WWII PoW, 99, blasts BBC for axing free TV licences for 3.7m over-75s

A prisoner of war during World War Two has blasted the BBC for axing free licences for 3.7million people over-75s, calling the decision an insult to veterans ‘just days after we were being ‘patted on the back’ over D-Day. 

Victor Gregg, 99, accused the broadcaster of ‘robbing the piggy banks’ of the generation who saved the world from Hitler, as a petition urging the government to take back responsibility for free licences hit more than 260,000 signatures. 

‘It’s only two days ago that they were patting all these old people on the head and calling them heroes,’ he told Good Morning Britain. ‘It’s disgraceful – they want money, they’re overspending. Who do they attack? Those who can’t answer back.’

Mr Gregg was 25 and being held as a prisoner of war in Dresden when hundreds of Allied bombers struck the city, causing a 1,500C firestorm that ripped through its streets. He was due to be shot that very day but managed to escape. 

Victor Gregg pictured on the left during World War Two

Victor Gregg pictured on the left during World War Two

Mr Gregg in a photo taken when he was a young man 

Mr Gregg in a photo taken when he was a young man 

Victor Gregg (pictured on the left during World War Two; and right, prior to the war) was being held as a prisoner of war in Dresden when hundreds of Allied bombers attacked the city 

Attendees at the National Pensioners' Convention in Blackpool yesterday protested the BBC's decision  to abolish free licence fees for millions of over-75s

Attendees at the National Pensioners' Convention in Blackpool yesterday protested the BBC's decision  to abolish free licence fees for millions of over-75s

Attendees at the National Pensioners’ Convention in Blackpool yesterday protested the BBC’s decision  to abolish free licence fees for millions of over-75s

The move to means test licence fees for the over-75s sparked fury on social media, with many branding the move a 'disgrace'

The move to means test licence fees for the over-75s sparked fury on social media, with many branding the move a 'disgrace'

The move to means test licence fees for the over-75s sparked fury on social media, with many branding the move a ‘disgrace’

The BBC’s decision to scrap free TV licences for millions of pensioners sparked a full-scale rebellion yesterday. 

Furious viewers vowed to end their payments to the corporation or even go to prison in protest at the £154.50 annual charge.

BBC chiefs were also warned that pensioners may be driven to suicide by the threat of court action for non-payment.

What does the BBC spend its money on?

The BBC Annual Report and Accounts for 2017/18 shows what the corporation spends its money on. The following is spent on TV:

BBC One- £1.2bn

BBC Two- £481.2 million

BBC Four- £52.3 million

CBBC- £96.1 million

CBeebies – £43.4 million

BBC ALBA- £10.7 million

BBC News Channel – £68.2 million

BBC Parliament – £10.1 million 

The BBC pays a combined £655.6 million for radio, that includes Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4 and services in Scotland and Wales.

The cost for the BBC Online website and the red button service is £290.3 million.

Some of the other services the BBC spends money on are as follows:

Orchestras and performing groups – £32.2 million

Development Spend – £57.3 million

BBC World Service Grant – £70.5 million

BBC World Service Operating Licence – £268.3 million 

Building a new EastEnders Albert Square set – £86 million  

Attendees at the National Pensioners’ Convention in Blackpool protested the BBC’s decision yesterday by holding up a banner reading ‘save our free TV licence’. 

One pensioner, David, 84, said there were ‘millions like me’ who would suffer because of the move.

‘The TV is a vital lifeline for me… and I’m not alone, there are millions of us who are in exactly the same situation,’ he said. ‘If the TV was withdrawn they would vegetate. That’s a very serious situation and it puts a very great cost on the NHS. That’s what they need to think through.’ 

Five Tory leadership candidates waded into the debate to urge the BBC to think again.

The corporation is stripping 3.7million households of their free TV licence from June next year. From that point, the exemption will be available only to those on Pension Credit, a benefit claimed by 900,000 low-income households.

Non-payers face criminal charges and a £1,000 fine. They could also end up in jail if they do not settle the court charge.

Veterans minister Tobias Ellwood predicted that a million war heroes would be affected by the cut.

