BBC to contact veterans’ charities after axing free TV licences for over-75s

By Laura Harding, PA Senior Entertainment Correspondent
The corporation said it did not directly consult groups for veterans before the decision.

The BBC has said it did not directly consult charities for veterans before it announced it would axe free TV licences for all over-75s.

The benefit will be restricted only to those who claim pension credit from June next year after the corporation said it will struggle to manage the financial burden it is due to take over from the Government.

During a session of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Ian Lucas MP urged director general Lord Tony Hall to reconsider the decision, referring to a 93-year-old Normandy veteran called Ted Edwards in his constituency who is having the benefit removed.

Lord Hall said: “The board has taken a position, and let me first of all say that I understand the position that Mr Edwards finds himself in, I respect completely what he’s done with his life, he’s been through things I hope I never have to go through, so I have the deepest respect for that, but the board have come to a decision, and myself, to balance two fairnesses.

“To balance the fairness to people over 75 like Mr Edwards, how we work through and hold a concession which is fair to them, while also being fair to the majority of licence fee payers who don’t want and would have to fund the £750 million if the concession was to carry on, and those two fairnesses have been the things we’re trying to balance.

“And it seemed to the board that the right way forward was to attach the concession to pension credit – that’s not our determination of poverty among pensioners, but it’s not up for us to determine what the poverty level is.”

Asked if the consultations the BBC carried out before announcing the decision included charities for veterans, the corporation’s director of policy Clare Sumner said 85,000 people were consulted, and there was also a BBC stakeholder consultation.

She added: “I think very few people mentioned veterans and I’m not sure any veteran charities did respond to us directly.

“However, one of the things I have done is written to a number of organisations around how to work together to support this group of elderly people and to raise the visibility of pension credit – and I am going to reach out to appropriate veterans’ organisations to discuss some of these issues further with them.”

Referring to the deal struck with the Government to shoulder the cost of the fees for over-75s, Lord Hall said: “I think there was no option, as those who were there at the time have made absolutely clear.

“This was coming to us whether we wanted it or not. This was a new Conservative Government with a majority, coming in fresh with the success of that election – this was coming our way, come what may.”

He said the BBC “absolutely did not” sell over-75s “down the river”.