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OVER-75s could lose their free television licences after the BBC announced plans today to scrap or restrict the scheme.
The broadcaster is considering raising the age of eligibility for the free licences, introducing means-testing to exclude wealthier pensioners or abolishing them altogether to save cash.
More than 4.46 million homes with older residents currently receive a free TV licence, saving them £150.50 a year.
During charter renewal negotiations in 2015, the government forced the cost onto the BBC so that the licences were no longer classed as a state-funded welfare benefit.
Plans to change or abolish free TV licences came from Frontier Economics, an international financial consultancy advising the BBC, which found that pensioners are becoming better off.
The National Pensioners’ Convention (NPC) condemned the proposals, saying pensioners were as poor now as they were when the free licences were introduced 20 years ago.
Both the NPC and broadcast union Bectu are demanding that the government resumes funding the free licences.
NPC general secretary Jan Shortt said: “Ever since [then chancellor] George Osborne forced the BBC to take over responsibility for the free TV licence, we have known that they would try and get rid of it.
“Frankly, it’s not the job of the broadcaster to administer or fund part of our wider welfare policy.
“That is a job for government and it needs to be returned to the most suitable department as a matter of urgency.”
Bectu head Gerry Morrissey added: “It is now the time for the government to take back this responsibility and ensure the cost comes out of the welfare budget.
“The government recently announced that austerity is over and that should also apply to the BBC.”
Prime Minister Theresa May was also urged to step in to stop the BBC “pickpocketing pensioners” during Prime Minister’s questions today.
Labour MP Ian Lucas said: “Pensioners over 75 face having to find an extra £150.50 every year if current proposals to take away free TV licences come to fruition.
“Will the Prime Minister take responsibility for this policy, speak to the BBC and find a solution that doesn’t pickpocket pensioners?”
Ms May responded: “The arrangements in relation to the free licence changed as part of the last BBC settlement.
“They will take a decision about how they operate on this.”
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