Half a million people sign petition against axing of free TV licences

More than half a million people sign petition against the BBC’s ‘unfair’ decision to axe free TV licences for the over-75s

  • The BBC plans to strip 3.7m households of their free TV licence from June 2020 
  • National Pensioners Convention is rallying protests at BBC offices nationwide  
  • Meanwhile, three petitions have racked up hundreds of thousands of signatures 
  • Ricky Tomlinson, Jeremy Paxman and Sir Michael Palin have criticised the axing

A petition opposing the BBC’s decision to axe free TV licences for the over-75s has reached half a million signatures.

The petition on the Age UK website, entitled Switched Off: Save free TV for older people, reached the 500,000 mark on Saturday afternoon.

Funding the free licences, which have been available to all over-75s for nearly two decades, is due to be transferred from the Government to the BBC next year as part of an agreement hammered out in 2015.

The corporation has said free licences will be means-tested under a new scheme that intends to protect programming while dealing with the extra funding burden. 

Ricky Tomlinson protesting outside the BBC building in Salford on Thursday. His placard says ‘Don’t Switch Us Off’ and asks the government to fund licence for over-75s, not the BBC

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said it had been ‘inundated’ with phone calls and emails in support of the petition.

She said: ‘The fact that our SwitchedOff petition now has more than half a million signatures demonstrates the strength of public feeling about the unfairness of the Government scrapping free TV licences for over-75s, and remember that about half of this age group (47 per cent) are not themselves online.

‘Ever since the BBC announced its decision to means-test the free TV licence from June 2020, we have been inundated at Age UK with phone calls, emails and petition sign-ups, to the extent that our IT has sometimes struggled to cope.’

She said the petition would remain open in the hope it reaches 650,000 signatures.

Furious pensioners will march on BBC offices across the country in protest at midday on Friday June 21. 

Ricky Tomlinson (fourth left) joins demonstrating with others outside BBC Media City in Salford, Greater Manchester, at the broadcaster’s decision to axe free TV licences

On Thursday, demonstrators led by Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson marched on the broadcaster’s Salford Quays offices, home of BBC 5 Live and BBC Sport.  

Abrahams added that the blame for the move lies with the Government and issued a renewed call on all leadership candidates of the Conservative Party to take back responsibility for the funding of free TV licences for over-75s if they become prime minister.

‘If the Government wants to change it then let’s have a proper public discussion about it, not the shabby behind closed doors deal which has led us to the mess we are in now,’ she said.

‘That’s the least older people deserve.’

Labour has also launched a campaign to restore free TV licences for all over 75s, describing the move as ‘an act of cruelty’, and another petition condemning the move remains on the Parliament website. 

Many have criticised the move, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said that providing over-75s with free TV licences ‘is not too much to ask’, and senior Conservative Andrea Leadsom, who called for the new ruling to be scrapped.

In a joint statement released on Monday, the BBC’s chairman Sir David Clementi and director-general Tony Hall said continuing the Government’s scheme would have had a ‘severe impact’ on services and that the new model ‘represents the fairest possible outcome’.

A Government spokesman said: ‘We’re very disappointed with this decision – we’ve been clear that we want and expect the BBC to continue this concession.

‘People across the country value television as a way to stay connected and we want the BBC to look at further ways to support older people.

‘Taxpayers want to see the BBC using its substantial licence fee income in an appropriate way to ensure it delivers for UK audiences, which includes showing restraint on salaries for senior staff.’

Only around 1.5 million households will be eligible for a free TV licence under the new scheme.   

It is thought that around 3.7 million pensioners will lose out. 

Tomlinson said of the elderly: ‘One of the biggest things they’ve got to keep them going is the television.

‘It’s a lifeline to them and we are talking about taking it away and if not taking it away, charging them for having it.

Jeremy Paxman (left, at a London book launch on June 3) and Sir Michael Palin (seen right, receiving his knighthood at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday) are among the BBC stars who have spoken out over the licence fee scandal 

‘I think it’s an absolute disgrace. And anyone who votes for that should be ashamed of themselves and quit their job as an MP.’   

Strictly Come Dancing’s former head judge Len Goodman and Ben Fogle condemned the decision on Wednesday.

Goodman branded the decision ‘rotten’, saying it will ‘impact on the most vulnerable’.

Fogle said the Government should be held accountable for its ‘poor decision’ and made to reverse it.

Jeremy Paxman and Sir Michael Palin also blasted the decision, as the actor Tomlinson, an ambassador for Age UK branded politicians a ‘blood shower of hypocrites.’

NPC general secretary Jan Shortt described the move as ‘callous and cruel’.

She said: ‘The amount of anger we are seeing at the BBC’s decision, not just from pensioners but younger people as well, is absolutely amazing.

‘This really is uniting the generations, because we all know that if the Government and the BBC collude to take the free TV licence away from today’s older people, it won’t be there for the pensioners of tomorrow.

Broadcaster Ben Fogle will donate his entire salary from this year’s BBC Animal Park (pictured) to pay for pensioners’ TV licences

‘We have growing rates of poverty and loneliness among our older generation – and this decision is callous and cruel.

‘What’s clear is that the BBC knew that if they means-tested the TV licence, only 11% of the poorest 10th of households currently receiving it would actually get to keep it.

‘The truth is, it shouldn’t be the job of the broadcaster to administer or fund part of our wider welfare policy and the Government must take back responsibility for it.’

In a joint statement released on Monday, the BBC’s chairman, Sir David Clementi, and director-general Tony Hall said continuing the Government’s scheme would have had a ‘severe impact’ on services and that the new model ‘represents the fairest possible outcome’. 

