Set TV licence fee independently in wake of over-75s row, says SNP

The TV licence fee must be set independently of the UK government to avoid a repeat of the “game-playing” around free entitlement for over-75s, the SNP has said.

A licence fee protester outside the BBC at Pacific Quay

Nationalist MPs at Westminster are to push for an independent body, similar to broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, to rule on who pays, how much, and who is entitled to discounts.

The BBC caused widespread anger this summer when it announced it would end free licences for over-75s, affecting about 3.7 million pensioners across the UK. This followed a 2015 deal in which the corporation took over the cost of the licence fee for this group of pensioners in return for being allowed to charge for some streaming services

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The SNP has called for the UK government, which opposed the BBC decision, to take back responsibility for funding licences for the over-75s.

The pledges will form part of a package of support for pensioners in the SNP manifesto, including a commitment to oppose plans to raise the retirement age to 68.

SNP candidate for Argyll and Bute Brendan O’Hara said: “Many pensioners are struggling with the added pressure Brexit is putting on the cost of living – which is why we need to escape Brexit and give pensioners a better deal. The Tories have taken older people for granted for too long.

“The decision to scrap funding for free TV licences for over-75s makes that clear.

“SNP MPs will fight to reverse that decision and restore the free TV licence for older people.

“But more broadly, we need to stop future governments from similar game-playing and have the licence fee set independently of government.”

The move is part of a “wider package” of support for older people which SNP MPs will push for in the new Westminster parliament.

The party will also oppose the current plan to increase the state pension age to 68 by 2038, and fight any move which could see it rise to 75.

Proposed cuts to Pension Credit, which could leave older couples in Scotland £7,000 per year worse off, will also be opposed. The SNP will also back the establishment of an Independent Savings and Pension Commission, to ensure pensions and savings policies are fit for purpose and reflect the demographic needs of different parts of the UK.

The BBC has previously warned that funding free TV licences for over-75s would have resulted in “unprecedented closures”.

The broadcaster said that BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, the BBC Scotland channel, Radio 5 live, and a number of local radio stations would all have been at risk.

But the move came under attack from the UK government at the time.

A government spokesperson said: “We’ve been clear that we want and expect the BBC to continue this concession.”