‘A week after D-Day commemorations these people are going to be facing these bills,’ he told Good Morning Britain.

‘I do hope we go back to the drawing board and think what more can we do to look after our veterans.

‘Let’s look at this again. Let’s recognise the importance that these licence fees have for those, particularly veterans and why it’s so valued.’

Iris Singer, a 79-year-old retired social worker and psychotherapist, said the BBC’s decision could lead to depression for those affected. She added: ‘I could also see suicide. What’s the point, at our age, of living if you’ve got to go through that unbearable hassle of going to court? And then to go to prison? It’s not conscionable.’

Many critics of the BBC's move to scrap automatic free TV licences for over-75s pointed out the BBC's huge salary bill. Gary Lineker received £1.8million last year

Many critics of the BBC's move to scrap automatic free TV licences for over-75s pointed out the BBC's huge salary bill. Gary Lineker received £1.8million last year

Fiona Bruce was paid £190,000

Fiona Bruce was paid £190,000

Many critics of the BBC’s move to scrap automatic free TV licences for over-75s pointed out the BBC’s huge salary bill. Gary Lineker (left) received £1.8million last year and Fiona Bruce £190,000

Presenter Graham Norton received a £600,000 salary last year. He is pictured filming the Graham Norton Show on June 6

Presenter Graham Norton received a £600,000 salary last year. He is pictured filming the Graham Norton Show on June 6

Presenter Graham Norton received a £600,000 salary last year. He is pictured filming the Graham Norton Show on June 6 

‘The children melted, their bones were too tender’: How Victor Gregg was due to be shot in Dresden on day RAF killed tens of thousands before pulling off an incredible escape

Victor Gregg, a 25-year-old rifleman who had been caught twice trying to escape his POW camp, was readying himself for the firing squad on February 13, 1945, when the first RAF planes were seen overhead.

Describing how the ensuing 1,500C firestorm ripped through the city, the 99-year-old told Good Morning Britain in February: ‘There was never sign of any children, because the children melt, their bones are too tender.’

Mr Gregg was captured at the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944 and taken to a Nazi POW camp. As punishment for two escapes he was sent to a soap factory, which he burnt down, prompting furious German officers to put him on death row.

On February 13, he was waiting with hundreds of other condemned men due to be shot the next morning in a temporary prison in Dresden when he saw the first RAF planes overhead.

‘It was around 10 o’clock when the Mosquitos came over and dropped their flares – we could see that through the glass cupola in the roof in the prison,’ he said. ‘We immediately knew that we were in trouble.

‘It was bedlam, some of these incendiaries broke through the cupola and all the glass came down. Anyone who was underneath that were pierced and caught alight with the [phosphorus].’

A huge bomb dropped just outside the prison, killing ‘four-fifths’ of the men inside and knocking Mr Gregg unconscious. He quickly came to and was rounded up with the other prisoners by the guards.

The RAF and US Air Force raid on Dresden began just as Victor Gregg was due to be shot in the city. Pictured: The devastated Old Town on February 14, 1945

The RAF and US Air Force raid on Dresden began just as Victor Gregg was due to be shot in the city. Pictured: The devastated Old Town on February 14, 1945

The RAF and US Air Force raid on Dresden began just as Victor Gregg was due to be shot in the city. Pictured: The devastated Old Town on February 14, 1945 

On February 14, Mr Gregg said survivors of the first raid came up from their underground shelters, leaving them vulnerable when US Air Force bombers hit again.

‘When the second wave came over these people were trapped out in the open and the bombs were much bigger,’ he said.

‘It was aimed specifically at civilians and you’ve got to ask yourself, “well who were the civilians?” It wasn’t the able-bodied men, they were all away in the Army.’

By the third day of the raid he was told to go to a communal shelter with the other prisoners.

That evening, when he was meant to return to custody, he fled over a bridge and managed to join Russian forces coming from the east.

Reflecting on his extraordinary escape, he said: ‘It’s just as well to remember that if the planes hadn’t gone over, I would have been marched out into a courtyard, strapped into a ring in the courtyard and shot.’

