Britain’s oldest pensioners are at risk of losing free TV licences under a Government shakeup over how the BBC is funded, in a controversial move charities warn could have a devastating impact on vulnerable older people.
Free TV licences for over 75’s are currently paid for by the Department for Work and Pensions, but from 2020 the BBC will be expected to foot the whole bill which is estimated to cost £725 million a year.
Over 75s do not immediately become eligible for a free licence but instead need to apply on their 75th birthday. If you are aged 74 and your TV licence is up for renewal you may be able to get a short-term licence, which will be valid until the end of the month before your 75th birthday.
BBC Director-general Lord Hall told the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee earlier this week: “The concession, as it is currently formulated, comes to an end in June 2020.
“That was part of the last licence fee settlement. We, the board, have got to decide what to replace it with.”
He stopped short of guaranteeing free TV licences for over 75s. “We have got to be mindful, we know that those over 65 or over 75 consume many, many more BBC services than others. There is real hardship among some or many of those over 75 too.
“It (free TV licences) could be the same. The board could say, we will just continue with it as it is. It could be reformed. There’s a whole load of options.
“We are just not in a position to say what the right option will be. We have got to have a public consultation about what we do.”
Caroline Abrahams, director of the charity Age UK, warned against scrapping free TV licences for older people.
She said: “Increasing numbers of older people who live alone say their main form of companionship is their TV and for many others, especially those who are housebound, TV is a precious window on to the world.
“Anything that makes it harder for older people like these to enjoy watching TV would be a source of great concern to Age UK.”
Mr Hall told the Committee that the BBC board would come to a final decision in autumn or winter.