I am very concerned that the BBC have decided to begin charging people over the age of 75 for their TV license.
The BBC’s decision to stop funding free TV licences for most over 75s is extremely disappointing. Those on Pension Credit benefit will continue to be exempt.
The national lockdown has exemplified the importance of television, especially for older people. Set apart from friends and family, the TV has been one of the only sources of news and entertainment for many. It helps us feel connected and even has a part to play in tackling loneliness. This is why I was disappointed that the BBC announced the most narrowly defined option for reform of the over 75s concession.
Parliament gave the BBC the full responsibility for the license fee from 2020. This was part of a deal the Government reached with the BBC over four years ago, which the BBC described as a good deal that provided financial stability to the organisation through inflation linked increases of the licence fee and the closure of the so-called iPlayer loophole. To go from that to making this decision is incredibly disappointing.
As I said above, even under the BBC’s current plans, the poorest pensioners will continue to be helped, as the BBC stated that those eligible for Pension Credit will still receive a free TV licence. However, I do not believe that this goes far enough, especially given that not everyone who is eligible for Pension Credit is claiming it, and so it will certainly not be the last of this conversation.
As a consequence of the BBC’s decision, today I wrote to the Director General of the BBC to urge that they reconsider their decision, something which I know many of my Conservative colleagues have also done.
Speaking frankly, I do not think it is right or necessary for pensioners to shoulder the cost when the BBC has an annual income and revenue of around £5 billion and could easily look elsewhere for cost saving measures if it wishes. I am pleased that the government has been robust in their views to the BBC as well.
I will continue working with colleagues to try and persuade the BBC to think again.
In the meantime, not everyone who is eligible for Pension Credit is claiming it, so I would urge you to check if you are eligible for Pension Credit by visiting www.gov.uk/pension-credit-calculator or calling 0800 99 1234. If you are eligible, you will continue to be exempt from having to pay the TV licence.
I will keep residents updated with my efforts, including writing to residents who may be affected by the changes, but please feel free to contact me with any concerns you may have about this, or any other issue.
UPDATE [21 July]: Sadly I could not get into the Chamber to speak in today's Urgent Question about these changes, but I will continue working with colleagues to push the issue.
UPDATE [27 July]: Today I received a reply from Lord Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC, to my letter, which I have attached below. I am incredibly disappointed in their reply, which I do not think addresses the major concerns that I and other colleagues have raised, especially as in 2015 the Secretary of State stated how the BBC requested responsibility for this policy. Lord Hall is about to step down as Director-General of the BBC, so I will be continuing this conversation with his successor, Tim Davie, as he steps into this important role.
UPDATE [1 August]: Every resident over the age of 75 in Carshalton and Wallington should have received a letter from me detailing my views on this issue, including details of how to find out if they are eligible for Pension Credit, which would mean that they could still claim free TV licenses. I sincerely hope that residents will check if they are eligible and take advantage of this important support.
UPDATE [22 September]: I was pleased to meet with the Rt Hon John Whittingdale OBE MP, Minister of State for Media and Data in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), today to discuss my concerns about the BBC's decision and what more the Government can do to put pressure on them, not just in the matter of license fees for the over-75s but also decisions around reductions in local news and broadcasting.
UPDATE [29 September]: I am showing my support for the campaign by Independent Age to help more people who are eligible for Pension Credit to access this important benefit. More than 1,276 households in Carshalton and Wallington who are entitled to Pension Credit do not receive the benefit, which is designed to provide additional support for the least well-off pensioners, including making them eligible for free TV licenses again. I included this in my letter to residents over the age of 75 in Carshalton and Wallington, encouraging them to find out if they're eligible.
UPDATE [1 October]: Today I have written to the new Director General of the BBC to continue the conversation I began with his predecessor on what support the BBC can give to the over 75s. The letter I sent is attached.
UPDATE [12 October]: Today I have tabled a Written Parliamentary Question in the House of Commons to ask the Secretary of State when the Government will publish its response to the consultation on decriminalising TV licence evasion.