I share your concern following the BBC’s announcement that these TV licences will be means-tested, from June 2020, by linking them to Pension Credit. As a result, up to 3.7 million older people – 1.6 million of whom live completely alone – are set to lose their free TV licences. I recently issued a press release on the subject and on the issue of under claiming of Pension Credit.
As you may know, Pension Credit is a means-tested benefit available to people who have reached State Pension Age but, each year, the Government keeps hold of £3.5 billion that is left unclaimed. As a result, since the 2017 general election, £7 billion set aside to help the least well off pensioners in society has returned to the Treasury. This figure will increase to more than £17 billion by 2022. Pension Credit can also open up entitlement to other benefits, including Housing Benefit, Council Tax Support, free NHS dental treatment, help with fuel bills and meeting the costs of a loved one’s funeral.
The Government, however, have failed to act on unpaid Pension Credit, which meant that older people in Sheffield are losing out on over £30 million each year. Analysis based on data from the DWP, found that the 13,819 pensioner households in Sheffield are missing out on an average of £53 a week because of unclaimed Pension Credit.
To make matters worse for pensioners in 2015, as part of the BBC’s Charter renewal, the responsibility for the cost of TV licences was shifted to the BBC from 2020, without the additional funding to sustain the policy of free licences to the over 75s. The Government is unfairly blaming the BBC, as public broadcasters should never be responsible for social policy or paying for it. I opposed this outsourcing of social policy from the start.
In October 2018, the Prime Minister launched the Government’s first loneliness strategy saying that loneliness is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time. I am extremely disappointed that the Government are now accepting this decision knowing that they will be going against their own strategy and forcing elderly people to be more socially isolated.
Age UK’s analysis shows that scrapping the free TV licence would push 50,000 pensioners below the poverty line as well as leaving many older people feeling isolated and alone as they will have lost their only means of company. I am alarmed that the Government are allowing this to happen when the free TV licence is such an important benefit for pensioners who suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation. The Government also need to take urgent action to make sure that Pension Credit is being given to those that need it as a basic safety net to prevent them from slipping into poverty.
The Government was elected on a manifesto which promised to maintain free TV licences for the over-75s throughout this Parliament – that is, until 2022. On 8 May, the House of Commons expressed – unopposed – its belief that the Government must stand by its pledge to maintain free TV licences. I was pleased to support this Opposition Day motion. However, the Government has overseen the scrapping of free TV licences for the over-75s and has delivered yet another welfare cut to some of the most vulnerable in our society. This is a betrayal of older citizens, who deserve dignity in retirement and reward for their hard work.
I fully agree that the Government should take back responsibility for maintaining the free licence. I have written to the Secretary of State for the Department of Digital, Media, Culture and Sport to ask if the Government are planning to overturn this decision and as soon as I have received a response I will provide an update. Please be assured that I will be pressing the Government to honour its commitment to protect free TV licences for the over-75s.