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Students can dodge TV licence fee with this BBC iPlayer loophole

Fred Isaac

Fred Isaac
Sep 2, 2016

Cash-strapped students heading off to university greeted this week’s clampdown on BBC iPlayer with dismay.

Anyone viewing content on the iPlayer will now need to pay the annual £145.50 TV licence fee – or risk a £1,000 fine and a criminal record.

But students still have a way to wriggle out of the charge.

An all-important clause left in the legislation means students can be covered by their parents’ licence.

To be covered – and be exempt from the fee – students must only watch shows on a device powered by internal batteries.

The device must NOT be plugged into an aerial or the mains.

Their parents must have a valid TV licence and they must register their permanent address as their family home.

iPlayer services are hugely popular with the under-35s, with research revealing that 63 per cent of students use the catch-up service.

The revelation that thousands of students may be able to get out of paying is an embarrassing blow to the government, who committed to closing the loophole in March.

The then culture secretary, John Whittingdale, said: "The BBC works on the basis that all who watch it pay for it.

"Giving a free ride to those who enjoy Sherlock or Bake Off an hour, a day or a week after they are broadcast was never intended and is wrong."

It’s believed up to 1.5 million people watch their favourite programmes this way, costing the BBC £150 million a year.

Critics have suggested the clause was left in because TV licence authorities feared students would flout the law change anyway.  

Channel 5’s former boss, David Elstein, said: “The reason they did it is because it was going to be abused by students and it would immediately become unenforceable.

“It would turn the BBC into a laughing stock. This is a way of bringing the law into disrepute, it is shameful. To avoid it becoming a farce they have kept this exemption for students.”

It is not known how the BBC intends to enforce the new rules, with the corporation trusting the public to comply.

Pop-ups will remind viewers they need a licence to watch on-demand content.

UPDATE: The BBC has released new rules for iPlayer users. Read all about them here

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