Lord George Foulkes leads Age Scotland call for over-75s TV licence fee to be scrapped altogether

Television ‘lifeline’ for elderly during lockdown
George Foulkes says for some old folk during the lockdown the TV may be the only connection with the outside worldGeorge Foulkes says for some old folk during the lockdown the TV may be the only connection with the outside world
George Foulkes says for some old folk during the lockdown the TV may be the only connection with the outside world

TELEVISION licence fees for older people should be suspended or scrapped altogether in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, Scotland’s biggest charity for senior citizens has said.

The BBC has already announced it will postpone its planned introduction of a £157.50 fee for most over-75s from June 1 until August 1.

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But Age Scotland is calling for the deadline to be extended to ensure older people do not feel cut off and isolated at home as lockdown restrictions continue.

The charity says hundreds of thousands of Scotland’s most vulnerable people are especially reliant on their televisions now for news and company.

And it warns that bringing in the proposed fee in August would seriously exacerbate loneliness and isolation, as well as creating additional stress for those struggling to pay.

Former Age Scotland chairman and Edinburgh-based Labour peer Lord George Foulkes has written to UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, calling for the TV licence change to be indefinitely suspended.

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In his letter Lord Foulkes said that for some older people the TV would be their only connection with the outside world during the lockdown.

He continued: “Now is the time for the Government to work together with the BBC to help the nation through the current crisis.

“For the Government, this is the time to take back responsibility and seek an agreement with the BBC to indefinitely suspend the withdrawal of free TV licences for people over the age of 75, providing the elderly with the security that they deserve. This challenging situation demonstrates that it must be the responsibility of the Government, rather than the BBC, to fund TV licences for the over 75s.”

And today Lord Foulkes said: “This is a growing scandal. While the Government is rightly bailing out industries and paying workers on furlough, old, vulnerable and lonely people, who rely increasingly on their TV for information and entertainment are facing a huge extra cost.

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“Many will now be in fear of having to lose their TV or face prosecution for non-payment. Now the new Shadow Secretary of State, Jo Stevens, has called on the Government to take back responsibility for the funding and keep the free TV licence for those over 75 who face lockdown and isolation for many months to come.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have already signed a petition organised by Age Scotland and its sister charity, Age UK, on the issue.

Brian Sloan, Age Scotland’s chief executive, said it was now clear a two-month delay was not nearly long enough.

“With coronavirus restrictions likely to continue for some time, it should be put off at least until the end of the year. Older people are disproportionately affected by this deadly virus, with hundreds of thousands isolated in their homes. At an especially lonely time, television is more of a lifeline for them than ever.

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“As the most vulnerable group, people aged 75 and over have more than enough to worry about without another big bill, which many simply won’t be able to afford. We are appealing to the UK Government to take back control of the licence fee, and do the decent thing by not switching off free TV for older people.”