MPs demand BBC bosses reach agreement to restore free TV licences for over-75s3 min read

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MPs demand BBC bosses reach agreement to restore free TV licences for over-75s

  • The cost of funding free licences is being transferred from Government to BBC 
  • A Commons committee said pensioners should not be stripped of the benefit
  • But BBC bosses insist it cannot afford to pay for free licences 

Free TV licences should be restored for everyone over the age of 75, MPs have said.

In a report, they demanded that the BBC and ministers reach an agreement to reverse the decision to strip 3.7million pensioners of the benefit.

The Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee said it was wrong to make them pay the £154.50-a-year charge from next June.

Free TV licences should be restored for everyone over the age of 75, MPs have said

Free TV licences should be restored for everyone over the age of 75, MPs have said

The cost of funding free licences is being transferred from the Government to the corporation next year, which was agreed as part of its 2015 licence fee deal with ministers.

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At the moment, everyone over the age of 75 is exempt from the charge – amounting to 4.6million households.

But BBC bosses insist it cannot afford to pay for free licences – a bill which would reach £745million in 2021 – without doing away with vast swathes of services.

From next June, it has announced it will give free licences to only those over-75s who are on pension credits – claimed by just 900,000 low-income households.

Committee chairman Damian Collins said the BBC had ‘put itself’ in an ‘invidious position’ as an ‘administrator’ of welfare benefits. 

He said: ‘It agreed to fund a pensioner benefit that it couldn’t afford and, as a result, false reassurances were given to the over-75s that their free licence fees would be maintained.

Committee chairman Damian Collins (pictured) said the BBC had 'put itself' in an 'invidious position' as an 'administrator' of welfare benefits

Committee chairman Damian Collins (pictured) said the BBC had ‘put itself’ in an ‘invidious position’ as an ‘administrator’ of welfare benefits

‘The BBC and the Government must reach an agreement to allow the funding of free licence fees for the over-75s to continue after 2020.

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‘The BBC finds itself here as the result of a deal done behind closed doors that allowed no transparency for licence fee payers. Detailed minutes which would have shone a light on the crucial decision-making process are absent or incomplete which is a matter of great regret.’

More generally, the MPs’ report criticises ‘poor management, leadership and governance at the BBC’. It said the problems surrounding the use of personal service companies – its arrangements with its freelancers, including presenters – may have arisen from poor management.

‘Future issues may emerge as a result of the same management and governance approach,’ the report said.

Criticising BBC director-general Lord Hall, the report says he should have sought ‘the formal agreement of the [now defunct] Executive Board before recommending [the deal] to the BBC Trust’.

From next June, BBC bosses announced they will give free licences to only those over-75s who are on pension credits

From next June, BBC bosses announced they will give free licences to only those over-75s who are on pension credits

The report also says that overall finances of the BBC paint a ‘disturbing picture’ – with pressure on the corporation’s budgets likely to get worse. 

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Mr Collins said: ‘We are seeing clear evidence that the funding model of the BBC will become unsustainable without substantial increases in commercial revenue from BBC Studios and new subscription on demand viewing services like BritBox.’

BBC chairman Sir David Clementi said: ‘Under the 2015 agreement, the BBC was given responsibility for the policy, and related funding, of the concession for over-75s. We are pleased that the committee recognise that there was no automatic assumption that the BBC would continue to bear the cost of these free TV licences.’

Caroline Abrahams, of charity Age UK, said: ‘The BBC’s plan to means test these licences for over-75s from June 2020 will result in significant numbers being forced to choose between buying a licence, cutting back on essentials like heating and eating, or continuing to watching the TV without a licence, thereby breaking the law.

‘The Government and the BBC would be wise to sit down and broker a solution… before all hell potentially breaks loose next summer.’

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