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Ritchie: I'll fight any plans to means-test elderly for TV licence


Warning: Margaret Ritchie

Warning: Margaret Ritchie

PA Wire/PA Images

Warning: Margaret Ritchie

Claims that free TV licences for over-75s could be means-tested have been criticised.

SDLP election candidate Margaret Ritchie hit out at suggestions the BBC could withhold the benefit from wealthier pensioners.

If pushed through, millions of over-75s could lose out.

The Sunday Times reported that supporters of the BBC, including Lord Bragg and Lord Puttnam, urged the BBC to means-test the perk, worth £147 a year.

The corporation is due to take over responsibility from the Government in 2020 for funding free licences.

Some within the BBC believe Theresa May's decision to means-test winter fuel payments has set a standard for cuts to pensioner benefits. But the proposals have been criticised by South Down candidate Ms Ritchie.

She said: "The SDLP has been warning that part of Theresa's May rationale for calling this election is to free herself from the commitment not to make further welfare cuts 'in this parliament'.

"The next parliament is not 2020: it is now. Her plans to cut the winter fuel payment sets a precedent, as we see with reports that the BBC may begin to means-test free TV licences for the over-75s.

"Many over-75s rely on the free TV licence. Particularly for those with mobility or health problems who spend a lot of their time at home, television can provide a much needed link to local news, entertainment and popular culture.

"The control over free TV licences will transfer to the BBC in 2020, which itself was a cynical move by the Tories to free themselves of funding this benefit for pensioners.

"If re-elected as MP for South Down, I will take my seat and look at options to amend the Digital Economy Act to ensure our pensioners are not subject to a means-test and the associated administrative burdens this entails."

The BBC said: "As part of the licence fee agreement with the Government - which they have confirmed still stands - the BBC will take on responsibility for over-75s.

"The Digital Economy Act transfers control over free TV licences to the BBC in June 2020. As we have said many times before, the BBC has no plans to make any changes to the current over-75s policy."

Currently, one in six households - around 4.36 million - receives a free TV licence because someone is aged over 75, regardless of income. It cost the taxpayer £622m in 2015/16 - almost as much as the entire cost of national and local BBC radio.

Belfast Telegraph