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TV Licence Campaign - Letter Response

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

In June, Jan Shortt, NPC General Secretary, wrote to the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP, about TV Licences for over 75s. We are sharing the response with you. The response can be found here and below Dear Jan, Thank you for your correspondence of 22 June to the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP, about TV Licences for over 75s. I am replying as a member of the Ministerial Support Team. I note your concerns regarding the BBC's decision to restrict the over 75 licence fee concession to only those in receipt of pension credit. The government is deeply disappointed that the BBC has chosen not to extend the over 75s licence fee concession. It was right that, recognising the exceptional circumstances posed by the outbreak of COVID-19, the BBC decided to delay the start date of its new policy to 1 August. But just because restrictions are easing, it does not mean that older people across the country value television any less as a way to stay connected than they did during the lockdown, which is why the BBC's decision to introduce their restricted concession from 1 August is such a disappointment. However, I should reiterate that the BBC is responsible for the future of the over 75s licence fee concession, not the government. In the 2015 funding settlement, the government agreed with the BBC that responsibility for the concession will transfer to the BBC in June 2020. This reform was subject to public discussion and debated extensively during the passage of the Digital Economy Act 2017 through Parliament. The BBC therefore remains responsible for the administration of the concession and it will be responsible for setting out what those affected will need to do. It must look at how it can use its substantial licence fee income to support older people and deliver for UK audiences of all ages. I also note your concerns regarding pensioner poverty. I would like to reassure you that the government is committed to ensuring economic security for people at every stage of their life, including when they reach retirement. We are forecast to spend over £126 billion on benefits for pensioners in 2020-21, which includes over £100 billion of expenditure on the State Pension. As a result of the Triple Lock, the full yearly amount of the basic State Pension in 2020/21 is around £700 higher than if it had just been up-rated by earnings since April 2010. That's a rise of over £1,900 in cash terms. Pension Credit is also an important protection for the retirement incomes of some of our most vulnerable people, and we want everyone eligible to claim what they are entitled to. That is why in February this year the Department for Work and Pensions launched a 12 week nationwide campaign to raise awareness of Pension Credit. In May this year, the DWP also launched an online claim service for Pension Credit to supplement the existing telephone and postal claim facilities. The new online service provides an additional claim facility and enables pensioners to apply for Pension Credit at a time that suits them. In the current circumstances, it enables customers to make a claim without having to leave home to post forms or wait to get through on the phone. I hope that you find this information useful. Yours sincerely, Yohance Drayton Ministerial Support Team

The letter to the Prime Minister & Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport can be found here and below

Dear Prime Minister/Mr Dowden, Re: TV Licences for over 75s We thank your Ministerial support team for their reply to our letter of 26th May, but as you may imagine, our members are more frustrated and angry at this moment in time than they have ever been. There are fundamental issues around the government abdicating its responsibilities for an element of universal entitlements that supplements the poorest state pension in the economically developed world. We believe that social welfare is the sole remit of the government in power, not an unelected, Broadcasting Company. We thank all Ministers for their words of support for older people in the UK, but significantly their actions fall short of these, leaving us uncertain of where their loyalties really lie.  Recognising the value of the free TV licence to someone over 75 is one thing, it is quite another to juggle the issue between the government and the BBC with no resolution, leaving older people caught in the middle. If the government is truly disappointed with their expectations that the BBC would continue to provide free TV licences for over 75s not being met, why are they not able to put that disappointment into action by negotiating with the BBC and coming to a solution that would meet those expectations?  It is an action that would show the over 75s your true support for them. 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 not on pension credit will be pushed into poverty.  It is of no use to them to have access to a ‘simple repayment scheme’ if the money is not there in the first place.  Millions of pensioners now face decisions on whether to eat, heat their homes or buy a TV licence that they have not had to do for perhaps 10-15 years or more.  In the 21st century that choice should never have to be made. The Prime Minister made a bold statement in the press that it was ‘crucial to retain the free TV licence for over 75s.’  He also said he would meet the BBC to ‘thrash out a solution.’  Sadly, this does not appear to have happened and in spite of COVID-19 it could and should have been followed through by another Minister in the DCMS. 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. It is to be hoped that even at this late stage, negotiations can take place which allow both the government and the BBC to show its support for vulnerable older people and put bold words into positive action. Yours sincerely, Jan Shortt General Secretary


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