BBC licence fee letters scandal reveals pen-pushers treating over-75s with contempt: Jayne Dowle

There's anger that the over-75s now have to pay for thheir TV licence - subject to means-testing.There's anger that the over-75s now have to pay for thheir TV licence - subject to means-testing.
There's anger that the over-75s now have to pay for thheir TV licence - subject to means-testing.
WHEN I grow old, perhaps I will wear purple and a red hat that doesn’t go, as that well-known poem by Jenny Joseph advises. Whatever happens, I hope to retain enough of my faculties to deal confidently with officialdom.

As the scandal over the BBC TV licence fee for over-75s proves, government and large organisations don’t give a fig if you’re still firing on all mental cylinders or not. The Corporation is sending out letters to millions of pensioners asking them to reveal personal and financial information to prove they qualify for the free licence scheme.

Despite years of protests from pensioners’ rights groups and MPs, the universal licence fee subsidy was scrapped earlier this month. However, the BBC will continue to provide free licences to over-75s who receive Pension Credit. This benefit is available to single pensioners on a weekly income below £173.75 and couples on less than £265.20.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Now the task is to work out who is eligible and who is not. Obviously, this step is important, but didn’t anybody stop and think twice before sending a weighty 16-page letter and application form to people who might struggle to read and understand it?

Free TV licences for the over-75s have been scrapped from this month.Free TV licences for the over-75s have been scrapped from this month.
Free TV licences for the over-75s have been scrapped from this month.

What’s even more alarming is that the missive is asking for photocopies of documents from the Department for Work and Pensions or the Pension Service to prove that a person is in receipt of the correct Pension Credit to keep on receiving a free licence.

It’s reported that over-75s who do not have access to a photocopier are being asked to post their bank statements instead. Would you put your bank statements in the post? Thought not. So why would your elderly mother?

The threat to personal and financial security is bad enough. However, this demand comes at a time when the postal service in many locations has been disrupted by coronavirus outbreaks in sorting offices.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And what about the countless older people who live alone and have no family, friends or neighbours to help them negotiate any of this? Arguably, these will be the individuals most likely to rely on their television to keep them company.

This pensioner will have to be means-tested to see if he's still eligible for a free TV licence.This pensioner will have to be means-tested to see if he's still eligible for a free TV licence.
This pensioner will have to be means-tested to see if he's still eligible for a free TV licence.

Not all elderly people are so vulnerable, for sure. Some pensioners will take one look at this letter and get their heads around it immediately. However, many others will find the whole process confusing and frightening. Even the ones confident in all other aspects of life.

Both my parents are 76 and mentally agile. Yet if a letter arrives from any official government body, such as HMRC or the Department for Work and Pensions, anxious alarm bells start to ring. Like many older people, they’ve not had many dealings with government departments, especially in recent years.

They’re unfamiliar with submitting information online, using passwords, understanding jargon or any of the other bureaucratic challenges. Let’s be honest, even younger people often struggle to get their heads around this kind of thing.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In its broad-brush, tech-savvy approach, the BBC is guilty of treating all over-75s with contempt. The letter and application form will be sent to 4.5m affected households.

Recipients will have two months to respond. If they do not, their licence will be cancelled. Anyone who continues watching live TV or BBC iPlayer without a licence is committing an offence.

How can this be right? In the face of a global pandemic, social distancing and severe consequences for many older people who contract the virus, a major public organisation decides it can’t wait a moment longer and prevails upon one of the most Covid-vulnerable demographics to go out of their homes and hunt down a photocopier.

The pensioners’ campaign group Silver Voices says: “It defies belief that, as a second wave of coronavirus marches over the horizon, the BBC are doing this. It shows a lack of compassion, a lack of empathy, a lack of understanding.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

However, if you think that this is bad, wait until you hear that the BBC is reported to have spent £38m on an outsourced call centre housing 800 staff whose job it will be to chase up pensioners who can’t leave home or go online. Why not use some of that cash to buy a bit of time?

Staff will ask questions to verify whether applicants are receiving pension credit, obviating the need to see actual documents. If you have elderly relatives, how many times have you reminded them not to give away personal information over the telephone? My dad follows the rules religiously.

There are rumours that enforcement officers may be sent to the door of pensioners who don’t co-operate. The last resort would be bailiffs. The BBC has strongly denied that it would send bailiffs to seize the goods of pensioners who fail to pay the fee. Still, the threat of debt hangs in the air, terrifying over-75s who are proud to have never owed a penny in their lives. It’s the last thing any older person needs this year.

Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Almost certainly you are here because you value the quality and the integrity of the journalism produced by The Yorkshire Post’s journalists - almost all of which live alongside you in Yorkshire, spending the wages they earn with Yorkshire businesses - who last year took this title to the industry watchdog’s Most Trusted Newspaper in Britain accolade.

And that is why I must make an urgent request of you: as advertising revenue declines, your support becomes evermore crucial to the maintenance of the journalistic standards expected of The Yorkshire Post. If you can, safely, please buy a paper or take up a subscription. We want to continue to make you proud of Yorkshire’s National Newspaper but we are going to need your help.

Postal subscription copies can be ordered by calling 0330 4030066 or by emailing [email protected]. Vouchers, to be exchanged at retail sales outlets - our newsagents need you, too - can be subscribed to by contacting subscriptions on 0330 1235950 or by visiting where you should select The Yorkshire Post from the list of titles available.

If you want to help right now, download our tablet app from the App / Play Stores. Every contribution you make helps to provide this county with the best regional journalism in the country.

Sincerely. Thank you.

James Mitchinson


Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.