Labour will protect free TV licences for over 75s in event of election victory

Deputy Leader Tom Watson has described the decision to remove the benefit as "utterly callous"

Senior woman using smart TV apps on digital tablet on living room sofa

Controversial plans to remove free TV licences from over 75s could still be scrapped – if Labour wins the upcoming general election.

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The party’s deputy leader Tom Watson said that the benefit will be protected in the event of a Labour victory, ensuring almost four million pensioners still have access to a free license.

Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Watson described the decision of the Conservative government to scrap the benefit as “utterly callous.”

He said, “Four in 10 older people say the TV is their main source of company, but from next year 3.7 million older people will lose their free TV licence.

“It’s disgraceful. Our message is clear – vote Labour to save free TV licences.”

The news that free licences for the elderly were to be axed in favour of a means tested benefit was met with a largely negative response when it was announced by the BBC in June.

A RadioTimes.com poll of over 700 readers found that 65.4 per cent of respondents were against the decision, while the RadioTimes.com Facebook received many comments in opposition to the news.

However some readers claimed that the move was a pragmatic response to a strained financial situation at the BBC.

The decision also prompted protests across the country, including outside BBC’s complex in Salford, with famous faces from TV including Ricky Tomlinson joining in the protests.

In October, the House of Commons media select committee called on the BBC and the government to reverse the decision, labelling it as “absurd”.

Free TV licences for the over 75s were introduced by former Labour chancellor Gordon Brown  in 1999 and were subsidised by the government.

However in 2015, the Conservative government said the subsidy would be phased out from 2020.

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As things stand, over-75s not on Pension Credit will be required to pay the licence fee from June 2020.