BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg hit out at the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden as she said it was the Conservative Government's decision to
BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg hit out at the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden as she said it was the Conservative Government’s decision to put the cost of the licence fee on the organisation. Her grilling comes just hours after the BBC announced it is scrapping free TV licences for the over 75s which Boris Johnson has said is the “wrong decision”. The free TV licence for over-75s will be means-tested from August 1.
Ms Kuenssberg asked: “As Culture Secretary, how do you respond to the BBC’s decision to scrap the free licence fee for most over 75s given that it was the Conservative Government’s decision to put this cost on to the organisation in the first place?”
Mr Dowden replied: “I very much regret the decision that the BBC has taken.
“We gave the settlement to the BBC back in 2015, they said that it was a good settlement.
“I regret that they couldn’t find efficiency savings to avoid having to impose the licence on the over-75s on the way that they have set out.”
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The end of the free TV licence for over-75s will feel like a “kick in the teeth” to pensioners, campaigners have said.
The BBC has announced that means-testing will begin in August, stating that continuing the universal entitlement would hit “programmes and services”.
The new scheme was originally meant to start on June 1, but was delayed and kept under review because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Age UK said the start of means-testing will feel like a “kick in the teeth” to pensioners and called on the Government to “sit down with the BBC urgently” to work out a deal.
Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams called on the Government to “sit down with the BBC urgently to keep these TV licences for over-75s free”.
She said: “We’re bitterly disappointed by this decision on behalf of the millions of over-75s who have had a torrid time over the last few months and for whom this must feel like another kick in the teeth, during a terrible year.”
Ms Abrahams added: “Everyone needs to understand that under the BBC’s scheme many hundreds of thousands of the poorest pensioners will be facing a bill they will simply be unable to afford to pay.
“That’s due to its flawed design – you only get a free licence if you are receiving Pension Credit but as many as two in five of all the pensioners on the lowest incomes do not receive this benefit, even though they are entitled to it.”
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The charity is worried about the “mental health of older people living on their own,” and those for whom “the TV really is their window on the world”.
The BBC said safety would be at the “heart” of the scheme, as “no-one needs to take any immediate action, or leave their home, to claim for a free TV licence or pay for one”.
The free TV licence was introduced in 2000, but the BBC agreed to take on responsibility for funding the scheme as part of the charter agreement hammered out with the Government in 2015.
The broadcaster, which faces increased competition from streaming giants, has said it cannot afford to take on the financial burden from the Government.