Exemption criteria

Under the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA), the BBFC assigns age ratings to all video content to be supplied in the UK unless the video content, taken as a whole, is designed to inform, educate or instruct or, taken as a whole, is concerned with sport, religion or music, and as long as it doesn’t contain any of the content issues listed in the Video Recordings Act 1984 (Exempted Video Works) Regulations 2014:

  • it depicts or promotes violence or threats of violence;
  • it depicts the immediate aftermath of violence on human or animal characters;
  • it depicts an imitable dangerous activity without also depicting that the activity may endanger the welfare or health of a human or animal character;
  • it promotes an imitable dangerous activity;
  • it depicts or promotes activities involving illegal drugs or the misuse of drugs;
  • it promotes the use of alcohol or tobacco;
  • it depicts or promotes suicide or attempted suicide, or depicts the immediate aftermath of such an event;
  • it depicts or promotes any act of scarification or mutilation of a person, or of self-harm, or depicts the immediate aftermath of such an act;
  • it depicts techniques likely to be useful in the commission of offences or, through its depiction of criminal activity, promotes the commission of offences;
  • it includes words or images intended or likely to convey a sexual message (ignoring words or images depicting any mild sexual behaviour);
  • it depicts human sexual activity (ignoring any depictions of mild sexual activity);
  • it depicts or promotes acts of force or restraint associated with human sexual activity;
  • it depicts human genital organs or human urinary or excretory functions (unless the depiction is for a medical, scientific or educational purpose);
  • it includes swearing (ignoring any mild bad language); or
  • it includes words or images that are intended or likely (to any extent) to cause offence, whether on the grounds of race, gender, disability, religion or belief or sexual orientation, or otherwise.

The effect of these Regulations is that if content is likely to be classified above PG it is not exempt. If the content does include any of the above elements then the exemption is lost and the distributor must submit the video work to the BBFC for classification prior to release.

A video recording may contain a number of video works. Distributors should consider the criteria for exemption in relation to each individual element that will appear on the final product, including main features, bonus material and all other video content. Distributors should assess each different version of a piece of content (in terms of different visuals and/or different sound, including audio commentaries), as each version will require its own BBFC certificate unless the content is exempt. An individual trailer, advert or item of bonus material may require rating even if the main feature or video game it accompanies does not.

Record labels should also use these criteria to determine if a new release UK repertoire music video is eligible for classification under the terms agreed with the BPI and AIM.

It is for you, the distributor, to determine whether to submit your content to us or whether you consider it may be exempt. Trading Standards Officers enforce the VRA and can prosecute anyone supplying content they believe to be in breach of it. It is essential you make informed decisions as to what you decide to submit and what you consider may be exempt. We are here to help you make those informed decisions and help you get your product to market in a safe way.

We are always happy to advise you with regard to content issues. Although we cannot definitively, legally determine for you whether you can claim exemption for piece of content, we are always happy to discuss any concerns with you. If you are unsure as to whether to claim exemption for your content, we recommend you submit it to us for classification. Please contact us if you wish to discuss any issues relating to exemption and VRA classification.

No. We will accept submissions of material that may be exempt. Exempt content is sometimes rated because the distributor prefers a BBFC rating. Our categories and symbols are familiar and trusted by the people across the UK and enjoy the support of the law.

The VRA is enforced mainly by local Trading Standards Officers. Their role is to check that no unclassified video content is being sold or rented and that all other details of relevant legislation are being observed. They are entitled to take ‘exempt’ content from a shop if they doubt its exempt status. If, on inspecting that content, they reach the conclusion that it should have been classified, the distributor could be prosecuted.

Exempt Supply

Even if a piece of content itself is not exempt, it is possible that its supply is. The VRA defines an exempt supply as one which is neither ‘a supply for reward’ nor ‘in the course or furtherance of a business’. So, if there is no reward (e.g. exchange of money) associated in any way with the transaction, and as long as the supply is entirely unrelated to any business activity, the supply could be considered exempt. This would not be the case, for instance, if videos were being lent or given away to attract customers to a shop, even one whose actual business was unrelated to video.

There are other circumstances in which a supply can be considered exempt, such as the record of an event which is to be circulated only to those connected with the event – e.g. a wedding video.