The NPC has written to Tim Davie, BBC Director General. It is available to download and read below.
Dear Mr. Davie,
Re Free TV licences for over 75s
First of all, may we congratulate you on your appointment as the next Director General of the BBC.
Secondly, to make you aware that the National Pensioners Convention has a vested interest in making sure there is a permanent resolution on the matter of the BBC’s decision to restrict free TV licences to only those over 75 in receipt of pension credit.
The NPC is the largest campaigning organisation in the UK with around 1.5 million members. We work for the benefit of older people, now and in the future.
Our main argument against making the BBC responsible for funding the free TV licence is that it is an element of a wider package of universal entitlements to supplement the poorest state pension in the economically developed world. Social welfare is the sole responsibility of the government of the day, not an unelected Broadcasting Corporation. Our campaign has focussed on getting the government to take back that responsibility and the accountability that goes with it.
We entirely understand that it was part of legislation voted through parliament and that negotiations between the government and the BBC took place, culminating in the BBC agreeing to fund the free TV licence. However, there are times when legislation turns out to be wrong because of its impact on society. In this case, we believe it is wrong for the government to seek through legislation to abdicate its responsibility and accountability for some of the poorest, most vulnerable citizens.
The NPC absolutely understands the economic situation caused by COVID-19, and with that the greater reliance placed on access to TV and radio by older people to receive updated news, guidance and programmes that help us along each day. However, there are now 1.9 million pensioners living in poverty in the UK (Age UK). It is expected that a further 50,000 (possibly more) pensioners who are just above the pension credit threshold will be pushed into poverty with no access to assistance.
The BBC has had in effect five years to look at its economic situation and how that would impact on providing free TV licences for over 75s. In those five years, our members have seen no genuine attempt to take on board the opinions of viewers in respect to highly paid presenters, the programme schedules and other areas that were identified to be looked at.
It’s only answer has been to means-test the TV licence fee for over 75s – an archaic, costly, unfair way of judging who should have access to a particular service. Certainly in the 21st Century and in a still wealthy country like the UK, it is unacceptable.
The Office with Budget Responsibility analysis is: ‘The BBC’s decision to means-test free TV licences via a link to pension credit receipt may well raise welfare spending by more than it reduces BBC spending, particularly once the BBC spends the money it saves by means testing. The net effect on the public finances would therefore be to push the budget deficit up not down.’
With the establishment and staffing of a call centre, the cost of means-testing, the cost of sending letters to over 75s, and the extra ‘collection staff’, it is easy to see how a budget deficit can quickly add up.
The NPC supports a state-funded Broadcasting function that has the ability to commit to communities across the country to provide a first class service. Freedom of information is a huge issue running through COVID-19 and without the BBC being able to freely inform the population, we would have not understood the seriousness of the pandemic. Moving to subscription only models are expensive, require online facilities or the purchase of equipment that older people cannot afford or use and are at the behest of profit making private providers.
We hope that when you settle into your new role at the BBC, you will take time to reflect on the situation and perhaps be able to communicate to us your thoughts, ideas and potential action on retaining a free TV licence for all over 75s as well as discussing with us alternative ways of funding the BBC in the future that do not further exclude the most vulnerable.