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Call for Stormont to pay for over-75s' TV licences


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(Ian West/PA)

(Ian West/PA)

PA

(Ian West/PA)

A Northern Ireland council has written to MLAs, saying that Stormont should cover the costs of TV licences for pensioners.

Last year the BBC confirmed plans to end free TV licences for most over-75s. It means more than three million households - including around 75,000 in Northern Ireland - have had to start paying the £157.50 fee.

Only those receiving Pension Credit benefit are exempt.

The motion was proposed at a meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh council by independent councillor Donal O'Cofaigh.

He said: "This tax on our elderly guarantees income by their need to have a television. It adds further financial hardship, particularly given those who are housebound and doubly impacted by Covid-19 restrictions which have left many alone, isolated and without communication or engagement."

The motion called on the Executive to adopt a similar approach to the transition from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment, by providing matched funds of any loss.

While acknowledging the issue sprang from Westminster, Mr O'Cofaigh added: "Absent any movement, we need Stormont to act. The cost would be an estimated £20m, and that's a lot, but over £200m is unspent and likely to go back to London.

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Donal O’Cofaigh

Donal O’Cofaigh

Donal O’Cofaigh

"In the overall Stormont budget £20m would be relatively small, but the impact would be huge… many elderly people are already choosing between heating or eating. Some won't be able to pay and could potentially fall into legal threat."

Seconding, independent councillor Emmet McAleer said: "It's a vast amount for senior citizens but a relative drop in the ocean for Stormont. With the money in line to be returned to the Treasury, I don't think it's a major ask. Hopefully, we can instigate this."

Sinn Fein's councillor Sheamus Greene said his party in totally in favour of free television licenses for over 75s, but expressed concerns that the motion asked the Executive: "To take £20m out of their budget to subsidise the BBC, I find that an extraordinary ask."

UUP councillor Alex Baird said that after Westminster withdrew the initiative, the BBC were forced to pick up the tab.

"They now can't afford it so somebody's going to have to pay. It should be Westminster and maybe that's the direction we should go. But half a loaf is better than no bread and if the over-75s end up getting free TV licences, we can lobby Westminster subsequent to that."

Mr O'Cofaigh added: "Westminster has undermined our older people and the only weapon we have to change that is Stormont. They have the power to take this on.

The motion passed unanimously and Councillor O'Cofaigh urged other councils to follow Fermanagh and Omagh's lead.

Belfast Telegraph


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