Belfast Telegraph

Pensioner group raps Johnson for 'passing buck' over free TV licence

Criticised: Boris Johnson
Criticised: Boris Johnson
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Boris Johnson has been branded "ridiculous" by a local pensioner over his demands that the BBC should "cough up" for free TV licences for all over-75s.

John Martin, the regional secretary for the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), accused the PM of passing the buck over the issue.

Speaking at the G7 summit in Biarritz, the Prime Minister said: "The BBC received a settlement that was conditional upon their paying for TV licences for the over-75s. They should cough up."

The Conservative Party's 2017 manifesto pledged to protect free licences, but the BBC has said it cannot afford to take on the financial burden.

From next June only those on pension credit will be exempted, meaning some 3.7 million pensioners could now be charged.

Mr Martin (72) from Enniskillen was among a group of protesters who gathered outside the BBC in Belfast in June.

He said: "It's ridiculous that the Government is still trying to slide this off on to the BBC.

"When we protested, they were lucky that work was being done at the front doorway.

"We would have stormed the building otherwise with our walking sticks and Zimmer frames, in the nicest possible way, to bring more attention to the situation we find ourselves in."

Mr Martin said many pensioners felt they were being penalised after working their whole life.

He added: "We're mesmerised by how the Government has squandered the money of this country and nobody's brought them to book.

"They created the mess and need to sort it out."

The free TV licence was introduced in 2000, with the BBC agreeing to take on responsibility for future policy and funding in 2015 as part of a charter agreement.

Those who don't qualify for a free licence will have to pay £154.50 a year for a colour television and £52 a year for a black and white television.

The Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland Eddie Lynch said he believed both the Government and the BBC had "let down older people" by failing to find a solution.

"It's been over two months since the BBC confirmed they were scrapping TV licences for over 75s, and it is still one of the main issues older people tell me they are concerned about," he said.

"It's unacceptable that an appropriate solution has not been found, especially given the fact that the BBC had four years to come up with a plan to mitigate cost or consider other sources of income.

"Clearly, neither the BBC nor the Government agree on who is responsible, and whilst they argue, it is our older people who suffer. I call on both the BBC and the Government to come up with a solution that protects this important benefit for everyone over 75."

A BBC spokeswoman said it was the Government who decided to stop funding free TV licences, with Parliament giving them the responsibility of deciding the future of the scheme even though there was no guarantee they could foot the bill.

"We've reached the fairest decision we can in funding free TV licences for the poorest pensioners, while protecting BBC services," she said.

At present, she said keeping the free licences would mean scrapping several BBC channels and local radio stations.

"It is a matter for the Government if it wishes to restore funding for free licences for all over-75s."

A Number 10 source said: "The Government agreed the licence fee settlement with the BBC in 2015. At the time, the director-general said it was a 'strong deal for the BBC' and provided 'financial stability'."

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