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Government responds to Rhoda Grant MSP regarding TV licence concession

25th February 2019

Photograph of Government responds to Rhoda Grant MSP regarding TV licence concession

Highlands & Islands Regional MSP, Rhoda Grant, who wrote to the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport condemning the proposal to do away with the free TV licence concession for those over 75,has received a response from Margot James MP the Minister for Digital and Creative Industries.

"I am advised by Margot James, that her Department are continuing with this concession until June 2020 at which point the responsibility passes over to the BBC" said Rhoda Grant.

"The BBC currently are consulting on this issue and they are not going to make a decision until June 2019".

Rhoda Grant concluded " As I highlighted in my letter to the Department it is essential that those over 75 have this concession as for many the TV is the only company that they have and is the only means of communication and learning available to them. To have to pay the annual licence fee would further impact on the majority who are living on the bread line anyway. Margot James MP, advises that the Government expect the BBC to honour it's commitment and will continue to provide this valued concession to those over 75. That said one thing is for sure, the Government will no longer fund it which would mean drastic cuts to the BBC services to enable them to continue the scheme.

What's it all about -

The BBC launched a consultation with a number of proposals to compensate for the loss of government funding for the scheme.

The broadcaster has warned that if the BBC renews the scheme this would cost around a fifth of its budget - the equivalent to what it spends on BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, CBBC and CBeebies.

That would mean over-75s would not have to pay, as at present, but the corporation says it would "fundamentally change" the BBC because of the scale of service cuts it would need to make.

One option would be to reinstate the fee for those over 75, but this would particularly hit poorer pensioners and mean they could be prosecuted for failing to pay.

Other proposals include raising the age of a free licence from 75 to 80 or introducing means-testing so that only those that can afford it pay.

Alternatively, a discount of 50% could be offered for older people, although this would still mean a shortfall in funding.

The consultation will run for 12 weeks until 12 February. The BBC says it hopes to make a decision by next summer.

Charity Age UK opposes the change, saying there are "significant practical difficulties and create unfairness for different groups of older people".

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, says: "There are two million people aged 75-plus, one in two of whom is disabled and one in four of whom view the television as their main form of companionship.

"For many others, including those who are chronically lonely - a social problem we are far more aware of than was the case a few years ago - the TV is a precious window on the world."

She adds: "The BBC took on responsibility for the concession as part of a broader deal with the Government in which they received some significant benefits.

"Now it is their responsibility to appreciate the very significant role that television plays in many older people's lives and the damaging consequences of watering the concession down or removing it from them."

People aged over 75 currently don't have to pay the licence fee, saving £150.50 each year.

Free TV licences for the over-75s were introduced by the Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown in 2001.

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However, in 2015 the government announced it would no longer subsidise the cost of the licence fee and the BBC would have to find the funding itself.

Tony Hall, BBC director-general, says: "We have set out a range of options - each has merits and consequences, with implications for the future of the BBC, and for everyone, including older people.

The BBC consultation closed on 12th February 2019. The BBC will decide later this year what they will do.

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