Unions slam BBC – and government – for abolishing free TV licences for pensioners

Unions have slammed plans by the BBC to abolish free TV licences for up to 3.7 million pensioners.

People aged over 75, who previously received a free TV licence, will now have to pay for it but households with one person who receives Pension Credit will still be eligible.

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 last two licence fee settlements have been carried out with no transparency, no independent scrutiny and no consideration for the future of public service broadcasting in the UK. That cannot be allowed to happen again.

“Journalists and programme makers have borne the brunt of cuts at the BBC for many years and have simply had enough of the BBC being victim to political grandstanding. It is time for a radically different approach to running and preserving our public service broadcaster. The only answer is for the government to take back this benefit.”

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 passthe buck.”

Unite assistant general secretary for retired members Steve Turner said: “This is retrograde step for millions of pensioners who now face either losing access to a lifeline or jumping through hoops to get it for free.

“It ends the universal nature of a free TV licence for over 75s and could price older people living in isolation out of receiving an important link with their community and the wider world.

“For many older people unused to claiming benefits and often declining to do so even when entitled, forcing them to claim complicated pension credits over the phone or with the assistance of services cut to the bone by years of government austerity is a disgrace.

“I would urge the BBC to reconsider and the government to take back its responsibility to fund this lifeline by providing the funding needed to ensure all over 75s get a free TV licence from general taxation.

“If these plans go ahead we will see people in their later years who are dependent on their treasured TV for news and companionship cut off from the outside world and forced to give it up, or even fined for viewing without a licence.”

Speaking after a debate at GMB Congress, GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “The scrapping of free TV licences for over-75s is outrageous and unfair. The BBC’s decision is regrettable, but the Conservative government gave them little choice by shifting the burden and reducing their funding.

“The Tories clearly don’t value pensioners – they’ve palmed off the responsibility free TV licences and snatched away the cash. They vowed at the 2017 election to keep this policy in place – but they’ve shown once again why you can’t trust the Tories.”

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