The law states that children under the compulsory school age (16) must not take part in any "performance", including a "broadcast performance", except under the authority of a licence granted by the local authority in which the child resides.
What constitutes a 'performance' is not defined under the legislation and while traditionally it has been applied to children who appear in dramas, scripted comedies, musical and dance performances, the legislation is currently under review, with particular emphasis on extending the licensing regime to children who appear in factual 'reality TV' shows. It is therefore important that programme-makers seek early advice from their programme lawyer as to which programmes might now be caught as the time limits for applying for licences are strictly applied and the limited exemptions available require careful application.
However, there are some exceptions: for example, a licence is not required where no payment is made (to the child or another person) in respect of the child taking part in the performance (expenses can be paid) and where, within the six months preceding the performance, the child has not taken part in other qualifying performances on more than three days.
Judging whether a child performance licence is necessary in a particular case is rarely straightforward and is not helped by the fact that each local authority tends to have its own interpretation of the law. However, a licence may only be refused in very specific circumstances and reasons must be given in writing. A Local Authority is not entitled to 'vet' scripts as part of the application process and scripts should not therefore be provided to them without reference to your commissioning editor and programme lawyer. Accordingly, wherever young people of school age are to be featured prominently within programmes or, indeed, it is felt that the child's contribution might amount to a performance, even where the contribution is insubstantial, programme-makers must seek advice from the programme lawyer at the earliest opportunity.
Note: young people are deemed to be of compulsory school age until the last Friday in June in the school year in which they have reached the age of 16. Thus, a young person may be 16 years old but still require a licence to perform.