The BBC today confirmed plans to scrap free TV licences for millions of people aged over 75.
The benefit will only be available to those on Pension Credit from June 2020 under a brutal cut announced by the Corporation.
It means around 3million older people will no longer receive free TV licences in a move Labour branded “an outrage” and Age UK slammed as “shoddy”.
As fury mounted today, a Tory MP branded the decision “disgraceful”, “arrogant” and “cowardly” while the SNP branded it “daylight robbery”.
BBC chairman Sir David Clementi accepted it would be “unwelcome news” and “a struggle” for over-75s but added: “What we need to do is be fair to all our audiences”.
The decision – made by the BBC board despite more than 190,000 responses to a consultation – comes after a Mirror campaign to save free TV licences for the over-75s.
The Tories vowed at the 2017 election to keep the perk enjoyed by 4.5million households.
But ministers had already put free TV licences at risk under a 2015 deal, which passed responsibility for funding the £745million-a-year policy to the BBC from June 2020.
Sir David said it was the biggest consultation in BBC history, adding: “Copying the current scheme was ultimately untenable.”
But Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson said: “It is an outrage that this Government is overseeing the scrapping of free TV licences for 3 million older people, leaving a Tory manifesto promise in tatters.
“In the same week that Boris Johnson has championed tax cuts for the richest 8%, his Government has delivered yet another ruthless welfare cut to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
“I challenge all Tory leadership candidates to honour the commitment they made in 2017.
“You cannot mean test for social isolation. You cannot means test for loneliness. Millions of elderly and isolated people will lose because of this announcement – Labour will fight it with everything we’ve got.”
Labour MP and former Corrie star Tracy Brabin MP tweeted: “I campaigned against this. So disappointed the BBC have taken this decision especially when loneliness can have such an impact on the elderly.
“This is an extra tax on older folk who might not have the cash to pay it”.
Conservative MP Peter Heaton-Jones tweeted: “I love the BBC. But this is a disgraceful decision. It receives £4billion of OUR money every year yet fails to live within its means.
“It is a largely unaccountable organisation with an arrogant streak. And to announce the decision today, when everyone’s distracted, is cowardly.”
Britain’s biggest pensioner organisation, the National Pensioners Convention’s (NPC) general secretary Jan Shortt, said: “In the 21st century, the BBC’s suggestion that means-testing is somehow seen as the fairest way of doing things is absolute nonsense.
“All the evidence shows that Pension Credit is massively under claimed, which means that in the future the very poorest pensioners will now miss out on their TV licence as well.”
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, said the decision was “shoddy”.
She added: “Make no mistake, if this scheme goes ahead we are going to see sick and disabled people in their eighties and nineties who are completely dependent on their cherished TV for companionship and news, forced to give it up.
“Means-testing may sound fair but in reality it means at least 650,000 of our poorest pensioners facing a big new annual bill they simply can’t afford, because though eligible for Pension Credit they don’t actually get it.
“The BBC’s decision will cause those affected enormous anxiety and distress, and some anger too.
“But in the end this is the Government’s fault, not the BBC’s, and it is open to a new Prime Minister to intervene and save the day for some of the most vulnerable older people in our society who will otherwise suffer a big blow to their pockets and to their quality of life.
“The decent thing for the Government to do is to continue to fund the entitlement until the BBC’s overall funding deal comes up for negotiation in 2022.
“This would be warmly welcomed by our older population as a much fairer way to proceed.”
The SNP’s media spokeswoman Hannah Bardell said: This isn’t ‘a compromise’ from the BBC or the UK Tory Government. This is daylight robbery of pensioners across the UK.
“Predicating the free TV licence on pension credit which has already been cut is a deeply damaging & cynical act of betrayal.”
Tory MP Maria Caulfield branded it an “absolutely disgraceful decision” – but because she claims the licence fee should be scrapped for everyone.
Tory MP Damian Collins, chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said MPs will question the Chairman and Director General on the “impact this will have on viewers and listeners.”
Despite charities and broadcasting union members fighting plans to axe the lifeline, the BBC previously said it would have to make huge cuts to afford to foot the bill.
Options had included making over-75s pay half the cost of a TV licence, currently £154.50, or raising the entitlement age to 80.
But the BBC has settled upon means-testing the subsidy by limiting free TV licences to over-75s on Pension Credit.
We previously reported this would strip free TV licences from 3.75 million households, protecting only 900,000 of the poorest pensioners.
Campaigners had previously branded the idea of means-testing based on Pension Credit an “abject disaster”.
It would, however, slash the cost from £745 million to around £250m by 2021/22, the BBC said today.
BBC Director General Lord Hall said today: “This has not been an easy decision.
“Whilst we know that pensioner incomes have improved since 2000, we also know that for some the TV Licence is a lot of money.”
Lord Hall insisted it would be “fairest for the poorest pensioners”.
Head of BECTU broadcasting union Philippa Childs said: “BECTU has argued that free TV licence for over-75s is a welfare benefit and should be funded by the Government.
“While the BBC’s decision will enable the most vulnerable pensioners to continue to receive a free TV licence, it should never have been the BBC’s responsibility to solve this problem.”
With a new Prime Minister due in place next month, Tory leadership hopefuls had previously been urged to protect the perk once they reach No10.
Full statements from the BBC
BBC Chairman Sir David Clementi:
“The BBC has conducted the biggest and most wide-ranging consultation in its history. It has proved invaluable in helping the Board make its decision. While many supported copying the Government’s concession – so that all over 75s received a free TV licence – there was also strong support for reform. There was the least support for abolishing the concession entirely.
“Ultimately, the Board did not think it right to abolish all free TV licences. While research suggests pensioners are now better off than they were when the concession was first introduced nearly twenty years ago, the simple fact is that many are still in poverty – and many want the companionship the BBC can provide. This was a point made by many and we listened and ruled abolition out.
“Copying the current scheme was ultimately untenable. It would have cost £745 million a year by 2021/22 – and risen to over one billion by the end of the next decade. £745 million a year is equivalent to around a fifth of the BBC’s spending on services. The scale of the current concession and its quickly rising cost would have meant profoundly damaging closures of major services that we know audiences – and older audiences in particular – love, use, and value every day. Many stakeholder responses to our consultation questioned the BBC’s ability to fund such a concession and continue to offer high quality services. Indeed, a significant number thought the Government should continue to fund it – an option not open to the BBC. The Government could of course choose to step in and close the gap from their own resources.
“Linking a free licence for over 75s to Pension Credit was the leading reform option. It protects the poorest over 75s, while protecting the services that they, and all audiences, love. It is the fairest and best outcome. It is one we can implement and endorse. This is an outcome that is the fairest possible in difficult circumstances.”
BBC Director-General Tony Hall:
“This has not been an easy decision. Whilst we know that pensioner incomes have improved since 2000, we also know that for some the TV Licence is a lot of money. I believe we have reached the fairest judgement after weighing up all the different arguments. It would not be right simply to abolish all free licences. Equally, it would not be right to maintain it in perpetuity given the very profound impact that would have on many BBC services.
“This decision is fairest for the poorest pensioners. Around 1.5 million households could get free TV licences if someone is over 75 and receives Pension Credit. It protects those most in need. And importantly, it is not the BBC making that judgement about poverty. It is the Government who sets and controls that measure.
“It is fairest for all audiences – of all generations, old and young – who we know the value the BBC and the programmes and services we provide. It means these services can continue.
“We also need to look at how the level of the licence fee is set in the future. The last two settlements have been made in the dark and without proper consultation. It is vital that future decisions are evidence-based and made after proper consultation and scrutiny. We need to find a better way.”