Temporary Covid-19 short-term restricted service licences

12 November 2020

Information about the temporary short-term restricted service licences (‘SRSLs’) Ofcom has made available during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the start of lockdown, we developed a new temporary licence product in light of the extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. This licence is for those wanting to provide a radio service designed specifically to share information, news and updates about the Covid-19 pandemic with their community.

In introducing this licence product, we were mindful of the importance of services coming on air safely, and in line with the instructions given by Governments.

We were also mindful that communities are already being served by existing radio services – such as community, commercial and BBC local radio services – all of which will be providing news and information about the Covid-19 pandemic.

Applicants should particularly be aware that significant potential harm can be caused by material relating to Covid-19, for example, health claims and medical advice which may be harmful, and inaccurate or materially misleading information about the virus or public policy regarding it. Ofcom will consider any breach arising from harmful Covid-19-related programming to be potentially serious and will consider taking appropriate regulatory action.

We ask some additional questions in this application form that reflect these considerations.

Apply for a licence

Taking the above into account, and the information provided in published updates below, if you would like to apply for a licence, please complete the application form and return it to us by email to broadcast.licensing@ofcom.org.uk.

Application form for a temporary Covid-19 short-term restricted service licence (SRSL) (ODT, 86.1 KB)

If you are looking to apply for a restricted service licence for a drive-in service, do not use this application form. Please read the guidance notes for short-term (PDF, 431.5 KB) and long-term restricted service licences (PDF, 730.0 KB) instead, and apply for the licence that meets the need of your proposed service using the relevant application form.

Update on temporary Covid-19 restricted service licences (‘RSL’) – 12 November 2020

In April 2020, we introduced a temporary licence type for those wanting to provide a radio service to share information, news and updates about the Covid-19 pandemic with their community. We were able to make this licence type available by using the part of the radio spectrum that is reserved to broadcast at events and festivals. During the period of strict lockdown that we saw across the Nations from March, that spectrum was not being used as events and festivals were being cancelled.

The update that we published on 21 August (see below) confirmed that we would continue to make the licence available to apply for if the area being served had additional restrictions in place, as determined by the Government for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales. Licences would be granted for sixty days – which is the application period for standard Short-term Restricted Service Licence (‘SRSL’) applications and ensures that Temporary Covid-19 stations do not prevent the spectrum being used for its usual purpose.

The purpose of today’s update is to confirm what this means in the event of restrictions being applied to a whole Nation, rather than a local area or region of that Nation.

We recognise that across the UK, further restrictions are being introduced. For example, in England, national restrictions have applied from 5 November. Enhanced restrictions are in place in Northern Ireland until at least 13 November. In Scotland, a new tier system of protection levels was introduced on 2 November. And in Wales, a new set of nation-wide regulations are in force, after the end of a ‘firebreak lockdown’.

If restrictions are applied to a whole Nation, we will consider applications for any service in that Nation. So, for example, we will - based on information that’s available today, Thursday 12 November - consider applications for any area in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. In Scotland, there aren’t any restrictions that apply to the whole Nation. Instead, each area has a Covid protection level or tier. So for Scotland, we will consider applications for any area that has additional restrictions in place, in line with our update on 21 August (below).

The restrictions would need to be in place at the point Ofcom is ready (if appropriate) to grant the licence. If the national restrictions have been eased during the period between the application being received and the decision to grant the licence being taken, then we will only grant the licence if the area being served has additional local restrictions in place, as set out in our update on 21 August 2020 (below). If national restrictions have been lifted and no additional local restrictions are in place, no licence will be granted.

The licence will be granted for a period of sixty days. This is derived from the application period for standard SRSL applications and ensures that Temporary Covid-19 stations will not prevent the spectrum being used for its usual purpose. Standard SRSL applicants should apply with at least sixty clear days between the date we receive their application and the proposed start date.

Where a licence is already in place and the licensee wishes for us to consider a licence extension, we will grant the extension (if appropriate) one week before the current expiry date. We will grant an extension for sixty days minus one week, i.e. 53 days.

We are continuing to actively consider our policy on Temporary Covid-19 RSLs, in light of the regularly changing circumstances we are all facing with the coronavirus. In the coming weeks, we will publish an update on the period to which we would consider extending an existing licence after any restrictions in the area they are broadcasting to have been eased.

As part of our consideration, we are mindful that we have only been able to make this licence type available by using the part of the radio spectrum that is ordinarily reserved to broadcast at short term events such as displays, shows and festivals. Since we introduced the licence type, we have seen applicants come up with innovative new ways to use the radio spectrum for events – most notably in holding drive-in events for movies, karaoke, religious services, AGMs, pantomimes and festivals as a way for people to come together safely even in areas where additional restrictions may be in place. So we can see that there is now demand to use the spectrum for events and we will take this into account in considering our future policy on Temporary Covid-19 RSLs.