This Wednesday Parliament is debating free TV licences for over 75s.

I share the concerns many Brent North constituents hold that millions of older people could lose their free TV licences. Please find enclosed here a copy of my letter to the Minister at the Department for Culture Media and Sport, stressing the importance of television to our elderly residents here in Brent.

You can also read my submission to the BBC consultation here, rejecting all three proposals. I feel the BBC has paid no regard, in the construction of these proposals, to the wide-ranging social and equality impact on not just those directly affected but by those around them.

The free TV licence was introduced in 2000 in recognition that the licence fee could be a source of concern for many people over the age of 75, nearly 50% of whom were in the lowest three income deciles. However, in 2015 – as part of the BBC’s Charter renewal – the Government shifted the cost of these licences to the BBC, without the funding to sustain the policy. I opposed this outsourcing of social policy from the start.

The BBC reached an agreement with the Government to take on the cost of providing free TV licences by 2020/21. The BBC is now considering whether to keep, reform or end the free TV licence for over-75s and were considering three options:

  • Restoring the universal licence fee that existed in the past, meaning no concession
  • Means testing: eligibility linked to Pension Credit recipients
  • Raising the age threshold.

The TV licence is an important benefit for pensioners who suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation. If TV licences are ended or means-tested, millions of older people, almost half of whom consider television their main source of company, will have to pay to keep the little company they do have.

I discovered that in Brent North there are 4,180 families who would miss out on a free TV licence altogether if eligibility is linked to those claiming pension credit, indeed the cost to our oldest citizens in Brent North would be £629,090 a year because more than 40% of households entitled to pension credit have not claimed it.

The current Government was elected in 2017 on a manifesto which promised to maintain all pensioner benefits, including TV licences. I believe it must keep this promise by taking back responsibility for the TV licence.

I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to step in and save free TV licences for over-75s.

Barry Gardiner
Member of Parliament for Brent North

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