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Friday, 10 July 2020

Pressure Mounting Against BBC's Over-75 TV Licence Betrayal

Pressure is mounting against the BBC's decision to renege on its Royal Charter agreement by axing the universal over-75 TV licence concession.

According to an article in The Telegraph the BBC, in its statutory role as TV Licensing Authority, is currently writing to every over-75 household to inform the occupants of changes to TV licence rules taking effect from 1st August 2020.

We discussed those changes in quite some detail yesterday, so won't repeat earlier comments now. Putting it bluntly, the BBC was perfectly happy to accept "full liability for the over-75 TV licence from 2020/21" as part of the Royal Charter deal it struck with the Government back in 2015. Only now, with the BBC having done nothing to reign in its exorbitant expenditure in the intervening five years, is the Corporation screaming louder than a teenager pinned in the corner of Jimmy Savile's Television Centre dressing room.

The letters being distributed to over-75 households signpost occupants to the TV Licensing call centre or website, both of which have suffered considerable downtime as a result of reduced staffing and maintenance. Many concerned over-75s - clearly non-readers of the TV Licensing Blog - have been unable to find the information they need, which has heightened their levels of anxiety during an already stressful time.

Julian Knight, the Tory chairman of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, told The Telegraph: "This is very concerning indeed and I am not convinced that they are ready for this.

"If the new Director General inherits a situation where millions of people are unable to pay for something because of covid and are left in the lurch and fearing the knock at the door, I cannot think of a worse start for a new Director General.

He added: "It will be an own goal of epic proportions to start hauling people over 75 in front of the courts. There needs to be common sense here."

To add to the confusion, the BBC announced that the new tightened eligibility criteria will come into force on 1st August, but said "no one needs to take any immediate action" until they receive a letter from TV Licensing - some of which will not be posted until after the new rules have been introduced.

TV personality Esther Rantzen, a campaigner on issues for older people, said: "I’m not sure I'm defending the BBC. I didn't like the constant references to 'the poorest'.

"Older people have a lot of pride, a lot of dignity. They don't like taking charity. And one of the problems about Pension Credit is that so much of the money goes unclaimed because older people don't like being described as the poorest.

"Let's say 'the people who find it most difficult' should therefore go and claim this Pension Credit, which they have earned with a lifetime of survival and getting through the tough times', and the BBC should make programmes with the money to make sure that older people still enjoy [its] output and still feel valued."

"In response, a BBC spokesperson said: "It's wrong to suggest the system is in chaos.

"TV Licensing are writing to over 75's households with a separate dedicated contact centre telephone number.

"We recognise that some people may need extra support, so TV Licensing has considerably increased the size of its customer support call centre so that we're on hand to answer any queries.

"Additionally, we have provided a free telephone information line where customers can access recorded information on the new policy by calling 0800 232 1382, and information can also be found on the TV Licensing website tvlicensing.co.uk/age."

The Government is said to be furious at the BBC's decision to remove the "free" over-75 TV licence from 3.7 million pensioner households.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden MP said: "I very much regret the decision that the BBC has taken.

"We gave the settlement to the BBC back in 2015.

"They said that it was a good settlement, and I regret that they couldn't find efficiency savings in order to avoid having to impose the licence fee on the over-75s in the way that they have set out."

He added: "I feel let down that the BBC haven't funded this.

"I'm sure people up and down the country will feel let down that they haven't funded it."

Mr Dowden also told journalists that the BBC's decision to backtrack on the over-75 TV licence would be borne in mind when the Government considers the future decriminalisation of TV licence evasion.

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