Free TV licences for over 75s were introduced by the Labour Government in 2000 and, currently, a free TV licence is available to all households that have at least one person aged over 75 living there.
The Tory Government promised that people over 75 would continue to receive free TV licences until the end of this Parliament in 2022. However, the Tories have now pulled the funding for free licences for over 75s, effectively breaking their promise. They have abdicated their responsibility and passed the buck onto the BBC. The BBC has opened a consultation on whether it should start charging over 75s for the licenses, which means that the scheme could be curtailed, or scrapped entirely.
The consultation will run until 12 February 2019 to decide what, if any, concession should be available for over 75s after June 2020.
Several potential options are being proposed, including:
- To require older people to pay a licence fee, but at a reduced rate;
- To raise the age threshold for the concession;
- To means-test the concession for older people.
In my constituency of Bolton South East, 5,210 households currently receive a free television licence, of which 2,930 households have someone who is aged over 80 years living there.
If the qualifying age was raised to 80 years, 2,280 (44%) of those households would lose their free TV licence.
If the concession was means-tested and linked to Pension Credit, 3,220 (62%) of those households would lose their free TV licence.
I believe that free TV licences are an important tool in the battle against loneliness and social isolation. Four in 10 older people say the television is their main source of company and analysis by Age UK found that almost a million (873,000) pensioners wouldn’t have seen or heard from anyone over the recent Christmas period. Age UK has warned that scrapping the free licence could push some pensioners into poverty, forcing them to cut back on food or fuel to pay for the licence.
Constituents have already been in touch to tell me that the free television licence has been invaluable to them and for their mental wellbeing. One constituent said that her husband has dementia, and so they are not able to go out very often, and the television is their only entertainment. Another constituent told me that her mother is partially-sighted and lives alone, so even though she cannot see the television well, thanks to the audio description, she is still able to enjoy the programmes. It seems that the Tories just keep taking away as much as they can from pensioners.
It is unacceptable to expect the BBC to pay for free licences, and the prospect of elderly people losing their free TV licences makes a mockery of the claim austerity is over. I believe that the free TV licence for over 75s should remain and that the Government should step in and save TV licences for older people. This consultation is the product of the Conservative Government forcing the hand of the BBC and letting them take the blame for even higher living costs for pensioners.
If you would like to give your views to the BBC and take part in the consultation you can find it on the Internet here: https://www.bbc.com/yoursay If that is not possible, please ring 0800 232 1382 to request paper copies of this document and questionnaire with a freepost envelope to take part.