Mr Gregg wrote a book about his experiences, called Dresden: A Survivor’s Story.  

What Tory leadership contenders have said about the licence fee scandal 

So far Esther McVey, Matt Hancock and Andrea Leadsom are the only three Tory leadership campaigners who have spoken out against the BBC’s move to remove free licence fees from most over-75s. 

However, while they have criticised the BBC, none have promised to begin funding licence fees if they became Prime Minister. 

Ms McVey tweeted: ‘As someone who used to work for the BBC I am ashamed of them for this decision.

‘Our ‘public service broadcaster’ who has forgotten the public they are supposed to serve. Agree with @RuthDavidsonMSP & @GMB campaign.’ 

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky: ‘I think this decision by the BBC was a mistake because I don’t think we should be putting extra burdens on pensioners.

‘Ultimately over the next few years the distinction between what is a TV and what is a computer is collapsing, in the future there won’t be a distinction.

‘This is all a short-term debate, the big debate is how do you have a national broadcaster in the era of the internet?’

Ex-Commons leader Mrs Leadsom said: ‘I think that’s unacceptable.

‘It’s a commitment in the Conservatives’ manifesto and we need to find a way to reverse that.’

Janet Martin, 77, said that she was prepared to go to jail in protest, on behalf of those who are less well off.

The retired physiotherapist from Devon said: ‘I am never going to pay for a television licence because I’ve paid enough. I am serious about going to prison.’ 

Comedian Sir Lenny Henry also criticised the BBC, telling ITV: ‘We want something where as many people as possible can have access to the BBC and they shouldn’t do cost-determined decision making like that.’

Others pointed out the BBC’s whopping outlay on salaries, which last year was £148million for presenters alone, with Match of the Day host Gary Lineker topping the bill with a pay packet of £1.8m. 

Former BBC journalist Martin Bell said: ‘If they could reduce the salaries of some of the stars right across the board to the sort of level that I was paid, which was that of an MP,’ he said

‘The salaries have been a huge embarrassment for them. If they want to save money, look to the stars.’

The row has also become a key battleground for MPs vying for the Tory leadership.

Matt Hancock, Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey all condemned the BBC’s decision.

Miss McVey, a former TV presenter, said: ‘As someone who used to work for the BBC I am ashamed of them for this decision. Our “public service broadcaster” who has forgotten the public they are supposed to serve.’

Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt also waded in, with aides for the two leadership candidates saying respectively that they would work with the BBC to find a way to deliver the Tory manifesto promise from 2017.

More than 260,000 sign Age UK petition against move – while thousands demand TV licences be scrapped altogether 

Age UK – 

An Age UK petition calls on the BBC to reinstate free licenses for over-65s, because they say the plans would harm millions of older people who rely on their TV.  

‘Together, we must demand the Government takes back responsibility for funding free TV licences,’ it said. 

Current signatories – More than 260,000 

Parliamentary petitions – 

One petition, by Jane Mackinnon, calls on the TV licence to be abolished altogether. 

The petition already got more than 115,000 signatures – more than the 100,000 needed for a debate in Parliament. 

The petition states: ‘The quality of BBC programmes do not reflect the price of the TV license. It is far too expensive for the majority of people and should be abolished.’

Another one calling for the free TV licence to continue to be funded has reached more than 41,000 signatures.  

It pledged to ensure over-75s continued to receive free TV licences for the ‘duration of this parliament’, currently set to run until 2022.

Others turned their guns on the Government, insisting that it should take responsibility for TV licences for the over 75s back from the BBC.

Greg Dyke, a former director general of the broadcaster, said: ‘If there is an argument for giving a free licence to all over 75s, then it is for the Government to do rather than the BBC.

‘The big mistake was made some years ago. BBC bosses have done what rationally they could do, which was to protect the worse off. If you didn’t have it at all, then you’ve got the BBC losing 20 per cent of income – that’s a massive amount of money. The Government left them in an impossible position.’

The Department for Work and Pensions used to shoulder the bill for free TV licences, but the Government offloaded the responsibility on to the BBC as part of a deal struck in 2015.

