BBC set to end free TV licence for over-75s

The over-75s could be asked to make a voluntary contribution towards their TV licence under a BBC initiative potentially fronted by stars of pensionable age.

Silver celebrities could spearhead drive to make OAPs cough up. Picture: Shannon Fagan

The corporation is due to assume the £700 million-a-year cost of handing out free licences to the elderly from 2020 after reaching a funding deal with the UK government.

Independent experts will advise the broadcaster on how to go about attracting voluntary contributions from people over the age of 75.

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A number of so-called “silver celebrities” including Dame Helen Mirren, Lord (Melvyn) Bragg, Sir Terry Wogan and Sir Michael Parkinson could be lined up to appear in a campaign driven by director-general Lord Hall.

But it is understood such a campaign will just be one of a number of options.

A BBC source said: “The BBC has asked independent experts to advise on how to go about attracting voluntary contributions from over-75s when the government reduces its support.

“The government agreed that the BBC could ask for voluntary payments from those who currently receive free licences as part of the agreement for the corporation taking on the costs of free over-75s licences.

“Frontier Economics will carry out the work, which will be led by their non-executive chairman, Lord O’Donnell. They are not expected to report back until mid to late 2016.

“The work will include analysis and interviewing a range of stakeholders. It will look at options for receiving payments and explore best practice in other organisations.”

Asked if there had been discussions about involving the celebrities in the campaign, the source said it was “too early to say”.

Other proposals under review are said to include paying for the iPlayer service and an increase in the licence fee in line with inflation.

Britain’s biggest pensioner organisation, the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), has responded to the latest development, and said a celebrity-fronted campaign could result in older people being “taken in by this when they should be protected”.

Dot Gibson, NPC general secretary, said: “The minute the Chancellor announced passing responsibility for the free TV licence over to the BBC, we knew its future would be in danger.

“It has been a cynical move by government to outsource part of its wider welfare policy to an unelected body – and then wash its hands of the consequences.

“In any functioning ­democracy, people need access to information and entertainment.”