DON’T have self contained accommodation you don’t.  However it then goes on to say you don’t need a license

If you’re a lodger and have a relationship with the homeowner – for example, a family member, common law partner, a nanny, au pair or housekeeper

But this begs the question, what if you do not have self contained accommodation – ie are a lodger – but are not a family member or relevant employee?  The wording on the page seems to skirt around that.  Some more investigation was called for.

A quick look at the law

As a landlord and tenant solicitor this is strange territory for me.  The main authority seems to be the Communications Act 2003 part 4 which looks at the licensing of TV reception.

However this is not that helpful, stating (as is often the way nowadays) that the detail will be set out in regulations.  Which makes things very difficult for someone just looking for a quick answer.

I then managed (via some hints on Wikipedia) to locate The Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004.  

This makes it clear that equipment only requires a license if it is installed or used for the purpose of  watching TV programs.

So you do not have to pay a license just because you happen to have a laptop which is capable of receiving the programs.  (Although how do the licensing authority know what you intend to do and what happens if you suddenly change your mind on a Friday night?).

However the regulations seem to concentrate on the license fee to be paid and exemptions for people such as the blind and retired people.  It does not really (from what I can see) help with the lodger problem, other than in s2(2)(b) where it says

a person’s residence includes any place provided for that person’s private occupation

I can see that this would include someone given a tenancy agreement for their own room where they get exclusive occupation.

But what about a lodger when the lodger does not have exclusive occupation?  Do the words ‘private occupation’ mean that they are not just referring to tenants – where the operative words are ‘exclusive occupation’?

Another thing we need to consider is

Who is liable for default?

Could it be the landlord?  Let us see what the Communications Act 2003 says about it:

A person with a television receiver in his possession or under his control who—

(a) intends to install or use it in contravention of subsection (1), or

(b) knows, or has reasonable grounds for believing, that another person intends to install or use it in contravention of that subsection,

is guilty of an offence

It looks therefore as if landlords of tenancies are safe, as they cannot be said to be in control of the equipment even though they may know that their tenants don’t have a license.

I think also lodger landlords should be safe as the equipment will be under the control of their lodger not them.


Tenants sharing under one tenancy agreement only need one license.  Tenants renting a room in a shared house need their own license if they want to use their own telly in their room.

The situation regarding lodgers is confusing.  If they want to have their own telly in their own room then they don’t need a license if they are related to or employed by their landlord (assuming of course that the landlord has a license).

If they are not related or employed etc, the situation is a bit vague, although the journalist I spoke to said she had been told that in these circumstances the lodger DID need a license.

I am pretty sure that if lodgers do need a separate license, most of them are completely unaware of this, and believe that they are covered by their landlords license.  But then, does it depend on where they watch?

Are they, for example breaking the law if they watch the football live on their laptop in their own room, but not if they watch it (perhaps with headphones) in the sitting room they share with their landlord?

One solution is just to watch programs on iplayer rather than watching them live.  As if you do this, it seems that a license is not required.

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Important note. If you are reading an old post, remember that the law may have changed since it was written.

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About the post author:

Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is a lawyer and specialises in creating products and services which help landlords and letting agents learn and understand landlord & tenant law. For example, she runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 14th year) and is a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. Tessa also sits on the Property Redress Scheme Council. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google

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Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.

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