The BBC, Britain’s state broadcaster, has announced that it is to scrap free television licences for those over 75 years of age, a benefit that has been in place since 1999.
Ending the provision of a free television licence for the oldest viewers in the country is expected generate considerable income for the corporation which is facing fresh challenges from the likes of Netflix and Amazon.
Not all over-75’s will be affected however, with those in receipt of ‘pension credits’ still eligible for a free licence.
Responding to the news, Head of BECTU Philippa Childs said: “BECTU has argued that free TV licence for over-75s is a welfare benefit and should be funded by the Government. While the BBC’s decision will enable the most vulnerable pensioners to continue to receive a free TV licence it should never have been the BBC’s responsibility to solve this problem.”
“The BBC needs to be properly funded and supported as a public service broadcaster in order to thrive with globally competitive content and effective reach to its audiences. It should not be made to choose who receives a welfare benefit simply because the Government has decided to pass the buck.”
The National Union of Journalists believe that the move will actually cost the BBC more, and lead to further cuts in services, including BBC News.
NUJ general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, said: “Dumping the BBC with the responsibility for a welfare benefit was a wrongheaded act of sabotage by a government that cared little about the impact on our public service broadcaster.
“The NUJ and many other groups argued that this consultation was a window of opportunity for the BBC to take a step back and refuse to facilitate a divisive policy that will wreak significant financial harm on the corporation. The burden of sustaining free licence fees for all over-75s would have propelled the BBC into catastrophic cuts and led to the closure of significant services.
“However, tweaking the eligibility criteria still leaves the BBC in the unpalatable position of choosing which pensioners are entitled to a free licence, at the same time as costing the corporation a massive £250million every single year.”
The government had previously transferred the decision of whether to scrap free television licences for the over-75’s to the BBC, fearing that it would create a political backlash.
Instead, the BBC itself is now in the firing line. The BBC’s Director General, Tony Hall said; “We also need to look at how the level of the licence fee is set in the future. The last two settlements have been made in the dark and without proper consultation. It is vital that future decisions are evidence-based and made after proper consultation and scrutiny. We need to find a better way.
“The Voice of the Listener and Viewer – who promote the interests of consumers – has suggested a statutory commission be established to set the level of the licence fee in the future. This, amongst other options, deserves serious consideration and discussion.
“It is vital that the BBC and our audiences never again face a Government-imposed process with no consultation and public debate. It is vital politicians ensure that future licence fee decisions are evidence-based and made after proper consultation.”
The free television licence for those aged 75 or over was first introduced in 1999 by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown. The government effectively pays the BBC an additional sum from the Treasury each year equal to what it would have generated from the TV licence if they were issued. The Treasury will no long provide the subsidy.