More than 21,000 in Edinburgh could be hit by scrapping of free TV licenses for over-75s

An Edinburgh MSP has claimed nearly 21,500 people in Edinburgh will be hit by the decision to scrap the free TV licence for over-75s who do not receive pension credit.

Thursday, 13th June 2019, 5:59 pm
Gordon MacDonald MSP.

The BBC claims the move will help the poorest pensioners, with those who receive Pension Credit and live alone still eligible for the free licence, potentially affecting 1.5 million people.

It means that up to 3.7 million pensioners across the UK will have to begin paying from June 2020.

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The SNP has renewed calls on the UK government to ensure the free TV licence is fully funded, and can continue to benefit households and elderly people across Scotland and the UK.

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In a statement released today, Mr Macdonald said: "A decade of damaging Tory government cuts has left older people in Scotland worse off – and it’s concerning to see that the decision to axe the free TV licence will hit around 21,408 over-75s in Edinburgh.

"This is yet another broken Tory manifesto commitment which will take money out of the pockets of older people.

"It is time this Tory government finally made the welfare of our older population a priority – instead of making things even worse by taking away key benefits.

"The Tories should urgently stop this swindle and ensure that the TV license for over-75s is be properly funded and protected."

The BBC Board were given the power to make the decision as to extend the free provision or not by the government following the cut of funding for free licences from Westminster.

Free licences were introduced in 2000 to reduce pensioner poverty by the then-Labour government, but funding was cut by the Conservative government in 2015, with the BBC forced to choose whether to take on the bill.

The broadcasting company states the money will be diverted from programming and make further savings and increase its commercial profits.

A petition by the charity Age UK saw more than 130,000 people sign their name in opposition against the move to means-tested TV licences. The charity said the change will “harm millions of older people who rely on their TV”.

Minister for Older People and Equalities, Christina McKelvie MSP, has also written a letter to culture secretary Jeremy Wright to express her "deep concern" about the decision.

She says the alternative proposals of a means tested approach is "unacceptable" because up to 1.3 million families entitled to receive Pension Credit did not claim the benefit, according to figures from the Department of Work and Pensions report in 2016/17.

Ms McKelvie also said the decision will force the most vulnerable older people to make difficult choices about what they can afford, including choosing about whether or not to heat their own homes.

Her letter concludes: "Ultimately, this responsibility should lie with the UK Government. Welfare policy should not be decided by the BBC, and I strongly urge you to recognise the responsibility your government has to our older population, and fully fund free licences for over 75s."

A UK Government Spokesperson said: "We’re very disappointed with this decision - we’ve been clear that we want and expect the BBC to continue this concession.

"People across the country value television as a way to stay connected, and we want the BBC to look at further ways to support older people.

"Taxpayers want to see the BBC using its substantial licence fee income in an appropriate way to ensure it delivers for UK audiences, which includes showing restraint on salaries for senior staff."

The changes will come into effect on 1 June 2020, with people aged 75 or over fully covered by their existing licence fee until 31 May 2020.

After this point, those not eligible for the free licence will have to purchase a TV licence every year at the same price as everybody else - £154.50.