For countless older people, their television provides them with priceless companionship, entertainment and a link to the wider world. But in little more than a year’s time, over-75s face losing their free television licences - a situation which could have considerable consequences for thousands.
The BBC is to decide this summer whether to scrap the benefit after Government funding for it runs out in June 2020 and has warned that the broadcaster shouldering the £745m annual cost would “fundamentally change” its output. Age UK has already warned thousands of older people could be forced to cut back on essentials such as heating and food as a way of affording the £150.50-a-year fee and the charity is among the signatories to a new letter to BBC bosses urging them to tell the Government to take back responsibility for maintaining the benefit.
But after Prime Minister Theresa May said last week she expects the BBC to continue the benefit through “using its substantial licence fee income in an appropriate way”, it appears there is little appetite for such a change in heart.
Back in 2015, the BBC made a clear agreement to pay the cost of providing free TV licences for people aged over 75 in return for being allowed to increase the fee in line with inflation for five years. It made the commitment and has taken the extra money but is now complaining about the consequences of its own decision.
But the Conservative party manifesto of 2017 also made an unambiguous commitment that the benefit would be retained for the duration of this parliament up until 2022 yet there appears to be a distinct lack of action in fulfilling the pledge.
Neither the BBC or the Government are emerging with much credit from this sorry episode; they must now ensure blameless older viewers do not suffer as a result.