The BBC Board has confirmed it will begin the new scheme covering the over-75s licence fee concession on August 1st. The BBC delayed the introduction of the new scheme as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The scheme will now move forward, but safety will be at its heart:
“The decision to commence the new scheme in August has not been easy, but implementation of the new scheme will be Covid-19 safe,” stated BBC Chairman, Sir David Clementi. “The BBC could not continue delaying the scheme without impacting on programmes and services.”
“Around 1.5 million households could get free TV licences if someone is over 75 and receives Pension Credit, and 450,000 of them have already applied. And critically it is not the BBC making that judgement about poverty. It is the Government who sets and controls that measure.”
“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. I believe continuing to fund some free TV licences is the fairest decision for the public, as we will be supporting the poorest oldest pensioners without impacting the programmes and services that all audiences love.”
The Government took the decision to stop funding for free licences in 2015 and Parliament – through legislation – gave the responsibility to the BBC Board to make the decision on the future of the concession. At the time of the settlement in 2015, both Government Ministers and the BBC were clear that reform of the concession was a possibility; and no pledge was made by the BBC that the concession would be continued.
The BBC Board believes the new scheme is the fairest option to help the poorest pensioners. It is also the fairest option for all licence fee payers, as this means everyone will continue to receive the best programmes and services that the BBC can provide.
The new scheme means households – which include someone aged over 75 in receipt of Pension Credit – will be eligible for a free TV licence, funded by the BBC. Around 1.5 million households could be eligible and 450,000 have already applied for a free licence.
The new scheme will cost the BBC around £250 million (€279m) by 2021/22. The cost of this new scheme will require the BBC to divert some spending on programmes and services, alongside continuing to find new savings while expanding its commercial revenue to cope.
Continuing with the Government scheme would have cost £745 million. In practice, this would have meant closures of BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News channel, the BBC Scotland channel, BBC Radio 5 Live, and a number of local radio stations, as well as other cuts and reductions. These closures would profoundly damage the BBC for everyone, especially older people who use the BBC the most.
Since the original decision was made to introduce a new scheme, the BBC has been subject to further financial pressures as a result of the pandemic, which means it must save an additional £125 million, on top of an existing significant savings programme. Delaying the introduction of the scheme has cost the BBC over £70 million and the Corporation says it cannot afford to delay any further without further impacting programmes and services which are already being cut back as a result of its savings programmes.
Julian Knight MP, Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which monitors the policy, administration and expenditure of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and its associated bodies, including the BBC, on behalf of the House of Commons and the electorate, said: “At what is already a very difficult time, this will be a body blow to millions of British pensioners. I had hoped that the previous delay announced would lead to the government and BBC coming together in order to thrash out a fresh deal. However, that has clearly not happened.”
“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.”
“The BBC wants people to be reassured that they can use an online ‘Covid-safe’ payment system to buy their licence. This take little account of those over 75 not online, many of whom have only just been allowed to leave their homes and who might still be afraid to do so.”