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Scrapping the free TV licence could push more than 50,000 pensioners into poverty, warns Age UK

By: Age UK
Published on 12 January 2019 12:01 AM


Charity calls on the Government to uphold its responsibility to fund free TV licences for the over-75s

New analysis, published today by the Charity Age UK, shows that more than 50,000 UK pensioners could be pushed below the poverty line if the BBC goes ahead with proposals to scrap the free TV licence for the over-75s.[i]

Launching the next phase of its Switched Off: Save free TV for older people campaign, the Charity is calling on the Government to take back responsibility for the funding of the free TV licences policy, after a previous administration shifted it to the BBC in a private deal made without public consultation in 2015. Although the then Government passed responsibility for the policy to the BBC three years ago they did not give them the money to pay for it from 2020.

Since its introduction in 2000, the free licence has been a highly valued, universal entitlement for the over-75s which has helped millions to sustain their quality of life into late old age. With over one million older people saying that the TV is their main source of companionship – and one in four over-75s declaring they feel this way – free TV access clearly provides a crucial link to the outside world for a great number of older people, particularly those who are chronically lonely or in poor health and housebound. Half of all over-75s are disabled and a similar proportion has two or more serious long term health problems.

The future of free TV licences for over-75s was thrown into doubt last November when the BBC launched a public consultation[ii] about what they should do once they have full responsibility for the policy and it’s funding from 2020. Alongside launching its consultation the BBC also published a report commissioned from a consultancy which said that older people have seen “a marked improvement” in their living standards since the policy was introduced in 2000.[iii]

As part of its Switched Off campaign Age UK is arguing that while this may be true for some over-75s, nearly a third of this age group are living in poverty or only just above the poverty line and so will find it difficult to pay for a licence. In total, 1.9 million older people live in poverty in the UK. Moreover, while there are significantly fewer poor pensioners today compared to the early 2000s progress in reducing pensioner poverty has stalled in the last few years and started to go into reverse.[iv]

The Charity is warning that an additional bill of £150.50 – the current cost of an annual TV licence[v] – will undoubtedly cause great worry and distress to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable pensioners who are already struggling to get by, potentially forcing them to cut back on other essentials such as heating and food in order to remain informed, entertained, stimulated and connected to the world beyond their doorstep.

As part of its campaign, Age UK has launched a nationwide petition to save free TV licences for the over-75s. Since going live last month[vi], support for the petition has gathered pace with well over 30,000 signatures already. Age UK is calling on all older people and their friends, neighbours, families and grandchildren to support the campaign by signing the petition to demand the Government takes back responsibility for funding free TV licences for everyone over the age of 75.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, said: “Scrapping the free TV licence would be a real blow for many older people who already have many other challenges to contend with. Millions of older people, particularly those who are lonely or housebound with disabilities, rely on their TV as their trusted companion and window on the world, and it would be cruel indeed to undermine this in any way.

“Contrary to the stereotype suggesting that everyone in later life is well-heeled, the reality is that most are living on quite modest incomes, particularly as you go higher up the age range. People in their late seventies, eighties and nineties are less likely than younger pensioners to have a private pension, especially if they are women, and by this time in their lives they may also have spent quite a lot of any of the savings they have carefully put by. These are the people who stand to lose out if free TV licences are scrapped: many of them living alone, disabled and coping with serious health problems.

“Unfortunately the threat of pensioner poverty has not been vanquished in this country, in fact official statistics make it clear that after big advances at the start of this century progress has more recently juddered to a halt and gone into reverse. At Age UK we are deeply concerned that scrapping free TV licences will simply accentuate this trend, pushing up to 50,000 more pensioners the wrong side of the poverty line.

“We think most reasonable people would agree that it would be profoundly cynical if the Government tried to rely on a private deal made by a previous administration in 2015 to walk away from its responsibility to keep TV licences free for the over-75s. If this or any other Government wishes to make changes to any older people’s entitlements it should say so openly and have a proper public debate about it. In fact in recent weeks Ministers have said they would like the BBC to continue with free TV licences: the best way of ensuring this happens is for the Government to fund them and we very much hope they will decide to do so.”

Nicholas Price, 79 who lives with his wife says money is always tight. “Television is my saviour, especially on the days when my illnesses flares up and I have trouble walking or using my hands. To someone still able to work it may not seem like a lot but 150 pounds is an enormous amount of what I get per year. I sighed with relief at 75 when I didn’t have to pay for a TV licence anymore - this just feels like a real kick in the nether regions.”

Age UK is urging people of all ages to sign its national petition and share it via social media and also word of mouth. Any older person who is worried about money and/ or losing their free TV licence can call Age UK Advice free of charge on 0800 169 6565, visit or contact their local Age UK for further information and advice.


Notes to editors:

- Age UK’s Switched Off: Save free TV for over 75s Petition can be found here: Nearly a fifth (18%) of people aged 75+ in UK live in poverty (totalling around 900,000 individuals).[1]
- Nearly three out of ten (29%) individuals aged 75+ are either in poverty or just above the poverty line.[2]


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Last updated: Feb 18 2022

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