By doing so, it effectively saddled the broadcaster with a potential bill of £745million in 2021, rising to more than £1billion by 2029, to cover the cost of all free licences.

In return, it gave the broadcaster permission to either change the rules governing the entitlement from next year, or to scrap it altogether.

It also said the BBC licence fee could increase with inflation, and agreed to close the so-called ‘iPlayer loophole’ which allowed people to watch catch-up TV online for free.

Claudia Winkleman is the highest paid female star of the BBC with a salary of £379,999

Claudia Winkleman is the highest paid female star of the BBC with a salary of £379,999

They refuse to disclose how much it costs for the army of hundreds of staff that cover Glastonbury festival every year, claiming it would breach EU human rights laws. Pictured is Jo Wiley at the festival

They refuse to disclose how much it costs for the army of hundreds of staff that cover Glastonbury festival every year, claiming it would breach EU human rights laws. Pictured is Jo Wiley at the festival

Claudia Winkleman (left) is the highest paid female star of the BBC with a salary of £379,999. Meanwhile, the BBC refuse to disclose how much it costs for the army of hundreds of staff that cover Glastonbury festival every year, claiming it would breach EU human rights laws. Pictured right is Jo Wiley at the festival 

As hashtags like '#axethetax' spread on Twitter, Age UK petition 'save free TV for older people' racked up more than 260,000 signatures by 4.00pm

As hashtags like '#axethetax' spread on Twitter, Age UK petition 'save free TV for older people' racked up more than 260,000 signatures by 4.00pm

As hashtags like ‘#axethetax’ spread on Twitter, Age UK petition ‘save free TV for older people’ racked up more than 260,000 signatures by 4.00pm

 

Twitter users insisted all over-75s should be able to watch BBC services for free

Twitter users insisted all over-75s should be able to watch BBC services for free

Twitter users insisted all over-75s should be able to watch BBC services for free 

David, 84, said there were 'millions like me' who would suffer because of the move

David, 84, said there were 'millions like me' who would suffer because of the move

David, 84, said there were ‘millions like me’ who would suffer because of the move

The BBC has established a reputation for being profligate over the years, lurching from spending scandal to spending scandal.

‘My TV is company for me’: Pensioners blast ‘totally unjustifiable’ move

Many elderly people not on Pension Credit said they would not be able to afford the extra charge.

Val, 81, a widow from Kent, said: ‘I’m disgusted, to say the least, as the BBC programming is so much repeats that I rarely watch the BBC channels, but I will still have to pay for a licence.

‘I live in flats with neighbours of a similar age, and many residents are unable to go out, so TV is a lifeline. Those of us who have saved for our retirement are again being made to lose out.’ 

Evelyn, 98, from Woking, said: ‘Both my children work, so I am on my own all day. I have very poor balance thus cannot walk, and I no longer drive, so the TV is company for me.

‘Over time my pension has not kept pace with inflation, so I have to be particularly frugal. I would probably have to say no to a TV licence.

James Underwood, 81, from Wiltshire, criticised former Chancellor George Osborne for refusing to fund the licence fee for over-75s and passing the cost on to the BBC.

‘This charge will only just be covered by the increase in my statutory state pension,’ he said. ‘I do feel that the Government has welshed on the original deal.’

Haydn Richard Watkins, 82, from Hampshire, said: ‘George Osborne’s decision to make the BBC responsible for what should clearly be a responsibility of government was, and remains, totally unjustifiable.’

Last year alone it spent £148million on presenter pay, with Match of the Day host Gary Lineker topping the bill by taking home £1.8million.

It also lavished licence fee payer cash on behind-the-scenes staff. More than 100 of them are paid more than the Prime Minister, according to the most recent annual report.

Some of its biggest earners have such nonsensical job titles, that most members of the public will have little idea of what they actually do. 

In 2017, the Corporation said it had paid between £150,000 and £200,000 a year to its ‘integration lead’ Richard Smith and ‘identity architect’ Colin Brown.

BBC bosses defend its spending on talent, arguing that it needs to compete with rivals for the best staff.

