House of Commons Library

Free TV licences for the over-75s

Published Thursday, June 13, 2019

This Library Briefing Paper looks at free TV licences for the over-75s

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TV licences for the over-75s have been free since November 2000. The concession is received by around 4.55 million households. In 2021/22, the cost is expected to be £745 million.

In July 2015, a funding deal was agreed between the Government and the BBC. A key element of the deal was that the BBC would take over the funding of free licences for the over-75s. Responsibility for the cost of the concession transfers to the BBC in June 2020. The legislative basis for this is section 89 of the Digital Economy Act 2017.

BBC consultation

A BBC consultation on the future of the licence fee for older people ran from 20 November 2018 to 12 February 2019. This sought views on three options:

  • copying the existing scheme for the over-75s;
  • restoring the universal licence fee that existed in the past, meaning no concession;
  • reforming the scheme – through, for example, discounting the cost of a licence fee for older people; raising the age from 75 to 80; or introducing means-testing.

BBC decision (June 2019)

On 10 June 2019, the BBC announced that the current scheme will end.

From 1 June 2020, a free TV licence will only be available to a household with someone aged over 75 who receives pension credit. According to the BBC, over 1.5 million households could get a free TV licence under the new scheme. The cost to the BBC will be up to £250 million by 2021/22. The BBC said that its decision had been guided by three principles:

  • fairness - the potential impact on older age groups and the potential impact on all licence fee payers, across all generations.
  • financial impact - the cost of any concession to the BBC, and the possible effect this might have on programmes and services.
  • feasibility - being able to implement any new concession simply and effectively.

The BBC’s decision document, an Equality Impact Assessment, and some of the consultation responses are available online.

Reaction

The BBC’s decision has been controversial. During a Commons debate on 11 June 2019, Tom Watson, Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Secretary of State, noted the 2017 Conservative Manifesto commitment to maintain free TV licences “for the duration of this parliament”. He said that older people had been “betrayed”. In response, Jeremy Wright, the Secretary of State, said that the 2017 Act meant that the BBC had responsibility for what to do about the licence fee concession. He also said that the BBC “can and should do more to support older people”.

An Age UK petition demanding that the Government takes back responsibility for funding free licences for everyone aged over 75 has received over 442,000 signatures.

However, the Intergenerational Foundation has said there is “simply no reason why retired judges, lawyers, bankers and doctors should receive a free TV licence when younger generations are struggling financially."

 

 

Commons Briefing papers SN04955

Author: John Woodhouse

Topic: Broadcasting

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