Pensioners in angry protest outside BBC over licences
Furious Northern Ireland pensioners branded the BBC's plan to axe free TV licences for the over-75s a "shameful disgrace" during protests yesterday.
Campaigners held placards and banners outside Broadcasting House at Ormeau Avenue in Belfast as part of the UK- wide Don't Switch Us Off demonstrations.
A protest was also held at the BBC Radio Foyle studio in Londonderry.
All over-75s currently receive a free TV licence, but from June 2020 only households with a member who receives pension credit will be eligible.
The plans will impact around 3.7 million UK households and 75,000 people in Northern Ireland.
Over-75s who are not eligible for pension credit will have to pay just over £154 a year for a colour TV licence.
Yesterday's protests, which followed demonstrations held in other UK cities last Friday, were organised by the National Pensioners Convention (NPC).
NPC Northern Ireland branch secretary John Martin was one of Belfast protesters who criticised the BBC.
"Pensioners don't have the opportunity to go out working. We're on a fixed income," he said.
"It's a case of heat or don't heat their homes. That's what it's going to do to pensioners."
The 72-year-old said he feared the scrapping of free licences for over-75s would herald the start of other pensioner entitlements being stripped away.
"If this is taken away, then the winter fuel payments and free bus passes will be next," Mr Martin added.
Ballynahinch woman Elaine Smith (67) described the plan as "totally unjust".
"It's important because once it's gone, it's gone," she said.
"We're doing this for future pensioners.
"Loneliness is a big issue for some pensioners and a TV is all they have to engage with the world."
Eric Harvey from south Belfast said the BBC should be "ashamed of themselves".
"It's a disgraceful way to treat the elderly and impose these extra charges," said the 90-year-ol. "I thought I would never have to protest for the licence fee."
Sinn Fein Foyle MLA Karen Mullan, who joined the Londonderry protest, said the move is "penalising a large section" of society which had already endured Tory austerity.
"This could put the TV licence beyond some pensioners, increasing isolation, poverty and have a negative impact on their mental health," Mrs Mullan added.