MPs urge BBC and ministers to cut a deal to restore free TV licence for over 75s.
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chair Damian Collins said the broadcaster put itself in the ‘invidious position’ of administering welfare benefits
Mikey Smith Political Correspondent
11 OCT 2019
The BBC should cut a deal with ministers to restore free TV licences to the over 75s, a committee of MPs has said.
The broadcaster put itself in the ‘invidious position’ of administering welfare benefits after the Government refused to keep its promise to keep paying for TV licences, members of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee said.
A new report slammed the “behind closed doors” process which led to the Beeb taking responsibility for a benefit it couldn’t afford to maintain.
And as things stand, it will be means tested from next year, leaving 3.7 million pensioners facing the loss of their free TV licence.
But the Mirror is campaigning to save the entitlement, which the Beeb estimates would cost them £745 million a year to maintain.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly refused to honour the Conservative Party’s promise to pick up the bill for the benefit.
Committee chair Damian Collins said: “This is an invidious position for the BBC to put itself in.
“It agreed to fund a pensioner benefit that it couldn’t afford and as a result, false reassurances were given to the over 75s that their free licence fees would be maintained.”
He added: “The BBC finds itself here as the result of a deal done behind closed doors that allowed no transparency for licence fee payers.”
Deputy Labour leader and Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson said: “I’m very pleased to see the DCMS Select Committee calling for saving free TV licences for over-75s. The consensus is overwhelming: the Government must act now.
“The Government should never have foisted the responsibility for funding free TV licences onto the BBC in the first place. It was an act of political cowardice and now 3.7 million older people are set to lose out next year.
“The only option now is for this Tory Government to admit they got it wrong, and commit to funding free TV licences for over-75s today.”
Mr Collins comments come alongside the committee’s report on the BBC’s annual accounts.
The report found the 2015 funding negotiations which led to the handover of free TV licences was a ‘flawed’ process on all sides that gave no opportunity for consultation with licence fee payers.
And it accused ministers of seeking to “bounce” the broadcaster into accepting the responsibility.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK welcomed the committee’s report, saying the Government and BBC “would be wise to sit down and broker a solution now that keeps the over-75s’ TV licence free, before all hell potentially breaks loose next summer.”
She added: “Older people will be immensely pleased and relieved if this happens, as will be the almost a million who have signed petitions in support of them.”
Sir David Clementi, Chairman of the BBC, said: “Under the 2015 agreement, the BBC was given responsibility for the policy, and related funding, of the concession for over 75s.
“We are pleased that the committee recognise that there was no automatic assumption that the BBC would continue to bear the cost of these free TV licences. There is also clear recognition from the committee that it would be unsustainable for the BBC to take on the full cost of all these free licences alone.
“The committee report is also clear that the value of the licence fee will continue to be under pressure from inflation in the TV sector.
“The Committee say that the Government’s process in 2015 was flawed and we agree with this; it was never a process the BBC would have chosen. That’s why there must be a different way of doing things in the future. In terms of the agreement itself, we are satisfied that it was properly discussed within the BBC and properly authorised.
“We will continue to implement the decision we have taken – after extensive consultation – on over 75s licence fees with great care and responsibility.”
The Committee urged the government to overhaul the way negotiations are handled before the next BBC charter renewal in 2021, to provide greater transparency for viewers.
And MPs warned the BBC’s funding model could become “unsustainable” if it doesn’t continue to find revenue on top of the license fee.
Mr Collins said: “This issue has also exposed that if the current trends in inflation for TV production costs continue, the value of the licence fee will continue to diminish as a source of revenue for the BBC.
“The rapidly changing viewing habits of younger audiences, particularly those under the age of 34 who are moving away from broadcast TV to online and on demand channels, poses a further threat to BBC licence fee revenue in the future.
“We are seeing clear evidence that the funding model of the BBC will become unsustainable without substantial increases in commercial revenue from BBC Studios and new subscription on demand viewing services like Britbox.”
Just do the deal, BBC.
MPs want free TV licences restored
THE BBC should cut a deal with ministers to restore free TV licences to the over 75s, MPs have said.
The broadcaster has taken on an awkward role as an administrator of welfare by shouldering the burden of funding the benefit that it cannot afford to maintain, said the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.
The Committee slammed the “behind closed doors” process that led to the move, accusing ministers of trying to “bounce” the BBC into accepting the responsibility.
The Mirror is campaigning to keep the free licences, which will be means tested from next year with 3.7 million expected to lose out. The Beeb estimates it would cost it £745million a year to maintain.
Committee chairman Damian Collins said: “This is an invidious position for the BBC to put itself in.” The Committee said it was “calling for free TV licences to be restored to those over 75 who are not in receipt of Pension Credit”.
Protesters at BBC Media City in Salford, Greater Manchester.
Keep them free.
The move to axe free TV licences from the over-75s was “wrong” and “flawed.”
That’s the conclusion of the all-party Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee. The MPs do not mince their words.
They accuse the Tories of bouncing the BBC into taking responsibility for the benefit.
The committee is right in its analysis and right in its demands.
The party should stick to its manifesto promise and give the BBC the money it needs to restore free TV licences for all those aged 75 and over.