Editor's Viewpoint: BBC may count cost of charging over-75s
Many people over age of 75 will be disappointed that they will face a means test to decide whether or not they will qualify for a free TV licence.
Households without someone who receives Pension Credit will now have to pay for the licence. From June next year, some 3.7 million households which previously received a free licence will have to pay for one.
This decision has been a long-time coming since free licences were introduced in 1999 by Labour’s Gordon Brown, but once the Tory government withdrew subsidies to the BBC to pay for this, a change in policy seemed inevitable. The decision was then left to the BBC, and after a consultation launched at the end of last year, the Corporation argued that many older people could well afford a TV licence.
Nevertheless there are many over-75s who will be hit by what many see as a harsh decision, which will have a huge impact on lonely and poor people.
For many older people, television is their only companion, especially on long winter nights. Our society has yet to understand fully the deep loneliness that many feel, and this can be relieved by a favourite series or personality, or at the most basic level, by another human voice speaking live in a lonely room.
In many cases, television becomes a companion, and tv personalities are often regarded as a friend entering people’s lives through the screen. Apart from the cost, some people may find it difficult to actually pay for a licence if they are housebound or don’t know how to pay online.
The BBC produces some top-class programmes, but it increasingly finds itself mired in criticism from many sides. Some people may even question whether the BBC is totally a public service broadcaster, as it claims to be.
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It has to compete fiercely with its commercial rivals, and has to justify its payment of high salaries to star performers. Sometimes people ask themselves what actually is different about the BBC, apart from the lack of advertisements?
It is odd that the BBC is in such a tangled position concerning the over-75s, who are in many ways its core and captive audience, because older people watch more television.
Younger people also crave entertainment, but they are finding it online or through Netflix and other services from catch-up broadcasters.
It remains to be seen how many older people will now be forced to pay for their TV licence, and if they fail to do so, will they be dragged through the courts? By deciding on a means test the BBC has not endeared itself to its older followers and the corporation risks a huge backlash, at a time when it should be winning more friends.