Belfast Telegraph

Paisley defends having two TV licences funded by the taxpayer

Expenses: Ian Paisley
Expenses: Ian Paisley
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

DUP MP Ian Paisley has said the BBC's decision to means-test licence fees for the over-75s is "cruel" and will be their "poll tax moment".

Speaking on the Nolan Show, Mr Paisley also defended having two TV licences in his offices at taxpayers' expense.

It's estimated that nearly four million pensioners across the UK, including 75,000 here, will be affected by the licence change.

Mr Paisley said: "I think it's wrong.

"It's a universal benefit and it's something that pensioners - just like winter fuel allowance, should continue to receive."

He added the BBC had tough choices to make but had taken the "easy option" of charging older people.

He questioned if it would be prepared to take thousands of pensioners to court over unpaid fees.

When asked about charging £294 on expenses in 2018 for TV licences for his offices in Westminster and North Antrim, he said it was appropriate for a working environment.

"If I didn't pay that I would be breaking the law for not paying for the licence to have a set," he said.

"I could use (the expenses) for other things. I don't use all of my expenses budget but there was enough room in the budget to cover that cost.

"I don't think it is an unreasonable thing."

He pointed out that Nolan also had televisions in his office which were funded by taxpayers.

Meanwhile, senior politicians and commentators across the UK lined up to criticise the BBC's decision.

Conservative leadership candidate Esther McVey, a former BBC presenter, said she was "ashamed" of the broadcaster.

The former Work and Pensions Secretary said she would back a campaign by ITV's Good Morning Britain asking the BBC to reverse its decision.

The Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson added: "If GMB are going to mount a campaign on this, then sign me up as the first person to back it because television is the window to the world for people that can't go there themselves, including people who are elderly."

Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan also hit out against the decision on Twitter, saying: "Shame on the BBC for doing this, they should be forced to do a U-turn and cave on this."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "Pensioners have spent their lives contributing to our society. Providing over-75s with free TV licences is not too much to ask. Sign the petition if you agree."

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson called it an "outrage" which would directly affect the sick and disabled.

He added it was "a matter of honour" for the Conservative Party, as it would leave their manifesto commitment in tatters. He told Tory leadership candidates: "If you are victorious in becoming Prime Minister I know you will not want your first act to be a betrayal of 3m pensioners."

As part of a charter agreement which came into effect in 2017, the BBC agreed to take on the burden of paying for free licences by June 2020. Following a BBC review, however, only households with someone over 75 who receives Pension Credit will be entitled to a free TV licence.

Depending on the take-up, it's estimated the new scheme will cost the BBC around £250m by 2021/22.

The first free TV licence was paid for by a Labour Government in 2000, but by 2015 Conservative Ministers announced a deal had been reached between the Government and the BBC that the broadcaster would foot the bill.

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