BBC says free TV li­cence will now be means-tested

Western Daily Press - - Uk&world News - SHERNA NOAH Press As­so­ci­a­tion

THE free TV li­cence for over-75s will be means-tested from Au­gust 1, the BBC has said. The broad­caster pre­vi­ously post­poned the ax­ing of the uni­ver­sal en­ti­tle­ment for pen­sion­ers be­cause of the coron­avirus pan­demic.

Means-test­ing was pushed back from June 1 to Au­gust 1, with out­go­ing direc­tor-gen­eral Lord Tony Hall say­ing it was not the right time to in­tro­duce it in “the mid­dle of a cri­sis”

But the cor­po­ra­tion has now said the new scheme will be­gin on Au­gust 1.

BBC chair­man Sir David Cle­menti said: “The de­ci­sion to com­mence the new scheme in Au­gust has not been easy, but im­ple­men­ta­tion of the new scheme will be Covid-19 safe.

“The BBC could not con­tinue de­lay­ing the scheme with­out im­pact­ing on pro­grammes and ser­vices.

“Around 1.5 mil­lion house­holds could get free TV li­cences if some­one is over 75 and re­ceives Pen­sion Credit, and 450,000 of them have al­ready ap­plied.

“And crit­i­cally, it is not the BBC mak­ing that judg­ment about poverty. It is the Gov­ern­ment. who sets and con­trols that mea­sure.

“Like most or­gan­i­sa­tions, the BBC is un­der se­vere financial pres­sure due to the pan­demic, yet we have con­tin­ued to put the pub­lic first in all our de­ci­sions.

“I be­lieve con­tin­u­ing to fund some free TV li­cences is the fairest de­ci­sion for the pub­lic, as we will be sup­port­ing the poor­est, old­est pen­sion­ers with­out im­pact­ing the pro­grammes and ser­vices that all au­di­ences love.”

The broad­caster has been urged by char­i­ties such as Age UK to scrap the de­ci­sion to end the uni­ver­sal ben­e­fit.

The char­ity called on the “BBC and the Gov­ern­ment to sit down and agree a way for­ward”, say­ing that pen­sion­ers re­lied on their free TV li­cence more than ever, as their main source of news and in­for­ma­tion about Covid-19 in lock­down.

The free TV li­cence was in­tro­duced in 2000, but the BBC agreed to take on re­spon­si­bil­ity for fund­ing the scheme as part of the char­ter agree­ment ham­mered out with the Gov­ern­ment in 2015.

The broad­caster, which faces in­creased com­pe­ti­tion from stream­ing giants, has said it can­not af­ford to take on the financial bur­den from the Gov­ern­ment. Con­tin­u­ing with the Gov­ern­ment scheme would have cost the cor­po­ra­tion £745 mil­lion, the BBC said, mean­ing the clo­sures of BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Chan­nel, the BBC Scot­land chan­nel, Ra­dio 5 Live, and a num­ber of lo­cal ra­dio sta­tions, as well as other cuts and re­duc­tions.

But the move pro­voked a swathe of crit­i­cism, with the likes of Dame He­len Mir­ren call­ing the end of the uni­ver­sal en­ti­tle­ment “heart­break­ing”, and former prime min­is­ter Gor­don Brown say­ing “costs should be cov­ered by the Gov­ern­ment”.

The de­ci­sion comes as the Gov­ern­ment is set to an­nounce its re­sponse to a con­sul­ta­tion on de­crim­i­nal­is­ing li­cence fee eva­sion. It launched an eight-week con­sul­ta­tion in Fe­bru­ary, which re­ceived more than 100,00 re­sponses.

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