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Age UK calls on next government to act fast to keep TV licences free for all over-75s

By: Age UK
Published on 11 December 2019 01:00 AM

Access to the TV is vital for older people's engagement with our fast changing world - and our democracy - charity says  

Three in four over 75s say TV gives them insight into the modern world

New research for Age UK has found that three-quarters of all over-75s say their TV offers an insight into the modern world, with two in five (41 per cent) saying TV helps them feel less alone.[i]

Yet as the UK heads to the polls tomorrow, Age UK – alongside other age sector organisations[ii] – is warning that hundreds of thousands of over-75s could lose access to their TV unless the next government acts quickly to ensure free TV licences continue to be funded on a universal basis.  

The Charity is arguing that the benefits to older people of ready access to TV in terms of providing a precious window on the world, and a means of staying informed and entertained, as well as offering vital companionship, are priceless.  For many older people their TV is so much more than ‘that box in the corner of the room’: research shows that half of all over-75s[iii] say they watch TV for more than four hours a day, and a further 39 per cent say they watch between 1-3 hours a day.[iv]

Age UK has been vigorously campaigning for the Government to take back responsibility for funding free TV licences for all over-75s. Since its introduction in 2000, the free licence has been a highly valued universal entitlement for our oldest citizens. For many older people across the UK, the television is their main form of companionship and their principal means of staving off chronic loneliness, yet this risks being lost to them if they no longer qualify for a free licence and cannot afford to buy one.[v]

The Charity is warning that it will be the most vulnerable older people – those struggling on a low fixed income, and/or battling loneliness, ill health and disabilities, who will be hurt the most if the decision to scrap free TV licences is upheld by the incoming Government.  It is deeply concerned for the 2.2 million over-75s with a limiting long-standing illness – meaning in many cases they are largely confined to home[vi] – and the two million over-75s who live alone[vii], a significant proportion of whom are likely to find it really tough to pay an additional £150+ annual bill.

With many older people already missing out on Pension Credit and other means-tested benefits, the Charity is warning that the plan to means-test TV licences for over-75s will only serve to exclude some of the very poorest and oldest pensioners from watching television at all.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, said: “As the UK prepares to go to the polls it is salutary to remember just how important the TV is to many older people, not only as a source of companionship but also as a means of keeping up with a rapidly changing world and the twists and turns in the life of our nation. For many older people their TV is their principal way of knowing what is going on, both here and abroad, and of feeling part of the big moments that affect us all – whether that’s the outcome of an Election, a major sporting success, or important national events such as Remembrance Day. We underestimate at our peril just how much feeling part of these things means to many older people. 

“The free TV licence for all over-75s makes it that much easier for everyone in that age group to access television and there is no doubt that some would be unable to afford to keep watching without it. Are we really so mean as a country that we are prepared to run the risk of these very old people being cut off from our national life in this way? I hope not, and that’s why Age UK is imploring the next Government, whoever they may be, to take action to ensure free TV licences continue as a national entitlement.

“Let’s not make tomorrow the last time some of our over-75s are able to turn on their TV to watch the General Election coverage – because by the next time they will have had to switch off their television for good, or risk court action for non-payment of a bill they simply cannot afford.”

Since the BBC announced its intention to means-test the free TV licence for the over-75s in June 2019, Age UK has been inundated with calls and emails from worried older people across the country.

The Charity received a huge amount of public support for its #SwitchedOff campaign, and its petition – which topped 630,000 signatures – was handed in to Number 10 Downing Street in September. The Charity is still awaiting an official response from The Prime Minister’s office.

Age UK is urging any older person who is worried about money and/or thinks they may be entitled to claim Pension Credit to get in touch by calling its advice line on Freephone 0800 169 65 65, visiting www.ageuk.org.uk/money or contacting their local Age UK for free information and advice.


[i] Age UK calculation using A F2F Omnibus study aged 65+ by Kantar (Feb 2019) and Mid-2017 Population Estimates UK Office for National Statistics, 2018.  The percentages are from those who have a TV and agreed with the statements: TV gives an insight/window to the modern world and TV helps me feel less alone.

[ii] Age UK has joined forces with other age sector organisations to call for the Government to take back responsibility for the provision of free TV licences. The organisations include: National Association of Retired Police Officers, Unison, National Association of Retired Firefighters, Civil Service Pensioners Alliance, NHS Retirement Fellowship and The National Pensioners Convention.

[iii] 56% of over 75s: F2F Omnibus study aged 65+ by Kantar (Feb 2019)

[iv] Age UK calculation using A F2F Omnibus study aged 65+ by Kantar (Feb 2019) and Mid-2017 Population Estimates UK Office for National Statistics, 2018.

[v] Under current plans only those 75+ claiming Pension Credit will get a free TV licence.  The current cost of a colour TV licence is £154.50.

[vi] Age UK analysis of wave 8 of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), collected in 2016-17 and released in 2018. Estimates have been scaled up to the England 75+ population using Office for National Statistics mid-year population estimates for 2017, released in June 2018.

[vii] Age UK analysis of wave 8 of Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, collected in 2016-17 and released in 2018. Analysis was restricted to participants living in England and aged 75+. Estimates have been scaled up to the England 75+ population using Office for National Statistics mid-year population estimates for 2017, released in June 2018.

-- Ends --

Notes to editors

Age UK

We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI and our local Age UK partners in England (together the Age UK Family). We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.

Age UK believes that everyone should have the opportunity to make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances. We provide free information, advice and support to over six million people; commercial products and services to over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Our work focuses on five key areas: money matters, health and well-being, home and care, work and training and leisure and lifestyle.

Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and company number 6825798). Age Concern England and Help the Aged (both registered charities), and their trading and other associated companies merged on the 1st April 2009. Together they have formed the Age UK Group ("we"). Charitable services are offered through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity's trading companies, which donate their net profits to Age UK (the Charity).

For more information

Contact the Age UK Media team on 020 3033 1430 (out of hours: 07071 243 243).

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Last updated: Dec 19 2019

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