Joan Bakewell: Over-75s should keep paying for licence fee if they can afford it and 'love the BBC'

The broadcaster and Labour peer backed a BBC plan to ask over-75s to opt in

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The Independent Online

The broadcaster Dame Joan Bakewell has urged the over-75s to continue to pay for their licence fee, if they can afford it, in order to help the beleaguered BBC.

The Labour peer and former government voice of older people backed a BBC plan to ask over-75s to opt in to paying for their free licence fees, after the corporation agreed to shoulder the £725m annual burden of the policy.

“When I heard that the Government was planning to withdraw funding for free licence fees for the over-75s, and foist the cost onto the BBC, I was outraged and distressed,” Dame Joan told Radio Times.


“It’s one of the social benefits Government bestows on the old, like free bus passes and the winter fuel allowance. I think it’s quite sneaky to roll out social policy disguised as a BBC contribution to austerity. It isn’t for the BBC to decide how and who receives government support.”

“So what can we over-75s do? The BBC says it will introduce a scheme for those who want to opt back in to paying the licence fee. But that will take time. Right now I’m told the best plan is to get in touch with TV Licensing, who collect the fee, and tell them you want to start paying again. If you love the BBC, and if you can afford £2.80 a week, what are you waiting for?”

Dame Joan described the BBC as a “lifeline” for the 5 million over-75s in the UK. “Many of us live alone, far from our families. The old know loneliness and isolation, even depression. The BBC to them is more than entertainment.  It’s been there all our long lives and we’re immensely proud of it.”

She added: “When I was old enough to receive the winter fuel allowance I decided it wasn’t for the likes of me – well-heeled middle-class people with enough money to pay. My neighbour Robert Plant (the Led Zeppelin singer) was bemused, too, when he received his. Didn’t they know he’s a millionaire rock star?

“So I tried to send the money back. I got a starchy official letter explaining, ‘There is no mechanism for taking this money back.’ So I was stuck with it. I complained enough for others to get in touch. Then I heard you could contribute to a charity set up to take just such donations. Which I did.”