Two-tier licensing angers the elderly: TV can cost pounds 5 or pounds 83 depending on who runs housing, says Mary Wilson

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The Independent Online
THERE is an extraordinary anomaly in the rules governing concessionary television licences for elderly people living in sheltered housing. If their development is run by a housing association, they only have to pay pounds 5 a year, but if it is run by a private management company it costs the full pounds 83. There is no general concession for the elderly.

The rules as to who qualifies for a reduction became very clear to the people who live at Priory Lodge in West Wickham, London, a sheltered development whose management has passed from a housing association to private hands.

Vera Smith, who is secretary of the residents' association, said: 'I have been here for six years - in fact I was the first to move in. At first we were paying the full licence, then it was managed by Coastal Counties, a housing association, and we paid only pounds 5.

'Now we have been taken over by Goodacre, which is a private company, and we have been told that we will have to pay the full licence.'

Gladys Moores, one of the residents, felt so strongly that she wrote to the National TV Licensing Authority in Bristol.

'They replied saying that although we have had a concessionary licence, there are three criteria to be fulfilled to qualify,' Mrs Smith explained. 'Our development no longer did because of the change of circumstances. They confirmed that, although they regretted the situation, we would all have to obtain our own full licences at the end of the month, when the old licence runs out.

'I find it strange that some senior citizens can get concessionary licences and others cannot,' she added.

Richard Mason, the managing director of Goodacre, said: 'We run eight developments, of which four were under housing association managers before. In all these cases residents will now be responsible for their own licences. We are lobbying for this anomaly to be sorted out. The legislation was altered in 1989, when the concessionary fee was raised to pounds 5, but the wording was changed to include 'managed by' rather than just 'provided by', which is why there is this discrepancy. It is causing a lot of problems and we would very much like to see it sorted out.'

Ray Walker, secretary of the Association of Retirement Housing Managers feels that the law has not kept up with social changes. 'The primary legislation in 1969 was clearly intended to affect sheltered housing which was for rent and provided by both local authorities and housing associations.' Since the 1980s, when private sheltered housing developments were built, many residents have had to pay the full fee. 'The consequence is that an awful lot of elderly people are getting very angry about having to pay pounds 78 more than a similar development down the road.'

To be granted a concessionary licence, a development must also have an exclusive boundary and have a resident warden, working at least 30 hours a week. A scheme at Bramley Grove, west London, has recently been affected by the boundary rule.

This sheltered housing scheme is run by the Notting Hill Housing Trust, but because it shares a party wall with another building its concessionary licence has been refused. The building next to it is also a sheltered housing scheme, each having its own entrance and facilities.

'Because the party wall is not an exclusive boundary, which is one of the conditions, the scheme does not qualify,' Gary Gordon, the BBC's assistant licence fee manager, said. 'The BBC would have to change its regulations to allow those elderly people the concessionary television licence, and there is no process of appeal within the BBC.'

This licensing anomaly is also affecting sales of properties where one privately run scheme lies alongside another which is not, according to Nigel Bannister, managing director of Peverel Management, which looks after 400 developments, including sites constructed by the specialist sheltered housing builder McCarthy & Stone.' In Dorchester, Dorset, McCarthy has a site very near another built by Wimpey, which is managed by a housing association. As purchasers of retirement homes are often very tight for funds, every penny counts.

'Having to pay a full television licence might mean spending less on heating, for example, and so the scheme where pounds 83 is payable is often passed over in favour of a scheme where residents are eligible for a concessionary licence.

'On my figures the BBC is losing out on fees of about pounds 3m a year from private developments run by housing associations. Given the current economic climate, it is unrealistic to expect the Government to extend the licence concession to all homes. What I would like to see is the concessionary fee being increased to pounds 15 and being made available to all privately run schemes. Why should not all senior citizens in sheltered housing be able to benefit?'

Age Concern (081-679 8000) publishes a fact sheet on television licence concessions.

(Photograph omitted)