Published: 19:36, 31 July 2021
| Updated: 21:12, 31 July 2021
Elderly people risk falling into poverty as a result of a grace period on TV licence payment for the over-75s coming to an end, a campaign group has warned.
The universal right to a free TV licence has ended for the age group and only those in receipt of pension credit do not have to pay the £159 annual sum.
Pensioners were given a grace period to make arrangements because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the BBC confirmed this will come to an end on July 31.
With 260,000 pensioners yet to pay their licence fee, according to last month’s figures from the corporation, the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) said an additional bill could push some people into financial hardship.
Our campaign has always been and continues to be to get the Government to take back responsibility to pay for over-75s' licences for TV
NPC general secretary Jan Shortt, who is calling for the Government to pick up the bill once again for pensioners’ TV licences, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The group we are most concerned about, and the reason why they are not paying perhaps is because they can’t pay.
“This is a group that is just above the pension credit limit threshold and they get no extra help, so they don’t get any assistance to pay any bills.
“They are already having to make decisions every day about how they spend their money and particularly in the winter when you have competing bills coming in for extra heating, and sometimes they have to make the decision whether they have a hot meal or put the fire on to keep warm.
“Then all of a sudden, they find there is another bill to be paid, which is their TV licence.
“That’s a group that is potentially going to fall into poverty now because of having to pay for their TV licence.”
Ms Shortt said the NPC had been told by the BBC it would not be sending enforcement officers to homes to collect outstanding payments.
BBC director-general Tim Davie has previously signalled that over-75s will not be threatened with legal action over non-payment of the licence fee, which funds the publicly-owned broadcaster’s output.
Ms Shortt said she was “absolutely” laying the blame for the situation at the Government’s door, arguing ministers had “abrogated” responsibility on social welfare.
She added: “Our campaign has always been and continues to be to get the Government to take back responsibility to pay for over-75s’ licences for TV.”
Julian Knight, Conservative chair of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said there was “blame on all sides” for pensioners having to pay for their licence.
The Government used to pay for over-75s to have their TV licence but a licence fee deal struck in 2015 saw the BBC agree to take on the responsibility.
But it has since decided the fee will have to be paid for by recipients, arguing it would cost a fifth of its budget to fund.
“The BBC actually agreed to a deal and it was described as a very good deal by the then-director general Tony Hall,” Mr Knight told Today.
“He rushed it through frankly without the consultation that should have happened and I suspect they didn’t do the number-crunching as they should have done.
“But they shook their hands on a deal, and a deal is a deal.”
The MP said the BBC would risk a “great degree of alienation” if it went after those who do not pay their new bill, adding: “It really isn’t a good look for anyone if over-75s end up in the magistrates’ courts and we end up with a degree of non-payment.”
Mr Knight instead urged the broadcaster to “love bomb” the older generation to ensure the service was “delivering for them” in a bid to recover the lost revenue resulting from non-payment, which he estimated to be close to £50 million per year.
A TV Licensing spokesman said: “So far nine out of 10 over-75 households have made arrangements and we are grateful for their support for the licence fee.
“We will continue to support the small group of older customers who are yet to get set up, which is why we have written to them outlining the simple steps they need to take.
“In addition, customer care visits, which will begin in autumn, have been carefully designed for those who may require further assistance.
“They are not enforcement visits and will be carried out by a specially trained customer care team.”