Scrapping free TV licence perk for over-75s means two million would switch off or struggle to pay, government warned
- Age UK is urging the Government to carry on funding free TV licences for elderly
- Many would scrimp on essentials like heating or eating to pay extra bill, it says
- Government set to shift funding responsibility to the BBC from summer 2020
- Broadcaster claims cost would chop £745m from its budget in 2021/2022
- It is consulting on keeping or axing the perk, or making over-75s pay something towards the bill
Axing free TV licences for over-75s means two million people would have to stop watching television or scrimp on essentials like heating or eating to afford the extra bill, a charity for the elderly has warned.
Age UK is urging the Government to carry on funding the perk to avoid the BBC or pensioners having to shoulder the financial burden.
The Government struck a deal to shift responsibility for free TV licences for over 75s to the BBC from summer 2020. The annual licence fee currently costs £150.50, but this will rise to to £154.50 in April.
Paying the bills: Two million over-75s would have to stop watching TV or scrimp on essentials to buy a licence if they were no longer free, Age UK research found
The BBC claims the cost of funding free licences would chop £745million from its budget in 2021/2022.
That works out as more than its current spending on all radio services, or about the same as on the bulk of its channels aside from BBC One, or on all its TV sport, drama, entertainment and comedy.
The BBC is currently consulting on whether to keep or axe free TV licences, or instead change the system to offer a discount rate for the elderly, raise the age threshold or introduce means testing.
‘With only days left until the BBC’s consultation on the future of free TV licences ends, Age UK is calling on the Government to urgently take back responsibility for the funding and administration of the free TV licences policy,’ says the charity.
‘Currently, free TV licences are funded by the Government but this responsibility was shifted to the BBC in a private deal without public consultation or the money to fund it from 2020.’
It goes on: ‘Since its introduction in 2000, the free TV licence has been a valued universal benefit for the over-75s which provides entertainment, news and much needed company for many.
‘Millions of older people, particularly those who are lonely or housebound with disabilities, rely on their TV as their trusted companion and window on the world.’
Its research among 1,200 over-65s in February found that more than 40 per cent of people currently entitled to a free licence – the equivalent of some two million pensioners – wouldn’t be able to afford one or would have to reduce spending on essentials to pay the bill.
Among the half who would make cutbacks, a quarter said they would spend less on heating and a fifth said they would buy less food in order to carry on watching TV.
Age UK, which is running a ‘Switched Off’ campaign on the issue, says: ‘Three in ten over-75s live in poverty or just above the poverty line and recent analysis by the charity revealed 50,000 pensioners could be pushed below the poverty line if the BBC decides to scrap free TV licences for over-75s.’
Charity director Caroline Abrahams adds: ‘The Government created this problem and it is in their power to solve it: we urge them to stop hiding behind the BBC and accept their responsibility for free TV licences for the over-75s.’
Age UK is running a petition to save free TV licences for over-75s, which currently has more than 60,000 signatures and can be found here.
It says any older person who is worried about money can call it free on 0800 169 6565, visit www.ageuk.org.uk or contact their local Age UK branch.
A BBC spokesperson says: ‘Free TV licences for people over 75 are expected to cost £745million a year by 2021/22, and Government funding for the scheme ends in June 2020.
‘We’re conscious that pensioner poverty is still an issue for some older people. We have set out a range of options in our consultation – each has merits and consequences, with implications for the future of the BBC and for everyone, including older people.
‘We need to hear everyone’s views to help the BBC make the best and fairest decision.’
A consultation outlining the options the BBC is considering is here, and its online questionnaire is open until 12 February here. The BBC says it is aiming to make a decision on free licences by this June.
A Government spokesperson says: ‘We know people across the country value television as a way to stay connected with the world.
‘The BBC will take on responsibility for free licences for the over-75s from 2020 and it is right that they’ve confirmed no decisions will be taken until the public have been fully consulted.
‘We’ve been clear that we would want and expect them to continue with this important concession.’