BBC to go ahead with over-75s licence fee changes

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The BBC is to go ahead with a plan to end free TV licences for most over-75s, after a two-month delay because of the coronavirus pandemic.

That means more than three million households will be asked to start paying the £157.50 fee from 1 August.

Only households where someone receives the Pension Credit benefit will still be eligible for a free licence.

The controversial change was originally due to be made on 1 June, and the BBC said the delay had cost £35m a month.

The cost to the BBC could have reached £1bn a year over time with an ageing population, according to the corporation. It has previously warned that making no changes would lead to “unprecedented closures” of services.

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Actor Ricky Tomlinson led a protest outside the BBC’s MediaCity in Salford last June

There was an outcry in 2019 when the broadcaster announced it would end the scheme for all but those receiving Pension Credit.

More than 630,000 people signed a petition set up by the charity Age UK, which called on the prime minister to take action.

Free TV licences for the over-75s have been provided by the government since 2000, but responsibility for the provision was passed to the BBC as part of its last licence fee settlement.

Almost 1.6 million people claim Pension Credit, according to the latest government figures.

In March, the corporation put the changes on hold because the pandemic had created “exceptional circumstances” and “now is not the right time”.

It has also previously said the pandemic means it must make an extra £125m savings this year, including the cost of delaying the over-75s changes.

‘Deeply disappointing’

The BBC has now said there will be a “Covid-safe” payment system, meaning people can apply online, and there will be dedicated support staff to help.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday before the latest announcement, Labour’s shadow culture minister Christian Matheson warned that many pensioners could be “forced to choose between eating and watching TV”.

He said: “The BBC is cutting jobs and content to pay for the cost of the licence dumped on them by the government.”

Culture minister Matt Warman replied: “The fact is that the BBC has had a generous licence fee settlement and it is deeply disappointing that they have chosen to go down the path that they apparently are going down.”

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