“Controversial” plans to change TV Licences for over 75s discussed by councillors

Sheffield councillors will discuss “controversial” plans by the BBC to stop funding free TV licences for everyone aged over 75.

Thursday, 18th July 2019, 11:57 am
Updated Tuesday, 23rd July 2019, 1:50 pm
Sheffield Council is going to discuss plans to change free TV Licences for over 75s

A scrutiny committee will next week look at how the proposal will affect the 43,819 over-75s in the city.

Four years ago, the UK Government stopped funding free TV licences for over-75s and gave the BBC the responsibility to decide on the future of the concession.

The BBC has decided that from June 2020, only households in receipt of Pension Credit will be able to claim a free TV licence. Everyone else will pay £154.50 a year.

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Councillors will discuss whether more people should be claiming Pension Credit. Out of all the over-75s in Sheffield, only 10,096 claim.

“This decision has been controversial and high-profile,” says council policy officer Emily Standbrook-Shaw in a report.

“People can claim Pension Credit if they have reached state pension age and have a weekly income of less than £167.75 for single people, and £255.25 for a couple.

“According to the Department of Work and Pensions data, 41 per cent of people who are eligible for pension credit do not claim it.

“Information on what this means in terms of numbers of people in Sheffield is not available, but we can assume that there will be a significant number of people who are eligible but don’t currently claim.

“Increasing uptake of Pension Credit will be the key factor in mitigating the impact of the Licence Fee changes.”

Age UK, the Carers Centre, Alzheimers Society and Citizens Advice can all help people claim.

The BBC says continuing the concession in its existing form would cost £745m a year by 2021/22 – around 18 per cent of its spend.

The report adds: “The BBC felt the fairest option is to establish a new scheme to focus on the poorest older pensioners, by using the Government’s own measure of pensioner poverty.

“This decision will avoid substantial cuts to BBC programmes and services up to 2021/22.

“Critics have expressed their concern. The key issues Age UK is highlighting is that the Government, not the BBC, should be responsible for funding free TV licences and making tax and benefit decisions.

“Many over 75s have low disposable incomes, high levels of ill health or disability and are particularly reliant on television for companionship, entertainment, news and information.

“It creates an unfair position between those who get the benefit and those with an income just above the threshold so do not.

“And a means tested system involves added complexity and older people may not feel comfortable sharing personal information, such as being in receipt of a means-tested benefit.”

A petition by Age UK currently has 591,152 signatures- enough to qualify for a Parliamentary debate.