Could landlords supply TV licence?

With the proliferation of devices on which we can watch television programmes, it is more difficult than ever to “police” the proper payment of television licence fees. Whilst an institution such as a hotel can hold one licence covering an entire building with multiple sets, the same rules do not apply in other instances. One of the most confusing areas is in shared accommodation and the split responsibilities of landlords and tenants. Taking a look at the official website on TV licensing, it seeks to clarify, but in fact further obfuscates the issues.

Tenants

It says that one license needs to be obtained when the tenants all rent on the same basis —that is to say, that they have signed an identical agreement. It goes on to say that you’ll need separate licenses when tenants have individual tenancy agreements relating expressly to their own room. The common parts are considered to be shared. However, even if this seems reasonably clear, the second point continues that the licence covers the common parts, creating a situation where if Renter A chooses to keep her TV in the shared living room, then Renters B and C are fine to watch it in there too. There is still no distinction made between who owns the television (quite possibly the landlord) and who is watching it.

The legalities are equally vague when it comes to lodgers. It is deemed that those who are living in a flat or annexe with their own access need their own licence. But if they are connected in some way to the owner — either as a relation, a romantic partner or someone who works for them such as a nanny — then they don’t. Again, this raises an unanswered question about a potential lodger in non-self-contained accommodation who is neither a family member nor an employee.

The basic fact is that a licence is required for equipment specifically installed for the purpose of watching TV. So even though your laptop is capable of streaming programmes, you do not need a licence for it per se.

So where does this leave landlords under landlord law? Will they be in breach of the law if they have a house full of students, each with their own laptop, who claim they do not use it to watch TV? Or if they have provided a TV in the common parts, should they ask for the licence fees from the tenants, even though they may have separate TV sets in their separate rooms? According to the Communications Act of 2003, landlords are exempt from being in breach if they are not the ones wielding the remote. Even if they are fully aware, or suspect, the tenants don’t have a licence, it is still not their responsibility. As long as it’s the tenants doing the TV watching and not themselves, landlords are not guilty of any offense. It is fair to say that many tenants may well be unaware of this under tenant law and it would be responsible of landlords to make it known to them.

iPlayer

None of the above is applicable if tenants or lodgers choose to watch programmes on iPlayer, as these are not streamed live and are therefore a licence-free zone.

It is certainly a confusing and uncertain field, but at the end of the day it is those who watch the TV set who have to pay for the licence. To some extent, this is dependent on where they watch — if it is in a separate room under a separate tenancy agreement, the onus is on the tenant to cover themselves under the law. Unless, that is, they are living with, related to, or employed by the landlord!

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