Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin has called on the government to ‘do the right thing by millions of people’ as MPs lined up to attack controversial plans that could see free TV licences for over 75s scrapped.
During a three-hour debate in the House of Commons today, numerous MPs called on the Conservative government to keep its 2017 manifesto promise to protect the scheme until 2022.
Responsibility for the scheme will pass to the BBC from June 2020 – but the Government have failed to provide any funding, putting its future at risk.
In Batley and Spen alone, over 6,000 households could lose out if the free TV Licence for over 75s are scrapped altogether.
Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin, who spoke at length in the debate, said: “If the government fails to keep its manifesto promise it will be a devastating blow to thousands of households in my constituency.
“Television is incredibly important to older people who may be isolated and lonely or have limited mobility, many of whom are already struggling to pay the bills.
“And now we could have a situation where people are forced to make an impossible choice – the companionship their TV gives or heating their house. It’s cruel and it’s deeply unfair.
“The Government needs to urgently reconsider this extremely damaging policy and protect free TV licences for the millions of people who rely on them.”
As part of the last BBC Charter, the Government devolved responsibility for the free TV licence policy, and the cost, to the BBC.
The BBC are currently consulting on a number of options for the concession, including scrapping it altogether, raising the eligible age to 80 and means testing it, for example by linking it to pension credit.
By outsourcing responsibility for paying for free TV licences, this Government will be saving £745 million across the UK in 2021/22.
This is in addition to the £220 million the Government will be saving that same year through changes to pension credit. This money, nearly a billion pounds, is coming directly out of the pockets of pensioners.
Currently a free TV licence is available to all households that have at least one person aged over 75. Free TV licences for over-75s were introduced in 2000 by the Labour Government.
The 2017 Conservative Manifesto promised to “maintain all other pensioner benefits, including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences, for the duration of this Parliament”.
However, the Government had already outsourced this social policy by shifting the cost of these licences to the BBC in its 2015 Royal Charter.
From 2018/19 onwards, responsibility for the policy and funding of licence fee concessions will move over to the BBC, who will be singularly responsible from June 2020.
The BBC can decide what to do with the benefit from 2020 and they are consulting on a number of options including scrapping the free TV licence concession altogether, raising the eligible age to 80 and means testing it, for example by linking it to pension credit.
Labour opposed this move at the time, and throughout the passage of the Digital Economy Act.
The cost of the free licences is expected to reach £745m by 2021/22. Changes to pension credit for mixed age couples will save the Treasury £220m in the same year.
Free TV licences are an important benefit for older people who suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation. The Campaign to End Loneliness found that 40% of older people say their television is their main source of company.
Age UK has found that over two million over-75s would have to go without TV or cut back on essentials such as heating or eating if the concession is scrapped, and the change would push 50,000 pensioners below the poverty line.
1.6 million over-75s with a disability, many of whom have serious mobility issues and may not be easily able to leave their homes, could lose their TV licence if the benefit is scrapped altogether.