TV licences: BBC to go ahead with over-75s licence fee changes.
9th July 2020
The BBC is to go ahead with a plan to end free TV licences for most over-75s, after a two-month delay because of the coronavirus pandemic.
That means more than three million households will be asked to start paying the £157.50 fee from 1 August.
Only those who receive the Pension Credit benefit will be exempt.
The BBC said the new scheme is “the fairest decision”, but the government said it was “the wrong decision” and Age UK called it “a kick in the teeth”.
Why has this decision been taken?
The controversial change was originally due to be made on 1 June, and the BBC said the delay had cost £35m a month.
The cost of continuing to provide free licences to all over-75s could have reached £1bn a year over time with an ageing population, according to the corporation.
BBC Chairman Sir David Clementi said the decision had “not been easy”, but the broadcaster is under “under severe financial pressure” and a further delay would have had an impact on programmes.
Ricky Tomlinson led a protest outside the BBC’s n Salford last June
The BBC has previously warned that making no changes would have led to “unprecedented closures” of services.
It has also previously said it must make an extra £125m savings this year as a result of the pandemic, including the cost of delaying the over-75s changes.
Free TV licences for the over-75s have been provided by the government since 2000, but responsibility for the provision was passed to the BBC as part of its last licence fee settlement.
What has the reaction been?
The Age UK charity said it was “bitterly disappointed”, describing the move as “a kick in the teeth for millions of over-75s who have had a torrid time during this crisis”.
More than 630,000 people signed an Age UK petition when the BBC first announced the plan in 2019. The charity has now urged the BBC and the government to “urgently sit down and agree on a solution to keep TV licences free”.
Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams said many older people would either have to give up their TV, which is “more of a lifeline than ever”, or other essential purchases.
“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,” she said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the BBC had made the “wrong decision”, and the government believes the licence fees in question “should be funded by the BBC”.
Culture minister Matt Warman said the move was “deeply frustrating”.
But Labour’s shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens 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.”
Julian Knight MP, Conservative chairman of the House of Commons culture select committee, called the situation “a mess” and said the new regime would be “a body blow to millions of British pensioners”.
Broadcaster and Labour peer Dame Joan Bakewell said some older people could and should pay – but there is a “suffering middle” who will struggle.
“The rich old have lots of savings and investments, and they can well afford it,” she told BBC Radio 5 Live.
But she added: “Not enough will get it free. There are layers of people above the earning [level] that gets you the benefit who also should be allowed to have a free licence fee… It’s the suffering middle who perhaps find life expensive but are not reduced to needing state benefits.”
She added that she had hoped incoming director general Tim Davie could have brought “some original thinking” to find a better solution.
How will the new system work?
The BBC said there would be a “Covid-safe” payment system, meaning people can apply online, and there will be a dedicated phone line and support staff.
“No-one needs to take any immediate action, or leave their home, to claim for a free TV licence or pay for one,” a statement said.
TV Licensing will write to all licence holders aged over 75 with clear guidance about how to pay, it said.
Almost 1.6 million people claim Pension Credit, according to the latest government figures. Of those, 450,000 have already applied for a free licence.
This shoddy decision to end free TV licences for most over-75s will haunt the BBC’s fat cat bosses.
9th July 2020
The Corporation’s panjandrums evidently think they can get away with it.
They will reason that, although more than three million households will have to start paying the £157.50 annual licence fee from August 1, some 1.6million of the very poorest pensioners claiming Pension Credit won’t have to fork out.
But, of course, many of the three million households forced to cough up are far from rich.
The free TV licence for over-75s will be means-tested from August 1, meaning more than three million households will be asked to start paying the £157.50 fee
Compared with the BBC’s overpaid stars and lavishly remunerated senior executives, a lot of these elderly pensioners are poor. Paying the licence fee will hurt.
That is why Age UK, which inspired more than 630,000 people to sign a petition against the proposals when they were first announced last year, described the announcement as ‘a kick in the teeth for millions of over-75s who have had a torrid time during this crisis’.
Was there another way? You bet there was. Although it is forever boasting about trimming its sails, the Beeb is a vast, extravagant monster that has grown crazily over the past three decades, spawning new television channels and radio stations and a huge website. Its annual income is a massive £5billion.
Making three million pensioner households pay the licence fee should allow it to bank about a tenth of this amount. If Auntie had really cared about these people, this money could have been found through a serious process of economising.
The government has provided free TV licences for the over-75s since 2000, but responsibility for the provision now rests with the BBC.
Just cutting the salaries of hundreds of stars and senior managers earning more than £150,000 by 10 per cent would, by my rough calculations, yield £5million a year. It would be a symbolic step, which showed that despite appearances the ethos of public service broadcasting is still alive.
