So much of what has been said about the BBC’s new TV licence scheme for over 75s is either misleading or wrong.
I want to break down some of the myths, because it’s important that pensioners in particular really understand what’s changed.
First, the BBC has not decided to take free licences away from over 75s. It was the Government who funded free licences in the past; it was the Government who decided to stop paying for them.
The BBC thought long and hard about what we could do to create and fund a new scheme to help those who need it most.
The result is that any household with someone aged over 75 who receives pension credit is now entitled to a free TV licence, paid for by the BBC.
In other words, we’re providing extra help to those older pensioners who, according to the Government, need it most.
These are people who have worked hard all their lives. They are among the most likely to feel lonely or isolated. Some are vulnerable. The coronavirus crisis has highlighted just how much many rely on TV and radio for day-to-day companionship.
Some say that the BBC has somehow gone back on what was agreed. But there was never any agreement that the BBC would keep the Government scheme going. Both Government ministers and the BBC recognised at the time that change was likely.
Partly that’s because copying the Government’s scheme would have cost us £745 million a year. That’s equivalent to the combined budget of BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, the BBC Scotland channel, Radio 5live, plus some of our local radio stations and more. And the cost would rise to £1 billion a year by the end of the decade.
That would mean substantial cuts to our services. It would mean a BBC very different from the one we know our oldest audiences in particular depend on.
Some say we could afford to do more if we stopped employing our biggest stars. In fact, even if we employed no presenters paid over £150,000, we would only save £10 million per year. The figures simply don’t add up. And 4 out of 5 members of the public tell us they want the BBC to feature the highest quality presenters, actors and reporters.
So this was a tough decision for us to have to take. But we believe it’s the fairest possible.
Our focus now is on two priorities.
First, safety. In this health crisis, we have spent the past few months making sure no one will need to leave their home to claim for a free TV licence or to pay for one.
Second, care. We’ve set up special contact centres to help people during this time. We know many will need specific support, so we’ve been working with organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society and RNIB to make sure the needs of vulnerable people are taken into account.
Already we’ve received over 450,000 applications for a free licence. Around 1 million more are eligible.
No one needs to do anything immediately. Everyone will receive guidance in the weeks ahead. Everyone will have the time and support they need to make the transition to the new scheme.