Rebel pensioners reveal plan to derail attempt to strip them of free TV licences.
EXCLUSIVE: The Silver Voices campaign group wants to “gum up the works” as over-75s face losing their entitlement to the benefit.
Ben Glaze Deputy Political Editor – Daily Mirror.
11TH JULY 2020
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OAPs’ direct action against lost perk.• Daily Mirror• 11 Jul 2020• BY BEN GLAZE Deputy Political Editor – Daily Mirror.
PENSIONERS have vowed to take direct action against plans to strip them of free TV licences.
The Silver Voices campaign group said it plans to “gum up the works” of the TV licensing system.
Director Dennis Reed yesterday confirmed it would launch the campaign within weeks, after the BBC said it would end free licences for over-75s who do not receive Pension Credit from August 1.
Labour is expected to try to force a Minister to the Commons next week to be grilled by MPs, after the Tories broke a 2017 manifesto pledge to protect the perk until at least 2022.
Furious OAPs will trigger moves to try to hamper the administration of the TV licensing system.
The plot – first revealed by the Mirror six weeks ago – will see all over-60s urged to stop
Direct Debit payments to pay the licence fee.
It is aimed at making the cost of administering and enforcing the licence fee “much more expensive than keeping the free licence for a relatively small group”.
Mr Dennis Reed said last night: “With the confirmation the BBC will be ending free TV licences for the over-75s from August 1, Silver Voices will implement its ‘gum up the works’ direct action from that date.
“Silver Voices is calling for all over-60s to take action to support the over-75s. From August 1, all over60s in the UK will be asked to withdraw from Direct Debits and standing orders, and advise TV Licensing they will only settle their licence fees by cheque or cash and post in future.
“Guidelines will also be issued on ‘creative but legal’ ways to complicate payments further.
“The intention will be to increase the costs of collection and enforcement to such a level that the Government and BBC will be forced to rethink this cruel policy.”
An estimated 3.7 million over-75s who currently receive free licences will have to pay £157.50 a year to watch. The Mirror has campaigned to save the benefit, with more than 18,000 readers backing the fight.
The Conservatives pledged at the 2017 election to protect free licences for the rest of that Parliament, which was due to run until 2022.
But the BBC had already been handed responsibility for funding the lifeline from June, under a deal agreed in FEE PROTEST Dennis Reed 2015. The move was delayed by two months because of the pandemic.
The Beeb says keeping licences free for all over-75s would cost £745million by 2021-22. The restrictions mean only over-75s who receive Pension Credit will be eligible.
Campaigner Dame Esther Rantzen accused the Government of trying to “shift blame” on to the BBC. She said: “My main criticism is for the politicians. I think Oliver Dowden [Culture Secretary], who said he felt let down by the BBC, was shifting blame.
“It was Gordon Brown who decided to make this gift of free television licences and it was George Osborne who took it away and said the Government would no longer fund it. And that’s what feels like a slap in the face to older people.”
Labour peer Lord Foulkes, who chairs Parliament’s cross-party group for ageing and older people, said: “For many who rely on their TV for information, entertainment and company, this has been a deadly blow.”
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Rebel pensioners who face being stripped of free TV licences tonight unveiled a “gum up the works” campaign aimed at hampering plans to axe their benefit.
Some 3.7 million OAPs are due to lose the lifeline, worth £157.50 a year, from August 1.
Curbs on entitlement were due to come into force on Monday, but were delayed by two months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Older people’s groups are demanding a further stay of execution – and called on the Tories to honour a 2017 manifesto pledge to protect free licences for over-75s.
Silver Voices director Dennis Reed said: “June 1 was the original date to implement this cruel policy but it has only been delayed until August 1.
Actor Ricky Tomlinson has led protests against plans to axe free TV licences for most over-75s.
“It is callous in the extreme for the Government to leave this threat hanging over the heads of vulnerable and isolated senior citizens as the coronavirus crisis continues.
“The charities are reporting increased mental health concerns over the indefinite lockdown for older people and the TV is often the only means for us to keep in touch with reality.”
Silver Voices is writing to BBC director-general Lord Hall warning that unless the implementation date is delayed again, a “non-cooperation” campaign dubbed “gum up the works” will kick off on August 1.
BBC director-general Lord Tony Hall.
Initially, all over-60s will be urged to stop Direct Debit payments to pay the licence fee, and tell the BBC that in future they will only correspond with TV Licensing by post, and only pay by cheque.
Mr Reed said the drive was aimed at making make the cost of administering and enforcing the licence fee “much more expensive than keeping the free licence for a relatively small group”.
The Conservatives pledged at the 2017 election to protect over-75s’ free licences for the rest of that Parliament, which was due to run until 2022.
But the BBC had already been handed responsibility for funding the lifeline from June 2020, under a deal agreed in 2015.
The corporation is restricting eligibility to over-75s who receive Pension Credit.
It says keeping licences free for all would cost £745million by 2021-22.
Mr Reed hopes the mini-revolt will pile pressure on the Government to reverse its decision.
He added: “We are fed up to the back teeth about this continuing disrespect for older people and the time is right to turn the screw on the Government to keep its promises.”
Bectu broadcasting union head Philippa Childs said: “This potential action demonstrates how important it is for the Government to take responsibility for the cost of the licence fee for over-75s.
“The BBC should never had been forced to take the difficult decision about how free licence fees for the over-75s should continue to be offered.
“By forcing this recognised welfare benefit on to the BBC, the Government is shirking its responsibility towards this vulnerable group of people who in the current climate need access to it more than ever.
“The policy must be handled by the Government so that the BBC is able to focus on what it does best which is educating, informing and entertaining the nation.”
Lord Foulkes, co-chairman of Westminster’s cross-party group for ageing and older people, backed the campaign.
Labour peer Lord George Foulkes will raise the issue in the House of Lords.
The Labour peer, 78, will raise the TV licences row in House of Lords on Tuesday.
He said: “I fully support Silver Voices in their campaign.
“It underlines the real anxiety and anger felt by many older people and those who support them, which has been caused by the Government’s decision to renege on a clear manifesto promise.
“There is now extensive opposition to the withdrawal of free TV licences for over-75s.
“The Government therefore must put a stop to this by honouring their manifesto promise to older people and saving this valuable benefit indefinitely.”
Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams said: “The BBC Board’s decision to delay rollout of their planned scheme was very welcome but it is becoming more obvious with every day that the initial two-month delay was not nearly long enough.
Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams.
“Age UK is calling for the pause to last until at least the end of 2020.
“So many events and initiatives are being scrapped this year and with so many older people still stuck largely or solely at home, this should go the same way.”
The Mirror is campaigning to permanently save the benefit, with more than 18,000 readers backing the fight by completing coupons in the paper.
Boris Johnson has previously urged the BBC to “cough up” and save free licences.
Outgoing BBC boss Lord Hall has blamed the Government for axing the benefit.