Belfast Telegraph

DUP to ride to rescue of UK's 4m pensioners and demand free TV licences

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

The DUP looks set to ride to the rescue of the UK's near 4million pensioners who will lose out on free television licenses.

MP Ian Paisley said he would be surprised if returning the benefit was not among his party's demands in its upcoming negotiations for the confidence and supply arrangement it has with the Conservatives.

On Monday the broadcaster announced it was to end free licences for the over 75s and instead introduce means testing. The BBC said the move would protect the poorest and prevent unprecedented cuts to its services.

TV Licensing estimates over 1.5m over 75 could still receive free TV licenses if they get Pension Credit with around 75,000 affected in Northern Ireland by the move.

North Antrim MP Paisley said the BBC had "taken the easiest option" with a "cruel and unwise" decision describing it as their "poll tax moment".

Poll: Should TV licences be means tested for the over 75s?

Posted by Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Speaking on the BBC he said a demand for a u-turn would likely be among his party's demands for the renewal of the deal which sees the Northern Ireland party keep the Tories in government. It is up for renewal next month. 

"Fighting for the rights of the most vulnerable in society is what any political party should have at the top of its agenda," he said.

"We previously fought for and won winter fuel allowance, a universal benefit for the whole of the UK in our last agreement.

"And I don't see why something like this, which is a universal benefit - which I don't think would destroy the BBC's ability, if it was paid, to provide the very good service that it does provide on radio, television and the world service.

"It does face very tough challenges admittedly. But I think they could get on with providing the service they provide.

"I would hope this will certainly be on our agenda, it is something we will raise with the Conservative government when we are negotiating that part of confidence and supply."

He said at the current stage his party had not completely formulated its "lists of demands" which should be finalised by July.

"We will discuss this and we will come together with an agreed list.. It is certainly something a lot of my colleagues would like to see addressed," he added.

"I would be very surprised if it wasn't on the list."

Licence fees were being reviewed by the BBC, with the full cost of concession due to be passed to the corporation from government in June 2020.

From June 2020 around 3.7 million households which previously received a free licence will now have to pay for one.

It is thought 1.5 million households will be eligible for the free licence under the new scheme, which will cost the BBC around £250 million by 2021/22 depending on the take-up.

Facing financial pressures and attempting to streamline, the BBC has said previously that shouldering the burden of free licences would “fundamentally change” the broadcaster.

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