Labour calls for government to honour manifesto pledge to keep free TV licences for over-75s

9 May 2019

The Labour party is calling on the government to honour its 2017 manifesto pledge to keep the TV licence free for over-75s.

In its 2017 election manifesto the Conservative party promised to maintain a number of pensioner benefits, including TV licences.

Using an opposition day debate yesterday in the House of Commons, Labour deputy leader Tom Watson told MPs that this promise “lies in tatters.”

He said: “Today the House of Commons expressed unopposed its belief that the government must stand by its manifesto pledge to protect free TV licences for over-75s.

“Members of Parliament and campaigners have made it clear that scrapping free TV licences is a betrayal of our older citizens, and this government must listen.”

If the BBC proposes changes to the TV Licence, Mr Watson has called on the government to give parliament the right to approve them. 

Free TV licence cuts

All households with someone aged over 75 currently get a free TV licence, which costs £745 million a year.

In 2015, the government announced it would no longer subsidise the cost of the licence fee and the BBC would have to find the funding itself, starting in 2020.

The BBC has warned that it may have to cut services unless over-75s start paying the licence fee.

The corporation says that renewing the scheme would cost around a fifth of its budget - the equivalent to what it spends on BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, CBBC and CBeebies.

A BBC consultation on how the TV licence for the over-75s should be paid for is due to be published later this year.

One option would be to reinstate the fee for those over 75, but this would particularly hit poorer pensioners and mean they could be prosecuted for failing to pay.

Other proposals include raising the age of a free licence from 75 to 80 or introducing means-testing so that only those that can afford it pay.

Alternatively, a discount of 50% could be offered for older people, although this would still mean a shortfall in funding.

'Backdoor austerity'

Mr Watson said that it was not the BBC’s responsibility to “decide the fate of the free TV licence”.

He said: “The BBC has been put in an impossible position by this government, being asked either to make swingeing cuts to the programmes we all know and love or to take free TV away from older people.”

“This is austerity by the back door. The public know that, and pensioners know that,” he added.

Other MPs also slammed the government.

Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West, said: “Loneliness is blighting the lives of people across the country, with four in 10 people saying that their television is their main source of company.

“If free TV licences are ended, curtailed or means-tested, millions of older people, who suffer disproportionately from social isolation, will have to pay to keep the little company they have.”

However, former culture secretary John Whittingdale said that the TV licence for over-75s was not a “fundamental pillar of the welfare state”.

A BBC licence fee currently costs £154.50.

Last month, a House of Lords committee report on intergenerational fairness called for the free TV Licence for over-75s to be phased out to free up more cash for younger people.

Age UK has warned that scrapping the licence fee could plunge as many as 50,000 pensioners into poverty.

Commenting on the debate, Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said the government had “resoundingly lost the argument, however brave a face they put on it”. 

She said: “Whatever your views of the future of the BBC licence it is demonstrably wrong to drag older people in their late seventies and beyond, including the sick, disabled and chronically lonely, into what is essentially a political debate.

“The government has embarrassed itself over this issue but there is still time for them to take back responsibility for the over 75s free TV licence and right a big potential wrong. We very much hope they will.”


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

They're in the pocket of the BBC, so they'd love to make everyone pay for that stealth tax and cut off over 70's access to the only company some of them have! - more profit for Tory MPs!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It is not the BBC’s job to pay for benefits for the over 75s that is the government’s responsibility,the BBC’s Job is to be a first class broadcaster. The BBC’s managers should not have taken over that responsibility in the first place as they should have realised that it would put them in a no-win situation. It has left them wide open to usual anti BBC groups such as the Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph to call for its abolition. The DG should have threatened resignation rather than be blackmailed into taking on the £754million bill. After all the bus companys don’t foot the bill for free bus passes. I am 75 living on a pension and do not object to paying 42pence a day for all their devices. It is good value for money.

In reply to by matrix11001 (not verified)

The BBC and the Royals .Could the government save money my lowering their income and keep over 70yrs provided for ? This is our country, our people died for it. NOT MUCH TO ASK.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

If the BBC wants to be the UK version of FOX NEWS, that's fine by me, but just don't expect me to pay for it. The BBC has a remit to inform & report on the news, it has no remit to try & make the news. Its blatant promotion of the declared racist Nigel Farage contravenes the essence of the BBC charter & I would have no compunction in voting to see it privatised & made free to any racist fool that wants to watch it.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Being a pensioner in my 70's living alone on only my state pension I paid into for 50 years, only other benefit I receive is reduced council tax. The bribes from Gordon Brown need reviewing, the WFA should be taxed if household income is above the £12,500 lower tax band, the Free national bus pass should go back to how it was before Brown's bribes in many areas where bus pass holders pay a fixed fee for each trip off peak travel only, try 50p to start with and full fare at peak times which is still a great help especially for those in rural areas. As for the Free TV License I would not miss it as I have always paid it and it is not essential but can help those living alone with no company the most so maybe a reduced fee for pensioners living alone, households with a couple of pensioners now receive a pension each so can afford to pay, any reduction should be taxable so better off pay a little back in tax. After all those pensioners living alone have all utilities, insurances, maintenance and repairs to property to pay out of a single pension which costs the same for a couple on 2 pensions. I also object to those on GPC getting all the extra benefits when they now get £164+ same as pensioners who fully contributed, those receiving housing benefits on top do not have to pay repairs or servicing costs like those in their own properties do, I would rather see a supplement paid to single pensioners living alone in their own properties to help with such costs in place of the free TV License and it should be taxable.

License fee

I have paid a license fee for over 50 years and enjoyed many of the BBC programmes. I feel that since I have managed to remain alive for 75 years and able to watch other services without charge then I will take this option. To avoid being fined I would be obliged if someone would tell me what I have to do to ensure that real time access to BBC programmes is removed from my property. I will then limit my viewing to free channels and dvd. Perhaps Sky and Virgin etc. can offer services without BBC, hopefully at reduced fees, that are suitable in avoiding fines.

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