The House of Commons media select committee has called on the BBC and the government to save the free TV licence for over-75s, claiming that the broadcaster’s decision to only provide free TV licences to those over-75s on pension credit was “absurd”.
A government spokesman said: “We’re disappointed with the BBC’s decision not to continue free licences for the over-75s. We’ve been clear that we want and expect it to continue this concession.
“Taxpayers want to see the BBC using its substantial licence fee income in an appropriate way to ensure it delivers for UK audiences. We will respond to the select committee report in due course.”
However, MPs on the committee also admitted that viewers’ shift towards online viewing had altered the BBC’s funding model, and conceded to “flawed” negotiations between the BBC and the government
In 2015 former culture secretary John Whittingdale announced that the corporation would bear the cost of the licence fee exemption for over-75s, previously absorbed by the government. However, in June the BBC announced it would be forced to scrap free TV licenses for almost 4 million people.
Sir David Clementi, Chairman of the BBC, said: “Under the 2015 agreement, the BBC was given responsibility for the policy, and related funding, of the concession for over 75s. We are pleased that the committee recognise that there was no automatic assumption that the BBC would continue to bear the cost of these free TV licences. There is also clear recognition from the committee that it would be unsustainable for the BBC to take on the full cost of all these free licences alone.
“The committee report is also clear that the value of the licence fee will continue to be under pressure from inflation in the TV sector. The Committee say that the Government’s process in 2015 was flawed and we agree with this; it was never a process the BBC would have chosen. That’s why there must be a different way of doing things in the future. In terms of the agreement itself, we are satisfied that it was properly discussed within the BBC and properly authorised,” he added.
“We will continue to implement the decision we have taken – after extensive consultation – on over 75s licence fees with great care and responsibility.”
The committee’s announcements follow journalist Andrew Neil’s call for a BBC campaign to help clear public confusion over the over-75s TV license fee and to encourage eligible pensioners to apply.