Boris Johnson slammed executives for making the “wrong decision” and said the corporation should continue to fund the benefit. Furious campaigners warned struggling over-75s will be forced to cut back on food and heating to cover the £157.50 bill. They attacked the broadcaster for “fleecing” senior citizens instead of cutting the lavish salaries of its top stars.
The corporation announced it will impose the annual fee on most over-75s from August 1.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the BBC has “let down” the public and warned the decision would be taken into account when the government looks at whether to keep the TV licence in the future.
He said: “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.”
Downing Street said the PM believes it is the “wrong decision” and believes the free licence “should be funded by the BBC.”
BBC chairman Sir David Clementi said delaying the charge would hit programmes and services and hitting the over-75s with bills for the first time in 20 years is the “fairest” decision for the public.
He said: “Like most organisations the BBC is under severe financial pressure due to the pandemic, yet we have continued to put the public first in all our decisions.”
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden
But Lord Foulkes, one of the leading campaigners in the fight against the fee, accused BBC executives of being “out of touch” and warned the move was potentially “deadly”.
He said: “I am absolutely outraged by the BBC’s decision to end free TV licences for over-75s.
“Not only has this decision been dragged out for too long, but it now means that lonely pensioners are being dealt a dreadful, perhaps even deadly, blow.
“So many lonely old people will continue to be confined to their homes for many months and rely on their TV as a vital lifeline for information, connectivity and entertainment.
“BBC fatcats are so out of touch with the reality of older people, who will likely have to cut back on food and heating if they want to keep their TV and stay connected with the outside world.
“They should be utterly ashamed of this decision. However, we will not stop in our campaign to save what is a vital social benefit.”
Labour’s shadow culture minister Christian Matheson said pensioners will be “forced to choose between eating and watching TV”.
Over-75s will be forced to pay the £157.50 bill
Critics called for the broadcaster to cut salaries before targeting pensioners.
Football pundit Gary Lineker topped a list of the BBC’s highest earners at £1.75 million.
James Roberts, political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “This announcement shows the Beeb would rather fleece pensioners than cut its wasteful diversity budgets and top star salaries.
“The TV tax is a terrible burden which will now be slammed onto the over 75s, and is a kick in the teeth at such a difficult time for older people.”
Only viewers on Pension Credits will be eligible for a free licence under its plans to change the system.
Around 1.6 million people claim the support but up to 1.2 million families who are entitled to receive do not not take it up, according to government figures.
Charities say many do not realise they are entitled to it or are embarrassed to admit they need the help.
Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams said: “Many older people on low incomes have told us that if they have to find £150 plus a year to pay for a licence then they will have to forego some other essential, or try to survive without TV at all.
“We genuinely worry about the mental health of older people living on their own in this situation if they have to give up their cherished TV – for some it really is all they have and their main way of alleviating their chronic loneliness.”
Older people’s group Silver Voices said it will start direct action with a campaign to “gum up the works” of TV Licensing by urging everyone over 60 to cancel direct debits and pay by cheque instead.
Director Dennis Reed said the group wants to increase the costs of collection and enforcement to force the BBC into ditching the “cruel” policy.
“Months of intense lobbying, petitions and letters by the charities have failed to change a stone hearted BBC Board,” he said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
“Our only course of action now is to ‘gum up the works’ of TV Licensing to force the BBC and Government to find a way to save this vital benefit.
“Older people have suffered terribly during the pandemic, enduring months of isolation and worry. Many have been seriously ill, or bereaved. TV continues to be the main companion for millions and to put this lifeline under threat at this time is the height of cruelty”.
The BBC agreed to take on responsibility for funding the scheme as part of the charter agreement hammered out by director general Lord Hall with the Government in 2015.
The broadcaster was due to introduce means-testing at the start of last month, but it was delayed until August because of the coronavirus.
Julian Knight, chairman of the Commons culture committee, said: “This mess is a result of a poor decision struck by the outgoing Director-General and now Britain’s pensioners are having to pick up the cost.”