Please wait...
Please wait...

BBC axes free licences for over-75s

UK pubcaster the BBC is to stop providing free TV licences to those aged over 75, saving it around £500m (US$650m) and avoiding the possibility of “unprecedented closures” of its TV and radio services.

Tony Hall

The broadcaster began offering free licences for over-75s in 2001 under the Labour government, but funding for the programme was cut by the ruling Conservative Party 15 years later, leaving the broadcaster to pick up the bill by 2020 as part of its licence fee deal struck in 2015.

The UK’s ageing population meant that continuing the scheme would have cost the BBC almost £750m by 2021/22, equivalent to a fifth of its total budget.

Instead, following a consultation process with almost 200,000 people, the scheme will now be means tested. Only low-income households will be eligible to avoid the annual £156.50 charge.

The revised programme is expected to be available to around 1.5 million houses by 2020, costing the BBC around £250m by 2021/22. At present, almost four million pensioners receive free licences.

The BBC said it would fund the new plan by shifting budget from its content and services and attempting to increase its commercial revenue.

BBC chairman Sir David Clementi said the decision, which will come into force in 2020, had been “very difficult” but added it was “the fairest and best outcome.”

The broadcaster said the futures of networks including BBC2 and BBC4, as well as radio stations, would have been at risk had the licences continued to be provided for nothing.

BBC director general Tony Hall added: “I believe we have reached the fairest judgement after weighing up all the different arguments.”

Outgoing UK prime minister Theresa May hit out at the decision, adding she was “very disappointed,” while Caroline Abrahams, director of charity Age UK, said older people and the disabled would be hardest hit.

However, Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, lay the blame at the government’s door, highlighting that the Conservatives had promised to maintain free licences as part of its 2017 election manifesto.

Please wait...