MPs call for restoration of free TV licences for the over-75s

11 October 2019

The House of Commons media select committee criticised the BBC for ‘poor management, leadership and governance’

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MPs are urging the government and the BBC to work together to restore TV licences to the over-75s.

The House of Commons media select committee is calling on TV bosses and the government to agree a deal so that free TV licences can continue after 2020.

In its report, the committee says the BBC should have acted earlier to communicate the likelihood that it would not be able to fund a full licence fee concession for people over 75 from 2020.

It slammed the government for seeking to ‘bounce’ the BBC into accepting a deal that would make the BBC responsible for funding TV licences.

The BBC Director-General Tony Hall was also criticised for his handling of negotiations, particularly in failing to seek the formal agreement of the executive board before recommending to the BBC Trust the deal struck with the government.

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.

At the moment everyone aged over the age of 75 gets it free but as of next June they will have to pay the £154.50 a year themselves.

The BBC has said that from next year anyone over 75 and claiming pension credits will get a free TV licence.

However, the committee claims that the BBC has put itself in the “absurd situation” of being the administrator of welfare benefits that should only ever be implemented by the government.

Conservative MP Damian Collins, chair of the committee, says: “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.

“The BBC and the government much reach an agreement to allow the funding of free licence fees for the over 75s to continue after 2020.”

The committee concludes that the government and the BBC should agree a funding formula for free licences for the over-75s when negotiations next take place in 2021.

Fury at axing

After the government shifted the cost of the licence fee for over-75s to the BBC the corporation was left to choose between scrapping the concession for the elderly or cutting broadcasting services.

The cost of funding the TV licence for people aged over 75 is £745 million a year.

The BBC says that to renew 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.

The scrapping of the licence means up to 3.7 million pensioners will have to start paying from June 2020.

The decision to remove free licences for the over-75s has drawn widespread criticism and could even force the elderly into poverty.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, says: “Over the last few months it has become clear that the BBC’s plan to means-test these licences for over-75s from June 2020 will result in significant numbers being forced to choose between buying a licence, cutting back on essentials like heating and eating, or continuing watching the TV without a licence, thereby breaking the law.

“In addition, requiring the millions of people in this age group to buy a licence or prove their eligibility for a free one, in many cases for the first time in donkey’s years, is a recipe for chaos and for a lot of accidental non-compliance.”

Sir David Clementi, chairman of the BBC, says: “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.”

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