BBC to end free licences for over-75s next month

BBC chairman says around 1.5 million households can get free TV licence

Rory Sullivan
Thursday 09 July 2020 13:04
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Free TV licence for over-75s to be means-tested from August 1

The BBC is to end free TV licences for most over-75s from 1 August, after the plan was delayed by two months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The broadcaster was due to introduce means-testing at the start of June.

The policy changes mean more than 3 million households will need to pay the £157.50 fee from August, according to the BBC.

Sir David Clementi, the chairman of the broadcaster, said: “The decision to commence the new scheme in August has not been easy, but implementation of the new scheme will be Covid-19 safe. The BBC could not continue delaying the scheme without impacting on programmes and services.”

Sir David added that around 1.5 million households could be exempt from paying the fee if someone is over 75 and receives pension credit. He also stressed that it was the government rather than the BBC that set and controlled who benefited from the measure.

“Like most organisations, the BBC is under severe financial pressure due to the pandemic, yet we have continued to put the public first in all our decisions,” he added. “I believe continuing to fund some free TV licences is the fairest decision for the public, as we will be supporting the poorest oldest pensioners without impacting the programmes and services that all audiences love.”

The BBC agreed to take on responsibility for funding the scheme as part of the charter agreement hammered out with the government in 2015.

Without the new means-testing system in place, the broadcaster said free TV licences would have cost it as much as £1bn a year because of the ageing population.

The BBC has made large cuts recently and must now save an extra £125m because of the financial pressures caused by the pandemic.

However, the charity Age UK has urged the government to “sit down” with the BBC to keep the licences free, as they have been since 2000.

Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, said: “We’re bitterly disappointed by this decision on behalf of the millions of over-75s who have had a torrid time over the last few months and for whom this must feel like another kick in the teeth, during a terrible year.

“Everyone needs to understand that under the BBC’s scheme many hundreds of thousands of the poorest pensioners will be facing a bill they will simply be unable to afford to pay.”

Julian Knight, the Tory MP who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, also expressed his concerns about the decision.

“At what is already a very difficult time, this will be a body blow to millions of British pensioners,” he said.

“I had hoped that the previous delay announced would lead to the government and BBC coming together in order to thrash out a fresh deal. However, that has clearly not happened.”

Labour said the government was to blame for the pulling of the “vital service”.

Jo Stevens, the shadow culture secretary, said: “The refusal of the government to fund this vital service after promising to do so is nothing short of betrayal.

“Many over-75s have spent months at home with TV providing an invaluable source of company during the pandemic. For the government to blame the BBC, who are having to contend with huge cuts, is simply passing the buck.”

Additional reporting from Press Association

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