Scrapping free TV li­cences is ‘day­light robbery’ BBC told

●300,000 Scot­tish pen­sion­ers stand to lose out un­der move to means test­ing

The Scotsman - - FRONT PAGE - By JANE BRADLEY Con­sumer af­fairs cor­re­spon­dent

Char­i­ties have warned thou­sands of S cot­land’s poor­est peo­ple could be forced to give up their T Vs fol­low­ing the BBC’S de­ci­sion to means test li­cences for the over-75s.

More than 300,000 S cots will b e hit by the de­ci­sion to make the con­ces­sion avail­able only to house­holds re­ceiv­ing pen­sion credit, leav­ing many pen­sion­ers with­out a ser­vice they say is their main form of com­pany.

Age Scot­land said around 76,000 pen­sion­ers aged 75 and over in Scot­land do not re­ceive pen­sion credit even though they are el­i­gi­ble. Older peo­ple who just miss out on the ben­e­fit will also strug­gle to pay the bill and could be pushed below the poverty line.

Only around 1.5 mil­lion house­holds Uk-wide will be el­i­gi­ble un­der the new scheme, which comes four years af­ter the UK gov­ern­ment re­vealed plans to with­draw fund­ing for the £154.50 li­cence, which was pre­vi­ously free to over-75s.

Rob Gowans, spokesman for Cit­i­zens Ad­vice Scot­land, said: “We have con­cerns that link­ing the pro­vi­sion of free TV li­cences to peo­ple who are claim­ing pen­sion credit will hit some

of the most vul­ner­a­ble house­holds hardest. We al­ready know that there are problems with el­i­gi­bil­ity and up­take of pen­sion credit, in that many peo­ple who are en­ti­tled to it don’t claim it. If this change goes ahead, those peo­ple will miss out on both pen­sion credit and free TV li­cences.”

The move fol­lows a con­sul­ta­tion with 190,000 peo­ple, of which 52 per cent were in favour of re­form­ing or abol­ish­ing free li­cences. The ben­e­fit was in­tro­duced by thenLab our Chan­cel­lor Gordon Brown in 2001.

How­ever, four years ago the UK gov­ern­ment an­nounced it would no longer sub­sidise the cost of the li­cence fee and the BBC would have to find the fund­ing itself.

Mr Brown yes­ter­day de­scribed the de­ci­sion as “the wrong de­ci­sion made in the wrong way by the BBC”.

He said: “It should not be an agency for means test­ing pen­sion­ers. Any costs should be cov­ered by the gov­ern­ment with­out en­dan­ger­ing BBC ser­vices.”

Brian Sloan, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Age Scot­land, said: “This is a kick in the teeth to the thou­sands of older peo­ple who are al­ready strug­gling to stay on top of rising liv­ing costs. If this goes ahead, then we will see lonely and vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple in their 80s and 90s, who de­pend on their TV for com­pany, forced to give it up.

“40 per cent of Scot­tish older peo­ple who are el­i­gi­ble for pen­sion credit do not claim it and will now face yet an­other an­nual bill that they can’t afford.”

As part of the char­ter agree­ment that came into affect in 2017, the BBC would take on the bur­den of pay­ing for free li­cence fees by June 2020.

The new agree­ment will cost the BBC around £250 mil­lion by 2021/22 depending on the take-up of the means tested scheme. The broad­caster has said that if it bore the full fi­nan­cial bur­den of the free li­cences, the extra cost would have meant “un­prece­dented clo­sures”, in­clud­ing shut­ting down the BBC Scot­land chan­nel, as well as BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Chan­nel, Ra­dio 5 live and a num­ber of lo­cal ra­dio sta­tions, as well as other cuts and re­duc­tions.

The Na­tional Pen­sion­ers Con­ven­tion( NPC) has con­demned the BBC for at­tempt­ing to frame the move as fair.

NPC gen­eral sec­re­tary Jan Shortt, said: “There is no doubt that the BBC has done the gov­ern­ment’s dirty work for it.”

BBC chair­man Sir David Cle­ment is aid it had been a “very dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion”.

He said: “We think it’s fair to those over 75, but also to all our au­di­ences for whom there was no ap­petite for the level of cuts that would have been nec­es­sary if the con­ces­sion had been ex­tended.

“We know we have a loyal au­di­ence over the age of 75 and we think many of them will un­der­stand the dif­fi­cult po­si­tion we are in.”

Politi­cians slammed the de­ci­sion. A spokesman for Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May said: “We are very dis­ap­pointed with this de­ci­sion. We have been clear that we ex­pected the BBC to con­tinue this con­ces­sion.”

SN PM P Han­nah Bar dell said: “This isn’t ‘a com­pro­mise’ from the BBC or the UK Tor y Gov­ern­ment. This is day­light robbery of pen­sion­ers across the UK.”

0 Over-75s who do not re­ceive pen­sion credit will have to pay for their TV li­cences in fu­ture

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