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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.

Background to the change

The BBC is funded primarily through the licence fee. In 2020/21 total licence fee income was £3.75 billion.

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 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 licences for the elderly remains 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.

In December 2021, the Government said it remained “deeply disappointed” with the BBC’s decision

Broadcasting White Paper (April 2022)

The Government’s Broadcasting White Paper (PDF), published on 28 April 2022, expresses concern that there is the potential for licence fee enforcement action to be taken against elderly vulnerable people. The White Paper confirms that the licence fee model for the BBC will be reviewed ahead of the next Charter period (the current BBC Royal Charter runs to 31 December 2027).

According to a PQ response of 24 January 2022, the BBC had not taken any enforcement action against over-75s for TV licence evasion at that time.

 


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