The BBC has scrapped the free TV licence for all over 75s, meaning only those who receive Pension Credit will be exempt from paying the fee from next year.
There has been widespread criticism of the move to means test the concession, which was announced days after the D-Day anniversary coverage on the BBC and will affect millions when it comes into effect on June 1 2020.
The licence fee, which currently costs £154.50 a year, had been free to all over-75s since 2000. Now up to 3.5million over 75s will be hit with a bill and only 900,000 households which receive Pension Credit – a benefit given to the lowest-income households – will continue to get their licence for free.
The Government criticised the BBC’s move, after it reached an agreement with the broadcaster in 2015 that said the cost of providing free licences to the over 75s would be taken over by the BBC – at a cost of £745m from 2020-2022. In addition, the Tory Manifesto of 2017 stated that the free licences should continue to be given to all over 75s.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesperson said: “We have been clear that we expected the BBC to continue this concession. We want the BBC to look again at ways of supporting older people.
“As part of the long-term funding agreement, the BBC agreed to take on responsibility for this concession in 2020 and we have been clear that we expected the BBC to continue this concession.
“In 2017/18, it received over £3.8 billion in licence fee income – more than the year before – and we have guaranteed the licence fee will increase with inflation until 2022.
“They are also making over £1 million a year from commercial work, such as selling content abroad, which can be reinvested.
“It is the BBC’s responsibility to ensure its substantial licence fee income is used in an appropriate way so that it can deliver for UK audiences.”
TV licence move is “shocking”
Care & Nursing editor Victoria Galligan said: “The free TV licence for over 75s was one of the few remaining perks of getting older. Many people face isolation and loneliness in their later years and the television is a companion to them – their window to the outside world.
“With pensions barely covering living costs, rising food and utility bills and in-house social care adding to elderly people’s outgoings, another unforeseen charge is the last thing that the older generation needs.
“To remove a benefit from the most vulnerable in our society, which has been in place for nearly 20 years, is shocking. I think many people will be left questioning whether the BBC is using the licence fee wisely and whether it should still be mandatory for people to pay the fee – even if they don’t use the BBC’s services – when there are over 70 channels available for free viewing and so many rival subscription services like Sky, Netflix and Amazon Prime on offer.”
As a boycott was called for by campaigners, BBC chairman Sir David Clementi said: “This has been a very difficult decision. We’ve obviously thought about it extremely hard. We think that it’s fair to those over 75 but fair all to all our audiences for whom there was no appetite for the level of cuts that would have been necessary if those concessions had been extended to everybody.
“But there are a number of people for whom this will be unwelcome news.”
Sir David added that a BBC consultation had found that a large number of over 75s said they were prepared for means-testing to be brought in or to see the free TV licence abolished completely, if it meant that at-risk services – such as BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, the BBC Scotland channel, Radio 5live, and some local radio stations – would be kept.
For more information on the changes, see the BBC News website.