However, they would be hard-pressed to justify many of the other costs they rack up. The BBC wasted £200,000 of licence fee payer’s money on taxi, train and hotel bookings that were never used between 2015 and 2018. According to the Sun on Sunday, bosses paid £172,000 for 3,418 rail tickets, £15,000 on 944 taxi trips and £32,000 for 233 hotel rooms that were cancelled.

The BBC was unable to claim refunds on any of them. The Corporation also seems to be remarkably bad at finding flights that are good value for money.

Last year, an unnamed BBC boss spent £9,000 on a return flight to Miami – which wasn’t even first class.

Business class flights costing £3,000 less than this were easily found by reporters.

The Miami trip was one of 20 eye-watering fares for back office staff for the 12 months to December, which together cost nearly £100,000. 

The BBC tweeted to explain the changes and what they mean for the over 75s

The BBC tweeted to explain the changes and what they mean for the over 75s

The BBC tweeted to explain the changes and what they mean for the over 75s

BBC Director-General Tony Hall said of the changes: 'This has not been an easy decision'

BBC Director-General Tony Hall said of the changes: 'This has not been an easy decision'

BBC Director-General Tony Hall said of the changes: ‘This has not been an easy decision’

Tory leadership contender Esther McVey led calls for the BBC to reverse the move

Tory leadership contender Esther McVey led calls for the BBC to reverse the move

Tory leadership contender Esther McVey led calls for the BBC to reverse the move

Susanna Reid fights back the tears speaking to elderly victim of BBC’s decision to stop free TV licences as Piers Morgan offers to pay for veteran 

Susanna Reid broke down this morning as an elderly woman begged her to stop the BBC snatching away her main source of entertainment as Piers Morgan pledged to pay for a veteran’s TV licence.  

The Good Morning Britain presenter and co-host Piers used today’s show to demand the broadcaster reverse its decision to scrap free TV licences for the over-75s, branding it an ‘outrage’.

It came as Piers called on politicians to join their campaign against the decision, saying: ‘Shame on the BBC for doing this, they should be forced to do a U-turn and cave on this.’

He raged at the decision as he pointed out that veterans who have just been honoured for their bravery on D-Day would be among those hit.

‘So we’re going to make D-Day veterans pay £154 for their TV licences?’ he tweeted. ‘What an absolute disgrace. Shame on you, BBC.’ 

The presenters encouraged people to call in and share their disgust as they called on the corporation to rethink the move.  

Pensioner Josephine urged the broadcaster to ‘get in the real word’ during a phone-in as she told the presenter it will hit her husband particularly hard and accused the corporation of targeting elderly people.  

When asked if she had a message for Tony Hall, Josephine branded the director-general ‘old fashioned’ and slammed him for ‘penalising the elderly’.

As Susanna called the move an ‘outrage’, she told the caller: ‘My heart breaks for you.’

Piers Morgan branded the scrapping of the licence fee 'terrible' as Susanna Reid said it was an 'outrage' while Josephine cried to them on the phone

Piers Morgan branded the scrapping of the licence fee 'terrible' as Susanna Reid said it was an 'outrage' while Josephine cried to them on the phone

Piers Morgan branded the scrapping of the licence fee ‘terrible’ as Susanna Reid said it was an ‘outrage’ while Josephine cried to them on the phone 

While she fought back tears, Piers called on the 10 contenders for the Conservative Party leadership to make clear what they would do as Prime Minister.  

Josephine left fans of the show in tears as they took to Twitter to express sympathy for her and others.

One wrote: ‘Well Josephine on Good Morning Britian #GMB has made me cry. That’s a reality.’

Another tweeted: ‘Listening to pensioners on @GMB reduced to tears because the @BBC are taking away their lifeline is utterly heartbreaking.’  

Susanna Reid broke down on Good Morning Britain today as Josephine described the impact scrapping the licence would have on her husband

Susanna Reid broke down on Good Morning Britain today as Josephine described the impact scrapping the licence would have on her husband

Susanna Reid broke down on Good Morning Britain today as Josephine described the impact scrapping the licence would have on her husband 

Other viewers raged against the decision and the impact it will have on military veterans as Piers Morgan pledged to pay the TV licence fee for a D-Day veteran who flirted with Melania Trump during the US President’s state visit. 

