Jun 10, 2019

News | The Telegraph | BBC to scrap universal free TV licences for over-75s

Anita Singh, Arts and Entertainment Editor 10 June 2019 • 2:51pm 

The BBC takes full responsibility for the over-75s scheme next year Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA
The BBC is to means-test free television licences for the over-75s, restricting them to those who receive pension credit.
An estimated three million households will now lose their free licences.
The new scheme will cost the corporation an estimated £250 million a year, while maintaining universal free licences would have cost £745 million.
It will come into force in June 2020 and around 1.5 million households will be eligible.
The BBC Board said it is "the fairest option to help the poorest pensioners" and "the fairest option for all licence fee payers, as this means everyone will continue to receive the best programmes and services that the BBC can provide."
Responsibility for the concession passes from the government to the BBC next year. The corporation said that maintaining the old scheme of giving free licences to everyone over 75 would have forced the closure of BBC Two, BBC Four, Radio 5 Live, the BBC News channel and BBC Scotland.
The BBC said the new system will be "simple and straightforward" self-verification, with individuals asked to provide proof of pension credit.
Other options on the table included scrapping the concessions altogether, maintaining it but cutting services, giving all over-75s a 50 per cent discount, or raising eligibility from 75 to 80.
Lord Hall, the BBC director-general, said: "This has not been an easy decision. Whilst we know that pensioner incomes have improved since 2000, we also know that for some the TV Licence is a lot of money. I believe we have reached the fairest judgement after weighing up all the different arguments.
"It would not be right simply to abolish all free licences. Equally it would not be right to maintain it in perpetuity given the very profound impact that would have on many BBC services.
“This decision is fairest for the poorest pensioners. Around 1.5 million households could get free TV licences if someone is over 75 and receives Pension Credit. It protects those most in need. And importantly, it is not the BBC making that judgement about poverty. It is the Government who sets and controls that measure.
“It is fairest for all audiences – of all generations, old and young - who we know value the BBC and the programmes and services we provide. It means these services can continue.
“We also need to look at how the level of the licence fee is set in the future. The last two settlements have been made in the dark and without proper consultation. It is vital that future decisions are evidence-based and made after proper consultation and scrutiny. We need to find a better way.”
The decision followed a three-month public consultation.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said means-testing would leave vulnerable elderly people cut off from the world.
"Make no mistake, if this scheme goes ahead we are going to see sick and disabled people in their eighties and nineties who are completely dependent on their cherished TV for companionship and news, forced to give it up.
"Means-testing may sound fair but in reality it means at least 650,000 of our poorest pensioners facing a big new annual bill they simply can't afford, because though eligible for Pension Credit they don't actually get it," she said.
"The BBC's decision will cause those affected enormous anxiety and distress, and some anger too, but in the end this is the Government's fault, not the BBC's, and it is open to a new prime minister to intervene and save the day for some of the most vulnerable older people in our society who will otherwise suffer a big blow to their pockets and to their quality of life.
"The decent thing for the Government to do is to continue to fund the entitlement until the BBC's overall funding deal comes up for negotiation in 2022.
"This would be warmly welcomed by our older population as a much fairer way to proceed."
Sir David Clementi, the BBC chairman, said the consultation responses showed "strong support for reform".
He said: "Ultimately, the Board did not think it right to abolish all free TV licences. While research suggests pensioners are now better off than they were when the concession was first introduced nearly twenty years ago, the simple fact is that many are still in poverty - and many want the companionship the BBC can provide. This was a point made by many and we listened and ruled abolition out.
“Copying the current scheme was ultimately untenable. It would have cost £745 million a year by 2021/22 – and risen to over one billion by the end of the next decade. £745 million a year is equivalent to around a fifth of the BBC’s spending on services. The scale of the current concession and its quickly rising cost would have meant profoundly damaging closures of major services that we know audiences – and older audiences in particular – love, use, and value every day.
"Many stakeholder responses to our consultation questioned the BBC’s ability to fund such a concession and continue to offer high quality services. Indeed, a significant number thought the Government should continue to fund it – an option not open to the BBC. The Government could of course choose to step in and close the gap from their own resources.
“Linking a free licence for over 75s to Pension Credit was the leading reform option. It protects the poorest over 75s, while protecting the services that they, and all audiences, love. It is the fairest and best outcome. It is one we can implement and endorse. This is an outcome that is the fairest possible in difficult circumstances.”

Source: The Telegraph

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