Minister urges BBC to continue free TV licences for over-75s

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The BBC has been urged by the Government to continue providing free TV licences for the over-75s.

The Government-funded scheme, which provides free TV licences to older viewers, comes to an end in June 2020.

The BBC has launched a consultation exercise on its future but warned that continuing with the scheme could cost around a fifth of the budget.

At question time in the Lords, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport minister Lord Ashton of Hyde confirmed that responsibility for the concession would transfer to the BBC in 2020.

“We have been clear on our expectation for the BBC to continue this concession,” he said.

For Labour, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara asked the minister to join him in calling on the BBC to withdraw “this disgraceful consultation” on what, if any, TV licence fee concession should be in place from 2020.

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Lord Ashton said the BBC was doing exactly what it agreed under the last funding settlement.

The Government agreed to the licence fee increasing in line with inflation for five years.

“In return the BBC agreed to take on this concession,” he said. “We’ve been clear that we expect the BBC to continue with this important concession.”

Liberal Democrat Lord Foster of Bath said public service broadcasters were crucially important to deliver high quality programmes and reliable news.

“If the BBC doesn’t go ahead with cutting this over-75 licence fee then its own content is going to be dramatically cut,” he warned.

“Why should the BBC be forced to make a social policy decision that should be the remit of government to make?

“If the Government wants the licence fee protection for over-75s surely it should pay for it, not the BBC.”

Lord Ashton said other public service broadcasters had the same duty to provide impartial news.

Labour’s Lord Harris of Haringey said it was a manifesto commitment by the Conservatives that the concession would continue to 2022 and asked why the Government was “subcontracting” the issue to the BBC “to break their manifesto commitment”.

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Lord Ashton said: “We absolutely made it clear to the BBC that we expect them to continue with this important concession.”

He said the Digital Economy Act made clear the Government “retains the power to maintain the concession to 2020, which we are going to do, after which full responsibility will transfer to the BBC - so it took place before the manifesto was written”.