BBC to scrap free TV licences for over 75s

Over three million pensioners will lose their free TV licences from next year when the BBC takes over the funding liability and limits the benefit to those receiving pension credits

The free scheme will end on 31 May 2020, at which time only the estimated 1.5m households on pension credits will be get free TV licences. The onus will be on individuals to apply for a TV licence and there will be penalties for non-compliance; even pensioners living in care homes will have to pay for a licence.

Currently all households with people over 75 are entitled to a free TV licence, funded by the taxpayer.

At the end of March 2018, there were 4.46m free over 75 TV Licences in force at a cost of approximately £655.3m to the Department for Work and Pensions, according to TV Licensing figures. This figure was up from 3.97m in 2008.

Legislation passed at the time of the last BBC charter renewal means that from 2020, the BBC will be responsible for funding free TV licences. The government-funded scheme, which is expected to cost £745m by 2021/22, ends on 31 May 2020.

The scheme will cost the BBC an estimated £250m to subsidise by 2021/22, depending on implementation, saving the broadcaster an estimated £495m in licence subsidies.

The decision to pare back the scheme follows a three-month public consultation, which closed in February.

The BBC board said the decision had been taken based on principles of fairness, financial impact and feasibility of implementation, opting for pension credits as the measure, rather than other proposals of extending the access age to 80, offering a reduce price TV licence for over-75s and means testing the benefit. The funding costs were considered too high without affecting overall programme making.

There was opposition to the decision to remove the benefit, with concerns about the impact on older people, particularly due to a higher risk of social isolation, and that any ‘decision other than copying the existing concession would affect more women than men, more of those from a BAME background, and more disabled people and people with long-term health issues like dementia’. In addition, the TV licence does not take into account sole occupancy, with people living alone having to fund the cost of the licence from a single income.

Another concern was the low take-up of pension credits and the resulting risk that some of the poorest over 75s will not be eligible for a concession unless and until they apply for pension credit.

TV Licensing will be writing directly to all holders of free TV licences during June to advise them of the changes and how to apply for pension credit related free licence. It added that a self-verification system will operate where individuals will have to demonstrate their receipt of pension credit to qualify. There will also be a new fortnightly and monthly ‘pay as you go’ payment system in addition to annual and direct debit options now available.

The standard penalty system of prosecution and a £1,000 fine will be in place for non-payment of TV licences by the over 75s.

Sara White

TV Licensing guidance on end of free TV licence, website, or call 0800 232 1382 

BBC Board’s Equality Impact Assessment issued 10 Jun 2019

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