The BBC has confirmed plans to scrap free TV licences for people aged over 75, claiming that shouldering the costs of the scheme would have resulted in “unprecedented closures of services”.
From June 2020, only people aged over 75 who claim Pension Credit – an income-related benefit – will be eligible for a free TV licence, funded by the BBC. The move could affect some 3.7 million UK pensioners who will no longer be able to tune in for free.
Free TV licences for over-75s were introduced almost 20 years as a government subsidised scheme. However, in 2015 the government announced that the BBC would have to take on the costs of providing this by 2020 as part of its most recent licence fee settlement.
“Copying the current scheme was ultimately untenable,” said BBC Chairman David Clementi yesterday. “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 BBC launched a consultation on the future of licence fee payments by over 75s last year, with Clementi claiming that linking a free licence to Pension Credit was the “leading reform option” that came out of this, as it protects the poorest pensioners.
However, the move has caused outcry in some quarters, with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who introduced the licence fee concession in 2000, describing it as the “wrong decision” by the BBC, as well as a “clear breach of an election promise that was made by the Conservative Party that the licence fee would remain free to pensioners over the age of 75 for the duration of the parliament.”
BBC Director General, Tony Hall, said: “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.”
“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.”
The BBC said that around 1.5 million households could get a free TV licence via Pension Credit and that providing this will cost the BBC around £250 million by 2021/22, depending on the take-up of the new scheme.
A TV licence costs £154.40 per-year, which equates to £12.87 a month, for which users get access to nine national TV channels plus regional programming and iPlayer content.
All UK viewers who watch BBC TV content – either via linear TV, catch-up or online through the BBC iPlayer – must, by law, pay for a TV licence. However, you don’t need a licence to listen to the BBC’s radio stations or its BBC Sounds app.