BBC faces huge £40m budget black hole as over-75s refuse to fork out TV licence fee

BBC licence fee 'no longer fit for purpose' says expert

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The corporation introduced the fee for older pensioners last August after 20 years of free viewing. Despite sending “threatening” letters demanding payments, it has been unable to force the refuseniks to hand over their cash. Silver Voices said many older people have stopped watching live television as they cannot afford to pay the licence fee.

Director Dennis Reed said: “The BBC is making huge losses as a result of its cruel policy to scrap free TV licences for the over 75s.

“It has dropped hundreds of thousands of addresses out of its licensing database all together, and will find it impossible to claim licence fees retrospectively from those households it is still pursuing.

“The BBC is hamstrung by its reluctance to pursue the over-75s through the courts and yet its senior executives refuse to admit they made a monumental mistake.

“We have given up on the BBC to see sense, and are now calling on the Government to intervene to ensure free licences are restored.”

Around 4.2 million were hit by the rule change on August 1 last year with just 770,000 of those who claim pension credit exempt from paying.

The BBC tried a number of different tactics to make older viewers pay up, including sending “cruel” letters telling pensioners “your TV Licence has been cancelled” and warning them “you are no longer licensed to watch or record programmes”.

It has spent £65 million on publicity, call centre staff and new systems to generate payment.

The annual fee went up to £159 this year and the corporation would claw in an extra £41.3 million if it could collect the outstanding cash.

Anyone who installs or uses a television or watches BBC iPlayer without paying the fee if they are required to is guilty of a criminal offence and could face a fine of up to £1,000.

Those who refuse to pay the fine for non-payment risk criminal conviction and imprisonment.

BBC bosses faced criticism for introducing the charge in the middle of a pandemic when many older pensioners were isolated and relied on their television for vital health updates as well as company during lockdown.

It introduced a brief payment amnesty to allow viewers to get used to the payment changes but has since insisted it will continue to impose the fee.

Leading campaigner Lord Foulkes said pensioners were being left on the breadline by the fee.

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He wrote in the Daily Express: “If they scrimp and save to pay the license fee they will have to cut back elsewhere.

“If they cut back on food or heating their health could deteriorate and many more over 80’s will die from hypothermia or starvation.

“If they refuse to pay they could be hauled before the court in spite of promises this would not be considered.”

The BBC will be writing to the remaining 260,000 viewers about setting up a licence in the coming weeks.

A spokesman said: “The £40m figure is hypothetical and does not take in to account where we are in the process. Nine out of ten older people have signed up and we are grateful to them for doing so.

“We have now written to those households who have not contacted us yet to ensure they are properly licenced.

“Some of those households may already be licensed and others may now need to claim a free TV licence or pay for one as we have set out before.”

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