Now look again at free licences for over-75s, says PM
DOWNING Street yesterday urged the BBC’s new boss to ‘look again’ at the decision to axe universal free TV licences for the over-75s.
Ministers accused the BBC of reneging on an agreement when it introduced meanstesting, meaning an estimated 3.7million older pensioners now have to pay the £157.50 annual fee.
No 10 yesterday welcomed the appointment of Tim Davie as new director-general, saying ministers look forward to working with him on ‘ reforming the BBC’. Asked whether Boris Johnson wants Mr Davie to ‘look again’ at the issue of free licences, the No 10 spokesman said: ‘Yes.’
He added: ‘We have said from the outset we are disappointed with the BBC’s decision to restrict the over-75 licence fee concession to those in receipt of Pension Credit. We recognise the value of free TV licences for over-75s and believe they should be funded by the BBC.’ The BBC took over responsibility for funding the perk as part of the latest settlement on the licence fee.
But it said that the cost was too great. Supporters say the benefit should be paid for by the Government.
No 10 declined to say whether Mr Johnson supports the continuation of the licence fee. Last year, he said officials were ‘looking at’ whether it should continue. But his spokesman said ministers were currently finalising a decision on decriminalising nonpayment. He said: ‘We have been consulting to ensure there is a fair and proportionate approach to the way the BBC enforces and administers licence fee penalties and payments and one that protects those most in need.’ A final decision on decriminalisation will be taken this month.
However, the Mail has revealed it is almost certain to go ahead despite the BBC warning it could cost it £1billion in lost revenue over five years.