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TV licences for the over-75s were free from November 2000 until the end of July 2020. The concession was received by around 4.5 million households. From 1 August 2020, free licences have only been available to people aged over-75 who are in receipt of Pension Credit. There are ongoing concerns about the impact of the change on older people.

The TV Licensing website has information on licences for the over-75s.

Background to the change

The BBC is funded primarily through the licence fee. In 2019/20, total licence fee income was £3,520 million.

The level of the fee is set by Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport after consultation with the BBC. A key element of the licence fee settlement, announced in July 2015, was that the BBC would take over funding free licences for the over-75s.

Section 365A of the Communications Act 2003, as inserted by section 89(7) of the Digital Economy Act 2017, transferred responsibility for determining whether there should be an age-related concession to the BBC. Section 89(7) came into force on 1 June 2020.

BBC consultation on the concession (November 2018-February 2019)

A BBC consultation on the future of the licence fee for the over-75s 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, meaning no concession;
  • reforming the scheme.

BBC announcement (June 2019)

On 10 June 2019, the BBC announced that free licences for all of the over-75s would end and that, from 1 June 2020, a free licence would only be available to people in receipt of Pension Credit. Implementation of the change was delayed until 1 August 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the BBC, over 1.5 million households could get a free TV licence under the new scheme. The cost to the BBC would be £250 million a year, depending on take-up. The BBC said that its decision had been guided by three principles:

  • fairness – the potential impact on older age groups as well as other licence fee payers;
  • financial impact – the cost of any concession to the BBC and the possible impact 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 consultation responses are available online. 

Reaction to the change

The change to the over-75 licence has been controversial. Age UK is calling for licences to be free to all those aged over-75. The National Pensioners Convention is also campaigning on the issue.

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.”

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Report (October 2019)

An October 2019 report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee criticised the process leading to the BBC’s funding settlement in 2015. It concluded, among other things, that:

  • the BBC had met its obligations under the 2017 Act;
  • funding free licences for all of the over-75s was not a sustainable option for the BBC alone.

In its March 2020 response to the Committee’s report, the Government noted its disappointment with the BBC’s decision and said that free licences for all of the over-75s should be funded by the BBC.

 


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