If the BBC axes free TV licences for over-75s, it is failing in its civil duty

THE BBC loves to pose as the champion of civilised values.

Brimming with smugness, it regularly trumpets its commitment to ­inclusivity and concern for marginalised groups.

If the over-75s are made to pay the licence fee from 2020, then the BBC will have failed in its civic duty

According to the Director-General Tony Hall, one of the central ­purposes of the ­Corporation is “to bring the country together”.

How hollow that sanct-imonious language now sounds after the revelation from Lord Hall that the BBC could scrap free television licences for the over-75s.

These are currently paid by the Government, but from 2020 the BBC will take responsibility for meeting their cost, which currently stands at £725million each year.

And in front of a committee of MPs on Tuesday, Lord Hall refused to give any guarantee that the free scheme for the elderly will continue in its present form.

PA:Press Association

Director-General of the BBC Tony Hall has refused to guarantee the free TV licence for the elderly[/caption]

“We have got to decide what will replace it,” he declared.

The Corporation should be ashamed that the free licence for older pensioners should even be a matter for debate.

There would be absolutely no justification for its removal, given how important it is to one of the most vulnerable and ignored sections of society.

This would be callous and irresponsible, making a mockery of the BBC’s status as a public service.

PA:Press Association

The licence fee exists because the BBC is meant to have a civic duty[/caption]

Indeed, the only reason the licence fee exists is because the Corporation is meant to have a civic duty far beyond the remit of any commercial broadcaster.

If the over-75s are made to pay from 2020, then the BBC will have failed in that duty.

Lord Hall feebly tried to defend his stance by bleating about the financial burden of the scheme. But that will not wash, given how much cash the BBC receives.

From the licence fee alone, which currently stands at £150.50 for a colour TV, the Corporation rakes in no less than £3.8billion a year, with a further £1.2billion earned from commercial activities.


The free TV Licence is hugely important to one of the most marginalised sections of society[/caption]

Yet, as happens in so many public sector organisations with guaranteed revenue streams, much of this cash is wasted.

The BBC is addicted to top-heavy management structures and sprawling bureaucracies, much of which have little to do with programme-making.

This is an organisation which sends vast teams to music festivals such as Glastonbury and blows a fortune on digital news coverage which is steadily killing off local newspapers.

While Lord Hall pleads poverty, his Corporation pays so-called “talent” phenomenal sums far beyond anything offered in the commercial sector, epitomised by the grotesque £1.75million salary dished out to football presenter Gary Lineker.

PA:Press Association

The Beeb pays so-called ‘talent’ phenomenal sums, epitomised by Gary Lineker’s grotesque £1.75million salary[/caption]

Not all celebrities are as generously treated. The BBC has already spent £1.5million in costs and damages, with more due, in the Sir Cliff Richard privacy case.

What makes the BBC’s warped spending priorities all the more offensive is that the licence fee is imposed with a brutal state authoritarianism that should have no place in a free society.

The fee is literally a poll tax for any household with a television set. In the normal commercial world, when people fail to pay their bills, civil action can be taken against them for recovery, but they cannot then be targeted with criminal prosecutions, backed up with threats of fines and jail sentences.

In fact, the maximum fine for refusing to pay the BBC TV tax is £1,000. One recent estimate suggests that 3,000 people are fined for non-payment every week, while roughly one person a week is jailed, most usually a woman.


The Corporation sends vast teams to music festivals such as Glastonbury – blowing a fortune[/caption]

If only real crimes, that actually hurt innocent citizens, were pursued with the same fervour by the state.
But it is precisely the unique nature of the licence fee that gives the BBC a special responsibility of care for the over-75s.

For many pensioners, their TVs are a lifeline — an antidote to loneliness and a link with the outside world. It is also a great myth that this sector of the population is universally affluent. On the contrary, large numbers of them live on the edge, often having to make the painful choices as to whether to heat their homes or eat.

Many have disabilities or poor health, which can make their worries about finance all the greater.


The free TV licence is just as important for the elderly as the Winter Fuel Allowance[/caption]

That is why the free TV licence is just as important as the Winter Fuel Allowance. Both are essential to their quality of life in old age.

Lord Hall told MPs that older people “consume many, many more services than others” like the young, who prefer internet broadcasters such as Netflix to the BBC.

It was almost as if he thought that this high consumption should be an excuse for financial punishment. But that would be a disgraceful approach.

Instead of seeing the over-75s as a problem, Lord Hall should be rewarding them for their devotion to his expensive organisation.

Not only do the over-75s watch and listen far more to the BBC than the rest of the population, they have also forked out far more through their decades of past licence fee payments. Their loyalty should be honoured, their dignity respected.

Lord Hall is hinting at a course that would be grossly unjust and even inhumane.

  • Leo McKinstry is a journalist and author.


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