MPs: BBC's rush to axe free over-75s licences is a 'dog's breakfast'

MPs: BBC's rush to axe free over-75s licences is a 'dog's breakfast'

July 10, 2020

BBC’s rush to axe free licences for over-75s is a ‘dog’s breakfast’ that will leave many of them scared and confused, warn MPs

  • MPs hit out at BBC’s rush to scrap free TV licences for millions of over-75s 
  • More than three million households who do not get pension credit must now pay
  • Over-75s have been given three weeks’ notice of scheme starting next month

The BBC’s rush to axe free licences for millions of over-75s is a ‘dog’s breakfast’ that will leave many confused and scared, MPs warned last night.

Even though the controversial scheme comes into effect on August 1, many pensioners will not receive a formal letter about what to do until later that month – which is likely to be stressful for many.

The Mail has campaigned against the move, but more than three million households who do not get pension credit must now pay the £157.50 fee.

Over-75s have been given only three weeks’ notice that the scheme begins next month, leaving them little time to plan for the change [File photo]

Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell said: ‘The implementation sounds like a dog’s breakfast. A lot of people are going to be very muddled.’

His Tory colleague Giles Watling, who sits on the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said the plan had been ‘poorly handled’, adding: ‘It’s not beyond the wit of man to get this messaging right. It’s creating worry for people who shouldn’t be put in that position.’

Dame Esther Rantzen said the timing of ending free licences for over-75s was ‘insensitive’. Blaming politicians, she called it a ‘slap in the face to older people’.

Over-75s have been given only three weeks’ notice that the scheme begins next month, leaving them little time to plan for the change.

The BBC and TV Licensing, which collects the payments, insist no over-75s need to do anything until they get a letter – but many will be concerned at the lack of information.

The Mail has campaigned against the move, but more than three million households who do not get pension credit must now pay the £157.50 fee. Broadcasting House in London is pictured above 

Bosses had planned to bring in the changes, which restrict the free TV licences to those over-75s on pension credit, last month. But it delayed the introduction by two months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, saying it would keep the situation under review.

On Thursday it confirmed August 1 would be the start date. The BBC is desperate to introduce the scheme by then as the two-month delay has already cost it more than £70million.

Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams said: ‘Making sure that communication to the public happens well in advance and is crystal clear is a prerequisite for the successful introduction of any new scheme, especially when the recipients include many thousands who are ill, physically and mentally, who are in and out of hospital, dying, or living with a partner going through all of this, as is the case with many over-75s.

‘It doesn’t look as though this element has been fully worked through. The likely result is that there will be much confusion as well as concern among some older people, who will worry they have to have done something by the beginning of August or be at fault.

‘Making a big announcement of this kind with less than a month to go, and with many older people still shielding and preoccupied with protecting themselves from the virus, was too much of a rush.

Bosses had planned to bring in the changes, which restrict the free TV licences to those over-75s on pension credit, last month. But it delayed the introduction by two months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, saying it would keep the situation under review [File photo]

‘If the Government had tried to do this with a benefits scheme it would have been criticised. Nothing could better demonstrate the folly of making our national broadcaster responsible for administering a welfare entitlement which should have remained where it belongs – with Government.’

In the absence of official letters before the start date, some pensioners are expected to seek guidance from TV Licensing’s customer service department, which is operating under a reduced Covid-19 service.

But the BBC said yesterday there would be a separate customer service operation dedicated to helping the over-75s.

TV Licensing said: ‘No one needs to take any immediate action until they hear from us.’

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