Wednesday, January 19

Pressure mounts on Theresa May to cancel scheme that offers free TV licenses to over 75s



The Labour Party believe the Tories must uphold their promise of free TV licenses made in the election (Photo: PA)

Plans to target free TV licenses for over-75s could spark a Tory rebellion as pressure grows on Theresa May to cancel the scheme.

Last year, the government announced plans for the BBC to fund the cost of free TV licenses which will cost £750m by 2020/21 – almost the entire budget of BBC One.

And experts said the corporation would have no choice but to abolish or restrict the free licenses.

Labour has tabled an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill – currently going through Parliament to ask the government to think again.

Labour’s shadow digital minister Louise Haigh wants to protect the entitlement which the Party introduced over a decade ago and return both the cost and the policy of the move back to Government.

The Bill is due in Parliament tomorrow (MONDAY 28) and the amendment is expected to attract cross-party support.

Already, the amendment has been signed by a number of Conservative MPs including former Public Accounts Committee chair Sir Edward Leigh.

Many more Conservative MPs are understood to be nervous of a backlash from older constituents when the licenses are abolished, despite commitments from the party in general election campaigns.

Ms Haigh told the Sunday Mirror: The Tories made a promise to pensioners at the last election that all their benefits, including TV licences would be maintained but now just eighteen months on from the election they are attempting to end this enormously popular entitlement by stealth.

Not only are they treating our national broadcaster to aggressive, bully-boy tactics – forcing them to take on the cost of free TV licences when they know full well they will be unable to maintain the entitlement – but they are trying to get the BBC to take the backlash from disgruntled pensioners too.

It is completely unprecedented for a Government to force an unaccountable body to take responsibility for their own welfare decisions.

And it is utterly shameful to force the BBC to do their dirty work for them.

The latest figures suggest that over 4m over-75s make use of the free TV licence, introduced the entitlement in 2001 as part of a package of measures to reverse pensioner poverty and allow the elderly to live in dignity.

Pensioners increasingly rely on entitlements, as some 6.5m currently have an annual income of less than £10,500.

The plans have also been condemned by former Conservative Party Chairman, now Lord, Chris Patten, and David Cameron ’s Pensions Minister Baroness Ros Altman.

Baroness Ros Altman, former Pensions Minister under Cameron: Clearly this places an additional financial burden on the BBC.

Shouldn’t we be asking whether it is appropriate for the BBC to be expected to take on the cost and administration of a state welfare policy?

“The Government needs to spell out what protection, if any, there would be for pensioners’ free TV licences if the BBC finds its programming and services are at risk due to the costs of supporting the sharply rising numbers of older people in future.”

Lord Chris Patten, formerly Conservative Party Chairman & Chair of BBC Governors, said of the license fee settlement: “It was a scandal to do it like that and I hope that in future, the licence fee can be settled after a process of public consultation, not least consultation with the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The Select Committee here said that the present system was unacceptable. So it is, and it really must be changed in the future.