Stripping free BBC licences from over-75s ‘unacceptable’

Stripping pensioners of free TV licences is “unacceptable” and will create “difficult choices” about what they can afford, Scotland’s minister for older people has warned.

Ricky Tomlinson joins protestors outside BBC Media City in Salford, Greater Manchester, at the broadcaster's decision to axe free TV licences for 3.7 million pensioners. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

In a letter to culture secretary Jeremy Wright, Christina McKelvie argued many vulnerable pensioners will be forced to chose whether or not to heat their home.

Free licences will be restricted to over-75s who claim pension credit from 1 June 

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Expressing her “deep concern” about the plans, Ms McKelvie wrote: “Introducing a means-tested waiver based on pension credit will fail to help many vulnerable people across Scotland.

“In addition, the means tested approach will still cost the BBC around £250 million by 2021/22, money which should be spent on developing new programmes and supporting our creative economy.

“We know that older people can be at greater risk of social isolation and loneliness, and access to television may be one way in which they can maintain a connection to what is going on around them.”

Ms McKelvie explained how the number of Scots aged 75 and over has been the fastest-growing section of society in the past two decades.

She said the decision was likely to have a negative impact on Scottish Government policies to tackle loneliness and “will also force the most vulnerable older people to make difficult choices about what they can afford”.

Ms McKelvie said: “Ultimately, this responsibility should lie with the UK Government.

“Welfare policy should not be decided by the BBC and I strongly urge you to recognise the responsibility your Government has to our older population and fully fund free licences for over-75s.”

About 1.5 million households will be eligible for a free TV licence under the new scheme, while an estimated 3.7 million pensioners will lose out.

In a joint statement released on Monday, the BBC’s chairman Sir David Clementi and director-general Tony Hall said continuing the Government’s scheme would have had a “severe impact” on services and the new model “represents the fairest possible outcome”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted that pensioners had spent their lives contributing to society, so providing over-75s with free TV licences “is not too much to ask”.

Mr Wright told the House of Commons on Tuesday it was the job of all in Parliament to make sure the take-up of pension credit was promoted.

Commenting on the funding agreement that prompted the decision, he told MPs: “This was a fair deal for the BBC.”

He added: “I firmly believe that the BBC can and should do more to support older people and I’m now looking to them to make clear exactly how they will do that.” Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said the Government had “breathtaking gall to blame the BBC for this mess”.

TV star Len Goodman criticised the “rotten” withdrawal of free TV licences for all over-75s, saying it would “impact on the most vulnerable”.

Strictly Come Dancing’s former head judge, who himself is aged 75, said he was not blaming the BBC and the Government should never have handed over responsibility to the broadcaster.

“It’s a sadness,” he said. “I do understand that the BBC are between a rock and a hard place.”