BBC iPlayer and tax avoidance?

I don’t have a TV, but I’m wondering whether I should get a TV licence, and it’s all because I’ve been thinking about tax avoidance.

The TV licence is an example of a hypothecated tax – a tax that is spent on a specific bit of government expenditure. In the UK, that’s the BBC. Economists dislike hypothecated taxes, but intuitively it’s very attractive to know what you’re getting in return for handing over money.

My dilemma is this: I watch all my TV online using the BBC iPlayer. As the iPlayer site explains, legally you need to pay for a TV license if you’re going to “watch TV live as it’s broadcast” on your computer, but not if you just watch things afterwards. So I can save £150 a year simply by waiting around until a programme has finished before I watch it on the iPlayer.

Now, you can see this two ways. One way, it’s the world’s worst-value ‘freemium‘ business model. There’s little incentive to upgrade from the free version to the paid-for version, so I’m being smart by not paying for the premium version.

The other way, I’m taking advantage of a tax loophole! I’m in a minority of people who don’t have a TV but do watch BBC programmes, which means I’m free-riding on everyone else by getting all of these amazing BBC programmes without paying anything. That’s not what parliament intended, it just hasn’t updated the legal framework yet to take account of people like me.

What should I do?


  1. People who only listen to radio have always been in the same position. The funding model just continues to get weaker. I do not agree with the statement that parliament did not intend what you are doing. If it had thought about it, it would have known this would happen

  2. You should buy a TV licence! At £145.50 a year i.e. £2.80 per week or 40p per day it is the best-value media you’ll ever get. The BBC is making more content more easily available than ever before e.g. I consume a huge number of BBC radio programmes by downloading free podcasts and listening to them on my iPod. If you don’t want the BBC to become a pay-per-view service like Sky or an advert-driven lowest common denominator drivel-fest like ITV or Channel 5 then you should support the licence fee system.

  3. Expose yourself in the Guardian, safe in the knowledge that all the stoopid journalists who aren’t qualified accountants will massively over-exaggerate your “morally repugnant” aggressive tax avoidance scam. The government will then be forced into an ad hoc response to close the outrageous loophole you’re abusing – and will come up with a technical fix that nobody thinks will adequately deal with the issue.

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