Former Newsnight host Paxman accused the BBC of ‘shooting itself in the foot’ for accepting responsibility for the benefit from the government. 

‘Benefits are the business of government, not broadcasters,’ he said. ‘Like many of the BBC’s friends, I keep wondering how the organisation can keep shooting itself in the foot. It must look like a chunk of Emmental by now.’ 

Meanwhile, broadcaster Ben Fogle announced he would donate his entire salary from this year’s BBC Animal Park to pay for pensioners’ TV licences.

Wounded veteran has to pay up 

War injuries: Philip Cripps, 95

Philip Cripps suffered life-changing injuries when he fought in Normandy after the D-Day landings.

Now housebound due to ill health and facing a dizzying care bill, the 95-year-old veteran, from Bournemouth, is among those who will be forced to pay for the BBC licence fee. Daughter Anne McGregor described the decision as a disgrace and said veterans from the Second World War should be given an exemption.

She said her father, who receives a war disablement pension, relies on BBC television coverage to keep his mind occupied. ‘He is very fragile in body and his mind is not as good as it used to be but he still watches all the political shows,’ she added.

It is not known how much the former Countryfile Star will be donating, but he did not feature on last year’s list of BBC stars earning over £150,000.

In a post on Instagram, Fogle said: ‘I love the BBC. I think it is one of the greatest institutions in the world. It is the envy of most nations, it makes amazing content and I’d argue it is still value for money.

‘I also owe my whole career to the BBC. They gave me my first break and they (you) employed me for many years but I am disappointed in the recent announcement on the abolition of free licences to the over 75s.’  

Age UK’s petition, which calls on the government to return to funding free licence fees for the over-75s, has already racked up more than 430,000 signatures. 

Another 128,000 people have signed one of the Parliament website calling on the universal benefit to continue – breaching the 100,000 level needed for it to be considered for a debate. 

Meanwhile, another to abolish the licence fee altogether because it is ‘too expensive’ has attracted more than 186,000 supporters.  

The government used to cover the bill for free TV licences, but the responsibility was handed to the BBC in 2015.

This had saddled the broadcaster with a bill of at least £745m from 2021, rising to more than £1billion by 2029. In return, the Government gave the BBC permission to either limit or remove the entitlement. 

They were also allowed to raise the general licence fee by inflation.  

The changes, which come into effect in June 2020 will give the BBC a total saving of £495m from 2021. 

Six Tory leadership hopefuls have now spoken out against the move.

A BBC spokesperson said: ‘The Government decided to stop funding free TV licences for all over 75s, and Parliament gave the BBC the clear responsibility to decide and consultation the future policy.

‘Over 190,000 people took part, the biggest BBC consultation ever. We’ve reached the fairest decision we can to protect the poorest oldest pensioners while ensuring everyone will continue to receive the best programmes and services that the BBC can provide.

‘If the BBC were to fund free TV licences for all over 75s it would mean unprecedented closures of services and make the BBC substantially worse for all audiences, so we chose the fairest option by helping the poorest older pensioners.

‘We want to raise the visibility of Pension Credit and have already written to charities and older people’s groups to work together to do this. We have started a public information campaign which includes using our airwaves and writing to all 4.6 million households setting out the new scheme.

‘We hope that pensioners will consider claiming as they could then be eligible for around £2,500 and other benefits as well as a free TV licence.’

Q&A: When will the new charge be introduced and will I be affected? 

When will the licence fee change come in?

June 1, 2020

Who will be affected?

Anyone over the age of 75 will lose their exemption – except those on pension credit.

How many households could be exempt?

Around 3million UK households are eligible for a pension credit – which tops up weekly income to £167.25 for a single person or £255.25 for a couple. People who reached state pension age before April 2016 can also apply for up to £15.35 per couple per week if they have savings. 

Half of those households – 1.5million – have residents over the age of 75, so would be eligible for a free TV licence. However, only around 900,000 actually claim the benefit.

How do I obtain pension credit?

Aimed at retired people on low incomes, both single people and couples, it is means tested but can be worth thousands of pounds a year. Call the pension credit claim line on 0800 99 1234. They will fill in the application for you over the phone. 

You need your national insurance number and bank details along with information about your finances including savings, mortgages, investments and any other assets.

How do you claim a free TV licence?

You will have to show TV Licensing – the arm of the BBC in charge of collecting the charge – proof that you receive pension credit. This could be a copy of the letter you received from the Department for Work and Pensions.

How will it be policed?

TV Licensing will develop and operate an ‘independent self-verification system’ online. It will also provide pensioners who think they are entitled to the pension credit, but do not claim it, details of how to do this.

How much will the new scheme cost?

The continued exemptions will cost the BBC £250million a year, including the bill for hiring extra staff to talk to elderly pensioners about the changes face to face. 

That is the equivalent to the budget for Radio 4, Radio 2, the BBC News Channel and some local radio stations.

Where will the BBC get this money from?

£100million from recent savings efforts that was supposed to go into programming and the £150million a year previously committed to the national roll-out of rural broadband. 

The broadcaster was freed from that obligation as part of its 2015 deal with government.

Why not tap the high-paid stars?

Bosses rejected cutting tlaent pay because capping salaries at £150,000 would save only around £20million a year.

Could I go to jail if I don’t pay?

Non-payment of the TV licence is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine of up to £1,000, plus court costs. Disobeying the court and not paying that fine can land you in jail.

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