Thomas Cuthbert, a guest on yesterday’s show, is among those who face losing out. The 93-year-old joked with Donald Trump ‘if I was 20 years younger’ when he met the president and First Lady. 

After his remarks hit headlines, the veteran told the show’s presenters that he had no idea what came over him. 

Pictured: Thomas Cuthbert meets President Trump and First Lady Melania. He hit headlines during the state visit for saying 'if I was 20 years younger'

Pictured: Thomas Cuthbert meets President Trump and First Lady Melania. He hit headlines during the state visit for saying 'if I was 20 years younger'

Pictured: Thomas Cuthbert meets President Trump and First Lady Melania. He hit headlines during the state visit for saying ‘if I was 20 years younger’

Carole Monk (far-left), daughter of Thomas Cuthbert (pictured on yesterday's Good Morning Britain) told today's show that he faces difficult decisions before Piers pledged to pay his licence for him

Carole Monk (far-left), daughter of Thomas Cuthbert (pictured on yesterday's Good Morning Britain) told today's show that he faces difficult decisions before Piers pledged to pay his licence for him

Carole Monk (far-left), daughter of Thomas Cuthbert (pictured on yesterday’s Good Morning Britain) told today’s show that he faces difficult decisions before Piers pledged to pay his licence for him

His daughter told the show today: ‘He’s going to be pretty angry – the veterans, all the elderly depend on the TV. It’s their lifeline. It makes you wonder what they are going to do next to them.’

As she feared that her father would have to make difficult decisions abotu hsi money despite the family helping out, Piers said: ‘I will pay his TV licence as long as he needs. 

‘Whatever happens – he moved us so much. Take it from me – I will pay for his licence.’   

Who used to cover the cost of free TV licences and when did politicians pass the cost onto the BBC? 

The Department for Work and Pensions used to shoulder the bill for free TV licences, but the responsibility was handed to the BBC in 2015.

This had saddled the broadcaster with a bill of at least £745million from 2021, rising to more than £1billion by 2029. In return, the Government gave the BBC permission to either limit or remove the entitlement.

The BBC announced yesterday that it had decided to restrict free TV licences to poorer pensioners – a move that will still cost it £250million a year. The corporation said the change was needed to avoid ‘profoundly damaging closures’ to services and channels.

Although 900,000 households are on pension credit another 600,000 do not take advantage of the benefit – either through stigma or fear of excessive paperwork. Were they to start claiming – allowing them a free licence – the Treasury’s £5.4billion bill for pension credit could soar.

Under the new rules elderly women will be particularly at risk of being dragged through the courts – and potentially to jail – because they are convicted of licence fee evasion more frequently than men.

According to the most recent data, 184,595 Britons were charged with non-payment of the TV licence in 2016. Around 140,000 were taken to court, 21,300 of which were found not guilty and 90 people were jailed for failing to pay court-issued fines. 

The BBC claims that a lot of its travel arrangements have to be made last minute to accommodate its executives’ busy schedules.

But they keep some spending strictly under wraps. They refuse to disclose how much it costs for the army of hundreds of staff that cover Glastonbury festival every year, claiming it would breach EU human rights laws.

However, it has admitted to lavishing money on holidays for its stars. In 2016, it spent around £5,000 on a pair of business class flights for Undercover actress Sophie Okonedo and her boyfriend. They used them to go wine tasting and whale watching in Cape Town after she had finished filming in Johannesburg.

However, these sums pale in comparison to the huge sums the Corporation has overspent on landmark projects.

In 2013, it was forced to cancel its ‘Digital Media Initiative’, having spent £100million. It also blew £12.5million on the BBC Store, a download service supposed to bring in millions by cashing in on viewers’ nostalgia. It closed after just over a year.

Its building projects have also been a disaster for the coffers. In 2015, the NAO censured the BBC over its £1billion London headquarters, which went £107million over budget. 

