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Am Radio Licence
PBR Licence
CB Licence

The UK licensing authority

The UK government department responsible for issuing radio licences and enforcing legal proceedings against people carrying out unauthorised transmitting or receiving is called Ofcom (Office of Communications).  Previously, it had been the Postmaster General (PMG), the Home Office (HO), the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Radiocommunications Agency (RA).

Ofcom issue many types of radio licence, including licences for businesses, the emergency services and Radio Amateurs.

You need a licence

In the UK the use of any radio transmitting device is required to be either licensed or specifically exempted from licensing under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949.  For cellular telephones, the use of the spectrum by the network operators is licensed to cover the use of base stations, while user devices (i.e. mobile phones) are covered by a general exemption.

You can't listen to any radio transmission you like and you can't transmit on any radio frequency you like.  You even need a licence to own (i.e. have in your possession) as well as to use such equipment.

The Ofcom man won't care if you say that your computerised scanner radio with lots of coloured flashing lights and dials which is tuned to a police channel or a taxi channel is never turned on.  You have committed an offence by selecting a channel you are not authorised to receive.  There are laws about having radio equipment in your possession and other laws about using it.

You don't need a licence

An exception is the PMR446 specification.  These are type approved low power hand portable transceivers and can be owned and used licence-free.  Another exception is listening to radio transmissions from licensed Radio Amateurs.  Another exception is listening to radio transmissions from licensed entertainment broadcasting stations.

Ofcom      The use of scanning receivers   Radio transmitters

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Page updated on 11 September 2018

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