29 AUG 2019
Thank you for taking the time to write to me about the BBC's decision to means test free TV licences for the over 75s and to clarify, Parliament - under the law - gave the BBC the power to decide the future and consult on this topic.
I appreciate your concern about this and that this will be particularly hard on those who just miss the threshold for pension credit.
Over 190,000 people took part in the BBC consultation, the largest the BBC has ever run, and there was a small majority who wanted to change the concession and many who felt strongly that the concession should continue. There was little support for abolishing the concession.
I realise many will be deeply upset by this change and I think the government should now look at what extra support it can give to those who will now struggle with affordability.
You may be interested to know that the Liberal Democrat position is that, the Conservatives should not have made the BBC take on the cost of what is a social benefit – which should be a matter for Government and parliament – as they did in 2015. This was something the Liberal Democrats successfully blocked during the Coalition Government. The licence fee is not the Government's to spend. It is not public money but the public's money which should be used to invest in BBC programmes.
The Liberal Democrats believe it is vitally important that the Conservative government honour their manifesto pledge to keep free TV Licences for the over-75s. They could have done so but have chosen not to.
I hope the following information on this topic from the BBC provides some reassurance and helps to clarify the situation about who will already be eligible for a free licence after the changes come into force:
First the BBC has taken how we implement this new scheme very seriously. We know it's a big change for people and we want to make it easy and simple.
Television Licensing will be writing to all over 75 households – nobody needs to do anything now – their free licence will remain in place until 31 May 2020.
We've announced the decision a year in advance to give people time to think about it and then prepare. We are very conscious that we need to make this easy and accessible to all.
We are going to provide more telephone support and personal contact through outreach visits to community centres, for example, because we appreciate this group may need and want more support.
The BBC has also started running an information campaign on radio and will continue to communicate widely so that people know about the new arrangements.
The BBC is aware that individuals may prefer a family member or representative to deal with the TV Licence on their behalf and those mechanisms are already in place in TV Licensing.
For those who will now have to pay we recognise that to pay the whole amount up front may be difficult so we will introduce a new payment plan so that people can make smaller payments – around £6 every fortnight – so spread out over the year which we hope will make it easier for people.
There have been a number of stories where people have raised concerns about how they are going to comply with the new arrangements. We are going to make it as easy as possible for people to pay and make sure we support them during the transition. We have a higher compliance rate than other countries and as we have set out clearly enforcement action of any kind is always a last resort for the BBC.
For those on pension credit, people will just have to provide evidence of receipt of pension credit – such as a letter – passporting is a tried and tested way to do this used by the public and private sectors.
We've written to charities and older people's groups to work with them to make this as easy as possible for everybody and also look at how to make sure people are aware of how they can get a free TV licence via Pension Credit.
We think that working together it is likely that pension credit take-up will rise.
We will also be encouraging people to contact DWP if they think they are eligible for Pension Credit and how other organisations can support them in their applications.
That will be a good thing. New pension credit claimants could get around £2500, as well as then other benefits, including a free TV licence.
I think it is very important that government does everything possible to improve the awareness of pension credit as so many people continue not to claim this important benefit. Information about Pension Credit can be found at the following website .
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