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Pensioners are ‘betrayed’ on TV licence fee

Who’s to blame, the BBC or the government?

17 July, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Dot Gibson: ‘Boris Johnson promised in a TV interview in the run-up to the general election that he would bring back the free licence’

PENSIONERS have accused the government of a “completely cynical betrayal” amid concerns that a TV licence fee exemption will be scrapped.

Dot Gibson, of the Islington Pensioners Forum, warned the elderly not to be fooled after national newspapers were briefed this week that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “very disappointed” that the BBC would charge some over 75s.

The 86-year-old from Highbury said: “It’s a completely cynical betrayal of the elderly. Boris Johnson promised in a TV interview in the run-up to the general election that he would bring back the free licence. I had calls within hours of this from friends saying it will all be OK.

“Once again, Boris’s words are a very different thing to his actions.”

Last year, the BBC announced it would be scrapping free TV licences for most over-75s meaning more than three million households would be forced to pay £157.50 a year. Only over-75s who receive pension credit benefit will be eligible for a free licence.

The change had been halted until August due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but last Thursday the Corporation announced that it was not going to extend the free service.

Ms Gibson said: “If he [the Prime Minister] really thinks it is wrong, he could revoke this decision.

“During this pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that the TV gives vulnerable lonely people a window on the world – not only is it a companion, but programmes are something to look forward to, to break the monotony.”

She added: “Now that the government has broken its contract with pensioners on the free TV licence, will it seek to take this further – to other universal benefits?”

A department for Culture, Media and Sport spokeswoman said: “We are bitterly disappointed by the BBC’s decision not to extend the over-75 licence fee concession beyond August.

“The BBC was right to delay the start date of its new policy but lockdown restrictions easing does not mean older people value television any less than they did a few weeks ago.

“The BBC remains responsible for the concession and for setting out what those affected will now need to do. It must now look urgently at how it can use its substantial licence fee income to deliver for audiences of all ages, including by making efficiencies.”

BBC Chairman Sir David Clementi said: “The decision to commence the new scheme in August has not been easy, but implementation of the new scheme will be Covid-19 safe. The BBC could not continue delaying the scheme without impacting on programmes and services.

“Around 1.5 million households could get free TV licences if someone is over 75 and receives Pension Credit, and 450,000 of them have already applied. And critically it is not the BBC making that judgement about poverty. It is the government who sets and controls that measure.

“Like most organisations the BBC is under severe financial pressure due to the pandemic, yet we have continued to put the public first in all our decisions.

“I believe continuing to fund some free TV licences is the fairest decision for the public, as we will be supporting the poorest oldest pensioners without impacting the programmes and services that all audiences love.”

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