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TV licence means testing for the over-75s ‘a cruel slap in the face’

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A TV licence (Andy Hepburn/PA)

A TV licence (Andy Hepburn/PA)

PA

A TV licence (Andy Hepburn/PA)

An advocate for the elderly in Northern Ireland has criticised the BBC after it announced that free TV licences for over-75s will be means-tested from next month.

The broadcaster previously postponed the axing of the universal entitlement for pensioners because of the coronavirus crisis.

Means-testing was pushed back from June 1 to August 1, with outgoing director-general Lord Tony Hall saying it was not the right time to introduce it in "the middle of a crisis".

But the corporation has now said the new scheme will begin on August 1.

Older People's Commissioner Eddie Lynch said the decision will affect over 75,000 people living in Northern Ireland.

Charity Age NI said it was "bitterly disappointed" with the move. It said that while the decision had been taken by the BBC "primary responsibility lies with the UK government," and it would continue to campaign for its reversal.

"The TV has provided much-needed company and companionship, particularly at this time when many were separated from their loved ones and remain fearful and anxious about going out and meeting up with friends and family," said chief executive Linda Robinson.

"The last thing older people need to be worrying about is to how to get the money to pay for their licence or lose their TV altogether. The decision by the BBC is a bitter blow to many older people, who are already frightened about what the future might bring."

BBC chairman Sir David Clementi said: "The decision to commence the new scheme in August has not been easy, but implementation of the new scheme will be Covid-19 safe. The BBC could not continue delaying the scheme without impacting on programmes and services.

"Around 1.5 million households could get free TV licences if someone is over 75 and receives Pension Credit, and 450,000 of them have already applied.

"And critically, it is not the BBC making that judgment about poverty. It is the Government who sets and controls that measure.

"Like most organisations, the BBC is under severe financial pressure due to the pandemic, yet we have continued to put the public first in all our decisions.

"I believe continuing to fund some free TV licences is the fairest decision for the public, as we will be supporting the poorest, oldest pensioners without impacting the programmes and services that all audiences love."

The broadcaster has been urged by charities such as Age UK to scrap the decision to end the universal benefit.

Mr Lynch also criticised the move, saying it was "a cruel slap in the face for older people who have already endured a worrying and frightening few months during this pandemic".

He added: "We are still in the midst of the biggest health threat to older people in our lifetime, yet instead of supporting our older population, the BBC has made a shameful decision that will be resented by many older people across every part of Northern Ireland."

The free TV licence was introduced in 2000, but the BBC agreed to take on responsibility for funding the scheme as part of the charter agreement with the Government in 2015. The broadcaster has said it cannot afford to take on the financial burden from the Government.

Continuing with the Government scheme would have cost the corporation £745 million, the BBC said, meaning the closures of BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, the BBC Scotland channel, Radio 5 Live, and a number of local radio stations, as well as other cuts and reductions.

Belfast Telegraph