Much bigger sums could be found by closing down BBC4 (£44million) and Radio 6 Music (£12million). Shaving BBC1’s budget by just 10 per cent would yield £110million, and slimming down BBC2 by the same proportion nearly £40million. Auntie could reverse its idiotic decision to spend £100million on ‘diversity’ over the next three years.
In no time at all, an organisation which chose to put poorer pensioners before its immediate financial needs could save hundreds of millions of pounds if it really set its mind to it. But no such root-and-branch operation has taken place. Let the poor pensioners pay.
I accept that in 2015 the then chancellor, George Osborne, drove a hard bargain when he got the director-general, Tony Hall, to agree that the Corporation would take responsibility for the £745million annual cost of providing free TV licences for those aged 75 or over.
Lord Hall, who is just about to step down, caved in too easily. One of his predecessors, Mark Thompson, has claimed that he had begun writing a resignation letter when Osborne tried to impose similar costs on the BBC five years earlier.
The fact remains that the Beeb agreed to these terms, and is now acting in a ruthless and self-serving manner. If it did not know that withdrawing free licences will be painful for many pensioners, it wouldn’t have suspended the measure during the pandemic.
In March, Lord Hall agreed in front of a Commons committee that people in their 80s and 90s could be hauled through the courts for not paying their TV licences after the free concession is withdrawn. How will our public service broadcaster with its hundreds of ‘fat cat’ salaries look then?
BBC bosses assume they have won this battle. I believe that, on the contrary, they have exposed themselves to the charge of meanness and selfishness, and that this shoddy decision may come back to haunt them.
BBC’s free TV license blow to pensioners: Over-75s will have to pay £157 fee from next month.
BY PAUL REVOIR MEDIA EDITOR FOR THE DAILY MAIL
The BBC was yesterday accused of kicking pensioners in the teeth by axing free TV licences for millions of over-75s.
The Corporation announced it will bring in its controversial new scheme in three weeks’ time, on August 1.
More than three million households – those not claiming Pension Credit – will be hit with the £157.50 fee.
BBC chiefs had initially planned to charge them from last month but delayed the start due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday it confirmed there would be no further postponement.
The BBC, based at Portland Place, London, made the announcement today but has faced a fierce backlash
The cost of continuing to provide free licences to all over-75s could have reached £1billion a year with an ageing population.
The BBC’s chairman, Sir David Clementi, claimed the Corporation could not continue delaying the introduction ‘without impacting programmes and services’.
Age UK, which has led the fight against the plans, said it feared for the mental health of older people living on their own if they have to give up their TV set.
Director Caroline Abrahams 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.
‘Many older people on low incomes have told us that if they have to find £150-plus a year to pay for a licence then they will have to forego some other essential, or try to survive without TV at all.’
She criticised the ‘flawed design’ of the scheme saying two in five of all the pensioners on the lowest incomes do not get Pension Credit ‘even though they are entitled to it’.
But she said the ‘principal responsibility’ for the situation lay with government after it ‘transferred’ the scheme to the BBC.
Tory MP Julian Knight, who is chairman of the digital, culture, media and sport committee, said: ‘At what is already a very difficult time, this will be a body blow to millions of British pensioners.
‘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.’
The proposals sparked outrage when they were announced last year, with more than 630,000 people signing a petition set up by the charity Age UK, calling for action to be taken.
He said the ‘mess’ was the result of a ‘poor decision’ by outgoing director general Lord Hall and that ‘now Britain’s pensioners are having to pick up the cost’.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the PM disagreed with the move. He said: ‘This is the wrong decision. We recognise the value of free TV licences for over-75s and believe that they should be funded by the BBC.’
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: ‘I very much regret the decision that the BBC has taken. We gave the settlement to the BBC back in 2015. They said that it was a good settlement, and I regret that they couldn’t find efficiency savings in order to avoid having to impose the licence fee on the over-75s in the way that they have set out.’
Sir David Clementi admitted that while about 1.5million households could get free licences if on Pension Credit, only 450,000 of those eligible had applied.
The move provoked a swathe of criticism, with the likes of Dame Helen Mirren calling the end of the universal entitlement ‘heart-breaking’
There had been concerns that if pensioners were forced to go out and copy documents needed to qualify for the scheme, it could put lives at risk with coronavirus still circulating.
But the BBC said the implementation of the scheme will be ‘Covid-19 safe’ with no pensioners needing to leave their homes to claim for the free TV licence or to pay for one.
TV Licensing, which runs its collection activities, will write to those affected and give them ‘clear guidance’.
Telephone contact centres have also been set up to assist. The Corporation claims without the new fee, it would have had to close BBC2, BBC4, the BBC News channel, Radio 5 Live, the BBC Scotland channel and a number of local radio stations.
This shoddy decision to end free TV licences for most over-75s will haunt the BBC’s fat cat bosses.