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BBC launches consultation on future of over 75s licences

The future of free TV licences for over 75s is on the agenda as the BBC consults over future options.

Currently all households with people over 75 are able to benefit from a free TV licence. But Government funding for the scheme via the Department for Work and Pensions comes to an end in June 2020, meaning the BBC will have to bear the £745million annual cost by 2021 - more than the entire annual cost of running BBC Two, BBC Four, BBC News Channel, CBBC, CBeebies and BBC Three Online.

Although the BBC could keep the scheme, BBC management fear the scale of cuts needed to fund it would dramatically affect what the BBC was able to offer. Effectively, keeping the scheme would mean the burden of paying for it would land on the remainder of licence fee payers.

Therefore the BBC has launched a public consultation on the various options that are available.

On top of the option to keep the current scheme or offer no discounts at all, other options include:
  • Discounting the cost of a licence fee for older people. This would reduce the impact of cuts to BBC services, but would mean everyone over 75 would pay something, for example 50%.
  • Raising the age from 75 to 80, which would reduce the financial impact on the BBC but keep free licences for the oldest households.
  • Introducing means-testing - so that older people in greater financial need wouldn’t pay, but those who could afford it would. This would also reduce the impact on BBC services, while protecting the most vulnerable.
(source: BBC)

The BBC says it is "not backing any particular option over another today", but claims it will look at the responses from the public first. The various options on the table follow a BBC commissioned report by Frontier Economics published at the beginning of November, which studied the impact of the free TV licence scheme and possible replacement schemes.

Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, said:
“This is an important decision. We have set out a range of options - each has merits and consequences, with implications for the future of the BBC, and for everyone, including older people. We need to hear views to help the BBC make the best and fairest decision.”

David Clementi, BBC Chairman, added: 
“The Board wants to make an informed decision about the future. We want to hear from the public. We will listen to their views and balance all the options and arguments before making a decision. The Board does not underestimate the significance of the decision, its implications for the BBC and its audiences.”