Free TV licences will no longer be automatically granted to the over-75s from this summer and the change will affect hundreds of thousands of people. That is the warning issued by Age UK, which works to represent older people throughout the country and ensure their needs are not overlooked.
In a study produced by the charity, it found many elderly people will struggle to pay for a licence, especially if they have a fixed income. And this could have a knock-on effect for those suffering from loneliness, ill health or disabilities.
For the majority of people in this demographic, the £154.50 yearly fee will become their own responsibility, but it could be a stretch for many. Putting it into perspective, the annual cost is the equivalent of three months of gas or electric bills, or the same as paying water rates for five months.
It could mean that some elderly people are forced to decide whether to heat their homes or pay for a TV licence that provides comfort, companionship and distraction throughout the day. The current plan is to means test those on Pension Credit to see if they will qualify for a free licence, instead of granting them automatically. A number of factors that have changed since the initial decision was made mean the situation could still be reviewed.
Prime minister Boris Johnson touched on the issue in his election manifesto, stating that he recognises the value of offering free licences to the over-75s, but this does not give any clear direction for the future. With the resignation of Tony Hall, the current director general of the BBC, having been announced just last week, the matter could be up for review.
It will be up to the new incumbent of the role to reassess the situation and continue a long-running battle with the government over the issue. Unless a new agreement is made before June, then up to 3.7 million households that were previously able to watch BBC programming for free will have to pay for the service.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK is calling on the government and the BBC to “sit down together now and broker a solution”. She suggested an additional £150 or more a year will be “a bridge too far” for many over-75s, summarising: “It’s completely wrong to put the oldest people in our society through this.”
The move was announced in June last year and replaced a previous decision from 2015 that proposed free TV licences would be the responsibility of the BBC from 2020 instead of that of the government. The corporation decided that it could not dedicate the £745 million it would cost to the cause, as it would equate to a fifth of its budget by 2021-2022.
Instead, the pared-down scheme is expected to cost the BBC around £250 million, which means certain services will not need to be closed down to pay for it. For some over-75s on fixed incomes, however, who do not fit the new criteria, finding the cash for a licence may not be an option.