BBC licence fee backlash: scrapping universal over-75s concession 'will hit 1 million war veterans'

BBC
The BBC will means-test the over-75s licence fee from June 2020 Credit: Nick Ansell/PA

The BBC is facing a fierce backlash over its plan to means-test licence fees for the over-75s, with the Defence Minister saying it will affect one million war veterans and Tory leadership candidates saying they will not let it stand.

From June next year, the free licences will be available only to those who are claiming pension credit. Three million pensioners who previously received the concession will have to start paying. The current cost of a colour licence is £154.50.

An Age UK petition demanding that pensioners continue to receive free licences has attracted 160,000 signatures.

Tobias Ellwood, the Defence Minister, said he had travelled to France with D-Day veterans last week.

“They were veterans who fought on Gold Beach, right across Normandy, 75 years ago to free continental Europe from the tyranny of Nazism. And to think that now, a week later, these people will be facing those bills… I do hope we can reconsider this and go back to the drawing board.”

Mr Ellwood said that the BBC is a “commercialised enterprise” and the organisation must look at ways of funding the concession, which will cost an estimated £745 million per year.

Esther McVey said she will decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee if elected as PM Credit: WILL OLIVER/EPA-EFE/REX

When the issue was raised on GMTV, veterans and their families got in touch to say they were dismayed by the plan, with many saying they were housebound and the television is their main companion.

The Age UK petition is calling for the government to take back responsibility for the free licences.

A campaign spokesman for Jeremy Hunt, the Tory leadership candidate, said the BBC’s decision was “a blow to millions of deserving pensioners” and he would make it a priority to “sit down with the BBC to find out how we can ensure we deliver on the Conservative manifesto promise to protect the licence fee support for older people”.

Esther McVey, one of his rivals in the leadership contest, made a pledge to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee if she is elected.

She said: ““If I became Prime Minister I would decriminalise non-payment of the BBC TV licence fee for everyone. You shouldn’t need the weight of the criminal law to force people to pay the licence fee, especially those the BBC had promised to pay it for in the first place.”

Andrea Leadson said the new plan is “unacceptable”, adding: “It’s a commitment in the Conservatives’ manifesto [to protect free licences] and we need to find a way to reverse that.”