A BBC spokesman said: ‘The BBC is assessed as one of the most efficient telecoms and media companies and by significantly cutting running costs we’ve made sure as much money as possible goes straight into programmes which audiences love.’    

‘Can the BBC justify taking an elderly, vulnerable pensioner to court if they don’t pay up?’ How politicians and charities reacted to the move

Politicians and charities rounded on the BBC today for its decision to strip millions of over-75s of their free TV licences.

An estimated 4.6million households currently escape the £154.50 annual charge.

But from next June the exemption will be available only to those on pension credit, a benefit claimed by 900,000 low-income households. 

MPs said the most vulnerable now faced being dragged to court if they did not realise they had to buy a licence – or could not afford one.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown said: ‘We have to ask whether the BBC can justify taking a frail, housebound, elderly pensioner to court for not possessing a TV licence that for years she has had for free?

‘And then not only having the power to ask for a fine of £1,000 with legal costs on top, but also to have the power if she doesn’t pay or can’t pay, to ask the courts to send her to prison?’

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown (pictured) warned that the changes could push pensioners into criminality and be a 'taxation without representation'

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown (pictured) warned that the changes could push pensioners into criminality and be a 'taxation without representation'

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown (pictured) warned that the changes could push pensioners into criminality and be a ‘taxation without representation’

Labour MP Kate Hoey claimed the change would fuel calls for the licence fee to be abolished altogether

Labour MP Kate Hoey claimed the change would fuel calls for the licence fee to be abolished altogether

Labour MP Kate Hoey claimed the change would fuel calls for the licence fee to be abolished altogether  

The Department for Work and Pensions used to shoulder the bill for free TV licences, but the responsibility was handed to the BBC in 2015.

This had saddled the broadcaster with a bill of at least £745million from 2021, rising to more than £1billion by 2029. In return, the Government gave the BBC permission to either limit or remove the entitlement.

The BBC announced yesterday that it had decided to restrict free TV licences to poorer pensioners – a move that will still cost it £250million a year. The corporation said the change was needed to avoid ‘profoundly damaging closures’ to services and channels.

Tory leadership hopeful Esther McVey urged the BBC to reverse its decision. 

She tweeted: ‘The BBC was told that it could increase the licence fee if it covered free TV licences for over 75s. 

‘It now seems to have broken that deal The BBC shouldn’t benefit financially from breaking that promise. I would ensure that all over 75s get the free TV licences they deserve.’

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky: ‘I think this decision by the BBC was a mistake because I don’t think we should be putting extra burdens on pensioners.

‘Ultimately over the next few years the distinction between what is a TV and what is a computer is collapsing, in the future there won’t be a distinction.

‘This is all a short-term debate, the big debate is how do you have a national broadcaster in the era of the internet?’ 

They joined Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who told the Good Morning Britian: ‘If GMB are going to mount a campaign on this, then sign me up as the first person to back it because television is the window to the world for people that can’t go there themselves, including people who are elderly.

‘It’s not just a friend when you’re lonely, it’s not just intellectual stimulation, it’s also a way to reach out and see things and, like Susanna (Reid), if I was asked to pay a few pounds more to help make sure that free TV licences are maintained for people over the age of 75, I would willingly pay it.’ 

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson branded the burden placed on pensioners an ‘outrage’ and activists for the elderly warned that the move will directly affect the ‘sick and disabled’. 

Meanwhile, Tobias Ellwood retweeted a post by Piers Morgan about D-Day veterans now being saddled with paying the fee, with the Defence Minister claiming around a million former soldiers are over the age of 75.  

Scottish National Party MP Hannah Bardell said: ‘It’s a shocking fact that dozens of people, many of whom are women, are sent to prison every year for non-payment of their licence.

‘As if this is not bad enough, to potentially prosecute people in their 80s and 90s and send them to prison for not being able to afford a TV licence is absolutely unacceptable.’

Labour’s Kate Hoey tweeted: ‘All this will do is make the campaign to abolish the licence fee even stronger.’ 

The BBC has scrapped blanket free TV licences for the over-75s, bosses have announced today. File image

The BBC has scrapped blanket free TV licences for the over-75s, bosses have announced today. File image

The BBC has scrapped blanket free TV licences for the over-75s, bosses have announced today. File image 

Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, said the thought of jail was ‘amazingly scary’ for the elderly.

