Over-75s could be asked to pay towards cost of their TV licence

Over-75s could be asked to make a voluntary contribution towards their TV licence under a BBC initiative potentially fronted by stars of pensionable age.

Monday, 25th January 2016, 8:24 am
Updated Monday, 25th January 2016, 8:29 am
Over-75s may be asked to contribute towards the cost of their TV licence.

The corporation is due to assume the £700 million-a-year cost of handing out free licences to the elderly from 2020 after reaching a funding deal with the Government.

Independent experts will advise the broadcaster on how to go about attracting voluntary contributions from people over the age of 75.

It was reported that a number of so-called "silver celebrities" including Dame Helen Mirren, Lord (Melvyn) Bragg, Sir Terry Wogan and Sir Michael Parkinson could be lined up to appear in a campaign driven by director-general Lord Hall.

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But it is understood such a campaign will just be one of a number of options considered.

A BBC source told the Press Association: "The BBC has asked independent experts to advise on how to go about attracting voluntary contributions from over-75s when the Government reduces its support.

"The Government agreed that the BBC could ask for voluntary payments from those who currently receive free licences as part of the agreement for the corporation taking on the costs of free over-75s licences.

"Frontier Economics will carry out the work, which will be led by their non-executive chairman, Lord O'Donnell. They are not expected to report back until mid to late 2016.

"The work will include analysis and interviewing a range of stakeholders. It will look at options for receiving payments and explore best practice in other organisations.

"The BBC will then look at the best way forward, including whether to run a campaign."

Asked if there had been discussions about involving the celebrities reported in connection with the campaign, the source said it was "too early to say".

Other proposals under review are said to include paying for the popular iPlayer service and an increase in the licence fee in line with inflation.

Britain's biggest pensioner organisation, the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), has responded to the latest development, and said a celebrity-fronted campaign could result in older people being "taken in by this when they should be protected".

Dot Gibson, NPC general secretary, said: "The minute the Chancellor announced passing responsibility for the free TV licence over to the BBC, we knew its future would be in danger.

"It has been a cynical move by government to outsource part of its wider welfare policy to an unelected body - and then wash its hands of the consequences.

"In any functioning democracy, people need access to information and entertainment - especially when two fifths of all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main source of company.

"One of the reasons we have the free TV licence in the first place is because our state pension remains one the lowest in the developed world.

"What's worrying is if the BBC starts to use famous and wealthy older celebrities from licence fee payers' money to try and persuade ordinary pensioners to give up their TV licence.

"Many older, vulnerable people might be taken in by this when they should be protected. The Government needs to take back responsibility for the free TV licence or we're going to see it cut by stealth and then eventually removed altogether.

"In effect the Chancellor has managed to privatise government cuts at the expense of Britain's older generation."