BBC director-general Tim Davie says charging over-75s for licence fee was 'right call'

BBC director-general Tim Davie has said it was right to go ahead with charging the licence fee to over-75s instead of making “a savage cut” to the corporation’s budgets.

BBC director-general Tim Davie

The right to a free licence fee for the age group ended in August 2020 for all except those in receipt of the pension credit benefit, with a grace period running until the end of July this year.

The change came about after responsibility for TV licences for the over-75s was transferred from the Government to the BBC as part of the broadcaster’s last royal charter.

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Boris Johnson said in 2019 that the BBC should “cough up” to continue providing the licences but the corporation said any such move would have forced it into “unprecedented closures” of services.

Addressing MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday, Mr Davie said the broadcaster “never supported the move” to charge the licence fee, which currently costs £159 per year, to over-75s.

He said: “That is clear, by the way. Once we were given that challenge, I think our judgment, which was right, to give relief to those having pensions credit. If I may, I think there is a real challenge for everyone to make sure those people who can get pension credit take it. That is a whole different meeting and a very important thing.

“With the challenge we were given, I think the decision we have made is right, bearing in mind the amount of consumption among over-75s and the principle of fairness in terms of delivery of the BBC services. If we had taken that money out of the licence fee, by the way, with what we were facing, it would have been a savage, a major, cut.”

He added: “Have no doubt – we did not want to do it, but once we were given the challenge we made the right call. It was part of the deal, as we know, that we did. As a board member, I absolutely supported the solution we talked about.”

BBC chief operating officer Leigh Tavaziva told MPs that the latest licence fee evasion rates are 6.95 per cent, adding: “We will address and update our evasion models at the end of the financial year, as we do every year.”

Addressing how many over-75s who are no longer eligible for a free TV licence are yet to pay, she said as of May 31 2020, there are “260,000 over-75 licence fee holders yet to set up a new payment plan”, but nine out of ten over-75s have now set up their payment plan correctly.

She said: “We will continue to work hard with our over-75s, in the autumn we will be carrying out customer care visits to start to be able to engage with the individuals we haven’t been able to speak to.”

Mr Davie said this year’s licence fee rise compares favourably with those imposed by streaming service rivals.

“We need investment that people think is good value still,” he said.

“Netflix, Spotify, Apple – price rises of 20-30 per cent this year, we have gone up one per cent this year.

“When you ask what people would pay for the BBC, we are well ahead of the £13.

“We are not asking to go well ahead of that, but we need to make sure we are not stripping this service, because we will then be into a spiral if you haven’t got the investment.”

Mr Davie admitted the BBC is losing talent in a “red hot” battle for stars and creators with rivals and streaming services. “We are facing a situation where we are in a global game now,” he said.

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