The BBC is due to press on with scrapping the free licence fee for pensioners in the summer, the corporation’s boss has confirmed. The highly controversial plans will mean over 75s will no longer be able to claim a free TV license as of August.
Warnings have been issued to the BBC about how free access to state broadcasting is vital for elderly people, many of whom do not use other sources for news and current events.
The BBC has already pushed back on scrapping the fee once this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lord Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC, has now confirmed the broadcaster will push forward with plans in August.
The TV licence costs £157.50 – almost as much as the weekly state pension amount.
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Lord Hall said that despite reviewing the situation in the pandemic, the broadcaster would be pressing ahead with the changes.
“The board took the decisions to delay a few months ago. We are preparing for an August launch,” he said.
“However they made it clear at the time they would review the situation closer to the time.”
Only over-75s on pension credit will continue to get the freebie from August.
Around 3.7 million households which previously got it will now have to pay.
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The change was due to come in on June 1, and an exact date for August has not yet been confirmed.
The BBC and Department for Media, Culture and Sport issued a statement on the change earlier in the coronavirus crisis.
The statement reads: “The BBC and the Government have been discussing the national coronavirus situation.
“Changes to the TV licence for people aged over 75 had been due to come into effect on June 1.
“But during this time we do not want anyone to be worried about any potential change.
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“The BBC’s priority over the coming period will be to do everything we can to serve the nation at this uniquely challenging time.
“As the national broadcaster, the BBC has a vital role to play in supplying information to the public in the weeks and months ahead.
“Recognising the exceptional circumstances, the BBC Board has therefore decided to change the start date of the new policy.
“Our current plan is to now bring it into place on August 1.
“We will of course keep the issue under review as the situation continues to evolve.”
Lord Hall also defended licence-payers having to pick up the huge bill to pay for its channels.
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Lord Hall said 94 percent of the population had watched a BBC channel or website at some point during the pandemic, not just for news but also for entertainment purposes.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “People in their droves – 94 per cent of the population of the UK – have turned to the BBC for either information, education or entertainment during this crisis.
“So the question is, ‘What’s the best way of funding that universally so that everybody, this great democratic idea, gets something we can all share?”
The BBC has been credited for clawing back public trust during the pandemic as it fell to record lows during the 2019 general election.
He also said he recognised the need for a “big debate” about the future of the BBC and the way it is funded.
The director-general, who is set to leave his role in the summer, said younger audiences had been coming back to the BBC during the lockdown.
The show Normal People, which is on BBC iPlayer only, has attracted record audiences for the BBC.
He said: “The question is, what’s the best way of funding that universally so that everybody, this great democratic idea, gets something we can all share.
“I hope even when I’ve left I can take part in that debate and we should look at the easiest way to pay, learn from what happens in other countries, are there fairer ways to pay, but the underpinning for all that is the idea of a BBC which is providing something for everyone.”