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Free TV licence for over-75s needed more than ever, says charity

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The BBC was set to introduce means-testing last month.

BBC Broadcasting House

Pensioners rely on their free TV licence more than ever, a charity has warned, as the BBC prepares to announce when it will axe the universal entitlement.

The start of means-testing the over-75s was postponed from June 1 to August 1, because of the  coronavirus pandemic.

But the decision is being kept under review and the BBC Board will announce its decision later this month.

Charity Age UK urged the “BBC and the Government to sit down and agree a way forward”.

It said that many older people have relied on TV during lockdown as their main source of news and information about Covid-19.

And, for many, TV has been more important to them since the outbreak, it said.

Charity director Caroline Abrahams said: “The over-75s in our society have been through a torrid time because of the pandemic, and we all know it’s not over yet…

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“As people in late old age are at the greatest risk of becoming seriously ill or dying if they contract it, this means our over-75s are going to have to be cautious and stay safe at home as much as they reasonably can.

The BBC Board are set to meet on the issue this month
The BBC Board is set to meet on the issue this month (Nick Ansell/PA)

“TV is extremely important to many older people at the happiest of times but it has taken on a whole new meaning at this time of danger and crisis, when access to authoritative information matters so much.”

She went on: “Many older people are hugely appreciative of how well our broadcasters have kept them informed during the pandemic…

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“It would be a tragedy if some of these older people lost the support, information and companionship they receive from their TV … because they can no longer afford to buy a licence under the BBC’s new scheme.

“While Covid-19 continues to hang like a shadow over our older population, which it will do for the foreseeable future, it would be unbelievably cruel to scrap free TV licences for the over-75s.

“That’s why now, more than ever, it is time for the BBC and the Government to sit down and agree a way forward which safeguards these older people’s access to TV.”

The BBC agreed to take on responsibility for funding the scheme as part of the charter agreement hammered out with the Government in 2015.

The broadcaster has said it cannot afford to take on the financial burden from the Government.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “The Government decided to end the free TV licence for the over-75s and gave the BBC Board responsibility to decide on its future.

“We consulted with the public and reached the fairest decision possible, to support the poorest oldest pensioners.

“We delayed the introduction of the new scheme until August as a result of the pandemic, and we are keeping that decision under review.

“During lockdown the BBC has played an important role informing, educating and entertaining all our audiences, including older people. The Board will announce its decision this month.”

Labour’s Chris Matheson, shadow minister for media, said: “Age UK’s survey has proved what we already knew – that TV is an absolute lifeline for many older people who struggle to get out.

“Lockdown has highlighted the role it plays in informing, entertaining and helping the most isolated maintain a connection to the wider world.

“The Tory Government has broken their manifesto commitment to protect the over-75 licence fee and any attempt to push the cost on the BBC is just a cowardly way of cutting this vital lifeline.”

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