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Campaigners warn on TV licences

written by Bella Palmer

The Silver Voices group says OAPs will be forced to use winter fuel payments to fund the licence fee

Hard-up pensioners will be forced to spend their winter fuel payments on TV licences after being stripped of the benefit, campaigners warned tonight.

Millions of over-75s were robbed of the lifeline this month after the Tories broke a manifesto pledge to preserve them.

The Silver Voices group believes thousands of OAPs will use winter fuel payments to fund the £157.50 licence fee after curbs introduced 10 days ago left an estimated 3.7 million pensioners facing bills to watch their favourite shows.

Director Dennis Reed said: If we do not succeed in reversing this cruel policy, many older people will be tempted during a mild autumn to use their winter fuel payment to pay their licence and then cut down on heating later in the winter.

This dilemma shows how poorer over-75s will be forced to choose between food, heating and their constant companion – the TV – to the detriment of their physical and mental health, he said.

He feared winter fuel payments could themselves “be under threat if the Government strategy of abolishing the free TV licence succeeds”.

Winter fuel payments were introduced by Labour in 1997 to help older people with soaring heating bills.

The standard rates are £200 per household where the oldest person is under 80, and £300 for households containing a person aged 80 or over.

Some 11.57 million individuals received a winter fuel payment from the Department for Work and Pensions in 2018/19.

The scheme costs about £2billion a year.

Pensioners could end up diverting cash meant to help them heat their homes to fund TV licences instead.

The Conservatives pledged at the 2017 election to protect over-75s' free licences for the rest of that Parliament, which was due to run until 2022.

But the BBC had already been handed responsibility for funding the lifeline from June 2020, under a deal agreed in 2015.

It said keeping licences free for all over-75s would cost £745million by 2021-22.

The corporation announced restrictions, meaning only over-75s who receive pension credit are eligible.

Labour peer Lord Foulkes, who chairs Parliament's cross-party group for ageing and older people, said: The Prime Minister must recognise the detrimental impact that this cruel and unjust policy will have on many elderly people's quality of life.

Like Silver Voices, I have also been contacted by a number of older people living alone who are worried that they will have to either give up their key connection to the outside world – the TV – or make other damaging financial cutbacks on heating or food, Lord Foulkes said.

Lord Foulkes said, the increased likelihood of a second wave of the coronavirus, particularly as we head towards the winter months, has the potential to have a devastating impact on older people who will once again need to self-isolate in their homes. For many who rely on their TV for information, entertainment and company, this will be a deadly blow as they will be forced to choose between increasing loneliness or poverty.


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