West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper has warned that thousands of pensioners in West Lancashire could lose their free TV licence if the BBC implement options they are currently consulting on, which include scrapping free TV licence for over 75s altogether.
Millions of older people across the country are set to lose their TV licence in 2020 despite the Conservatives promising in their 2017 general election manifesto to protect free TV licences until 2022.
As part of the last BBC charter the Government devolved responsibility for the free TV licence policy, and the cost, to the BBC. The BBC can decide what to do with the benefit from 2020 and they are currently consulting on a number of options including scrapping the free TV licence concession altogether, raising the eligible age to 80 and means testing it, for example by linking it to pension credit.
New figures produced for the Labour Party by the House of Commons Library show that under each of the changes proposed by the BBC in their consultation, millions of pensioners will lose their free licences.
The House of Commons Library calculated that were the free licence linked to pension credit, i.e. means tested, over 3 million people would lose their free licence. If the eligibility age was raised to 80 over 1.8 million older people would lose their free licences.
The House of Commons Library has also calculated local figures with 6,820 older households in West Lancashire at risk of losing their free TV licences.
If the age threshold is raised to 80, 2,780 local pensioners will lose their TV licence. If free TV licences are means tested 5,010 will lose their free licences.
Free TV licences are an important benefit for older people who suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation. The Campaign to End Loneliness found that 40% of older people say their television is their main source of company.
The Christmas period is a particularly bad time for loneliness. Analysis by Age UK found that almost a million (873,000) pensioners wouldn’t have seen or heard from anyone over the festive period.
The prospect of elderly people losing their free TV licences makes a mockery of Theresa May’s claim that austerity is over. The Government should take responsibility and save TV licences for the elderly.
Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Media Rosie Cooper. MP for West Lancashire, said:
“The Tory Government knew what it was doing when it forced the cost of paying for free licences for over 75s out to the BBC.
“Labour was completely opposed to this and we are still firmly of the belief that the Government was totally wrong to outsource a social policy in this way that can have such serious impacts on pensioners across West Lancashire.
“It will be a terrible blow to older people who already struggle to make ends meet and particularly to those who are housebound or isolated and rely on their TV for company.
“The Tory Government needs come clean and to tell us urgently what they are going to do to ensure free TV licences aren’t cut and they don’t break their manifesto promise. If they do nothing, responsibility for older people losing their TV licences will rest firmly at their feet.”
Currently a free TV licence is available to all households that have at least one person aged over 75. Free TV licences for over 75s were introduced in 2000 by the Labour Government.
The 2017 Conservative Manifesto promised to “maintain all other pensioner benefits, including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences, for the duration of this Parliament”.
However, the Government had already outsourced this social policy by shifting the cost of these licences to the BBC in its 2015 Royal Charter.
From 2018/19 onwards, responsibility for the policy and funding of licence fee concessions will move over to the BBC, who will be singularly responsible from June 2020.
Labour opposed this move at the time, and throughout the passage of the Digital Economy Act.
The cost of the free licences is expected to reach £745m by 2021/22. This could be a fifth of the BBC’s budget – the equivalent to what is spent today on all of BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, CBBC and CBeebies.
The BBC has launched a consultation, which will run until 12 February 2019, to gather views on the best way forward: https://www.bbc.com/yoursay/consultation.pdf
In West Lancashire, 6,820 older households could face having to pay a licence fee.
If the concession is means-tested, for example by linking to Pension Credit, 5,010 households will lose this crucial pensioner benefit.
If the age for the concession is raised to 80, 2,780 households will be hit with new expenses.