She added: ‘We’re talking about some of the most vulnerable people in our society who are facing all kinds of challenges – intellectual impairments, serious illness, terminal illness, bereavement – all kinds of things happen to you when you get to this age.

‘The last thing people want to be worrying about is the possibility that they might be taken before the courts for doing the wrong thing – and yet it’s hard to see how that won’t happen to some people.’

Paul Edwards, director of clinical services at Dementia UK, said the removal of free TV licences would add another layer of bureaucracy for dementia sufferers who already ‘find it difficult to keep on top of bill payments’.

BBC boss Lord Tony Hall insisted yesterday that the broadcaster would be sensitive to the plight of vulnerable pensioners. But he said the corporation did not have the power to decriminalise the licence fee.

‘It is up to the courts, but it’s also our interpretation of people’s state – already, on the licence fee we can make judgements about that,’ he added.

BBC bosses said keeping free licences would have forced them to cut their total budget by a fifth, sacrificing vast swathes of services.

A spokesman said: ‘This is the fairest option to help the poorest pensioners. It is the fairest option for all licence fee payers, as this means everyone will continue to receive the best programmes and services that the BBC can provide.

‘The BBC will not be making judgements about poverty as that measure is set and controlled by Government.’ BBC chairman Sir David Clementi yesterday took a swipe at the Government, saying it could ‘of course choose to step in and close the gap from their own resources’.

Insiders suggested that the corporation had rushed its announcement through in order to take advantage of the Tory leadership election and ‘bounce’ candidates into making promises to take on the extra cost.

But the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘We are very disappointed with this decision. We have been clear that we expected the BBC to continue this concession.

‘People across the country value television as a way to stay connected and we want the BBC to talk again at ways to support older people.

‘Taxpayers want to see the BBC use its substantial licence fee income in an appropriate way to ensure it delivers for UK audiences.’

Q&A: When will the new charge be introduced and will I be affected? 

When will the licence fee change come in?

June 1, 2020

Who will be affected?

Anyone over the age of 75 will lose their exemption – except those on pension credit.

How many households could be exempt?

Around 3million UK households are eligible for a pension credit – which tops up weekly income to £167.25 for a single person or £255.25 for a couple. People who reached state pension age before April 2016 can also apply for up to £15.35 per couple per week if they have savings. 

Half of those households – 1.5million – have residents over the age of 75, so would be eligible for a free TV licence. However, only around 900,000 actually claim the benefit.

How do I obtain pension credit?

Aimed at retired people on low incomes, both single people and couples, it is means tested but can be worth thousands of pounds a year. Call the pension credit claim line on 0800 99 1234. They will fill in the application for you over the phone. 

You need your national insurance number and bank details along with information about your finances including savings, mortgages, investments and any other assets.

How do you claim a free TV licence?

You will have to show TV Licensing – the arm of the BBC in charge of collecting the charge – proof that you receive pension credit. This could be a copy of the letter you received from the Department for Work and Pensions.

How will it be policed?

TV Licensing will develop and operate an ‘independent self-verification system’ online. It will also provide pensioners who think they are entitled to the pension credit, but do not claim it, details of how to do this.

How much will the new scheme cost?

The continued exemptions will cost the BBC £250million a year, including the bill for hiring extra staff to talk to elderly pensioners about the changes face to face. 

That is the equivalent to the budget for Radio 4, Radio 2, the BBC News Channel and some local radio stations.

Where will the BBC get this money from?

£100million from recent savings efforts that was supposed to go into programming and the £150million a year previously committed to the national roll-out of rural broadband. 

The broadcaster was freed from that obligation as part of its 2015 deal with government.

Why not tap the high-paid stars?

Bosses rejected cutting tlaent pay because capping salaries at £150,000 would save only around £20million a year.

Could I go to jail if I don’t pay?

Non-payment of the TV licence is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine of up to £1,000, plus court costs. Disobeying the court and not paying that fine can land you in jail. 

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