Plans for over-75s who face having to pay for their TV licences for the first time to be visited by “outreach” workers have been condemned as “traumatic” for older people.
MPs have criticised plans to restrict free TV licences to over-75s who claim pension credit from June, with the BBC saying it cannot afford to take on the financial burden from the government.
The BBC’s Clare Sumner told MPs on the House of Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee that the visits would be done “as sympathetically as possible”.
But she was challenged by SNP MP Brendan O’Hara, who asked Ms Sumner if she thought that such visits would be “pretty traumatic” for older people.
Ms Sumner insisted that outreach workers “won’t be coming to your door in quite the way you imply.” She told MPs: “We are actually recruiting a specific group of people who will pay support visits to this group with the intention of helping them understand what the system is and how to apply. That will be a different cohort of people to I think what’s called ‘enquiry officers’ who are the ones who kind of enforce the licence fee.”
Ms Sumner added that over-75s would first be notified in two letters that the free universal concessions were ending, with the BBC also offering telephone and face-to-face support.
Mr O’Hara said: “It’s a disgrace that the Tories’ TV licence cut will leave over a quarter of a million Scottish pensioners poorer and at risk of a home visit by enforcement officers.
“It is not right that thousands of older people who have benefited from the free TV licence for over-75s, including many vulnerable people, could now face the threat of a fine or court action thanks to this broken Tory manifesto commitment.”
Earlier, the BBC’s director-general said he initially described the government’s decision to hand the corporation responsibility for free TV licences for over-75s as “nuclear”.
Lord Hall told the committee on Wednesday that the BBC took on the policy “unwillingly” and had “no choice” but to end the concession.
Giving evidence, he said he first heard about the decision during a call with then-culture secretary John Whittingdale.
Mr Whittingdale told him he had “lost the argument over the weekend” and that the BBC would have to take over responsibility for the fee.
Lord Hall said he had replied “Well, that’s nuclear”, before laying out “the consequences of that decision”.
The free TV licence was introduced in 2000, but the BBC agreed to take on the cost as part of the charter agreement hammered out with the government in 2015.