Culture Secretary says he 'regrets' BBC licence fee decision

9 July 2020, 12:13

File photo: Most over-75s will have to pay for their TV licence after August 1
File photo: Most over-75s will have to pay for their TV licence after August 1. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said he "very much regrets" the BBC's decision to start means-testing the free TV license for over 75s.

Speaking at the government coronavirus briefing, Oliver Dowden said "I very much regret the decision the BBC has taken. We gave the settlement to the BBC back in 2015, they said it was a good settlement.

"I regret they couldn't have found efficiency savings"

On Thursday, the BBC announced that the free TV licence for over-75s will be means-tested from August 1.

Only households where someone receives the Pension Credit benefit will still be eligible for a free licence after that date.

The controversial change was set to take place on June 1, but was delayed amid the coronavirus pandemic, costing the BBC £35 million a month.

1.6 million pensioners will still be eligible for free licences, but the rest of the elderly population will have to pay the £157.50 annual fee.

The move prompted outcry, with over 600,000 people signing a petition in a bid to stop the cut being made.

The broadcaster agreed to take on responsibility for funding the scheme as part of the charter agreement hammered out with the Government in 2015.

In a statement, the BBC said that the new scheme would cost "around £250 million by 2021/22" and that it would mean the corporation had to "divert some spending on programmes and services".

It said the continuation of the Government scheme would have cost £745 million, which would have "in practice" lead to closures of, it says, BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, BBC Scotland channel and Radio 5 Live, as well as a "number of local radio stations".

BBC chairman Sir David Clementi said: "The decision to commence the new scheme in August has not been easy, but implementation of the new scheme will be Covid-19 safe.

"The BBC could not continue delaying the scheme without impacting on programmes and services.

"Around 1.5 million households could get free TV licences if someone is over 75 and receives Pension Credit, and 450,000 of them have already applied.

"And critically it is not the BBC making that judgment about poverty. It is the Government who sets and controls that measure.

"Like most organisations the BBC is under severe financial pressure due to the pandemic, yet we have continued to put the public first in all our decisions.

"I believe continuing to fund some free TV licences is the fairest decision for the public, as we will be supporting the poorest oldest pensioners without impacting the programmes and services that all audiences love."