If I were a pensioner, I’d be a bit miffed by the BBC’s decision to end the policy of giving free TV licences to the over-75s. At present, the cost is met by the government, but it was due to be picked up by the BBC from 1 June 2020. At least, that’s what I thought — and I had good reason. According to a report on the BBC News website dated 6 July 2015, the Beeb would ‘cover the cost of providing free television licences for over-75s’ and ‘in return… the licence fee will rise with inflation’. The story referred to this as a ‘deal’ that the BBC had made with the government in the run-up to the renewal of the BBC charter in 2017.
But on Monday the BBC announced that it wouldn’t be funding this after all, even though the licence fee went up in line with inflation in 2017 for the first time since 2010, then again in 2018, and again this year. As of next year, the BBC will only provide free TV licences to those over-75s who receive the Pension Credit — about 1.5 million people, or just over a quarter of the total. Explaining this flip flop, the BBC chairman Sir David Clementi said: ‘Copying the current scheme was ultimately untenable. It would have cost £745 million a year by 2021/22 – and risen to more than one billion by the end of the next decade.’ The BBC press release announcing the decision said that if it was to pick up the cost of the current scheme in full it would mean the closure of BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, the BBC Scotland channel, Radio 5 Live and a number of local radio stations. (To read more, click here.)