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Age UK warns that BBC's licence plans for over 75s simply won't work

By: Age UK
Published on 26 July 2019 12:00 AM

Over 1.3 million with care needs risk ‘failing’ the process

Almost 700,000 over-75s with dementia and 660,000 severely frail likely to be totally dependent on friends and family to ‘comply’

The Charity’s latest analysis of the 75+ population in the UK shows that more than a quarter (29 per cent – 1.3 million people) have difficulty with at least one activity of daily living[i], specifically:

• Over 900,000 – (20 per cent) have difficulty dressing;

• Over 700,000 (16 per cent) have difficulty bathing or showering;

• Over 400,000 (9 per cent) have difficulty getting in and out of bed;

• 330,000 (7 per cent) have difficulty walking across a room;

• Over 300,000 (7 per cent) have difficulty using the toilet; and

• Approximately 230,000 (5 per cent) have difficulty eating.

In addition, 672,000 people are living with dementia[ii] and a further 662,000 with ‘severe frailty’[iii]; meaning a person finds it much more difficult to recover from even a minor health set-back, the kind that the rest of us are generally able to shrug off, which can mean more frequent admissions to hospital. 

Yet from June 2020, under the BBC’s plans all these people will be required to buy a TV licence, in many cases for the first time in years; or alternatively ‘self-validate’ that they are in receipt of Pension Credit, entitling them to a free licence.

If they are not able to do these things they will be breaking the law, unless they give up watching TV for good. Given how much many older people with these serious health challenges rely on their TV for companionship, news and entertainment, not least because they are likely to find it difficult if not impossible to get out and about, this is a terrible outlook for large numbers of the oldest people in our society, including those nearing the end of their lives.

Last week the BBC said that it is commissioning Capita to set up teams to visit older people in their own homes if they are unable to complete their new processes – an idea widely criticised as ‘threatening’ by commentators.

The Charity is calling on our new Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take back responsibility for funding free licences for the over-75s. Over four-fifths (83 per cent) of those polled by Age UK[iv] – equivalent to over 42 million people[v] – believe the Conservative Party should keep its manifesto pledge to fund free TV licences  for the over 75s for the duration of this Parliament (currently scheduled to be until 2022).

The Charity has been inundated with support for its #SwitchedOff campaign since the BBC made its announcement to means-test TV licences for the over-75s last month. Its online petition has surpassed the 600,000 mark and the Charity has been flooded with calls and emails from people across the country worried about losing their free TV licence, or concerned for others who may be affected.

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. Research for the Charity shows that television is the main form of company for two in every five (38 per cent) people aged 75+ and nine out of 10 in this age group watch TV every day.[vi]  It is particularly important for the 2 million over-75s who live alone – many of whom may well struggle to bear the additional cost of a TV licence on a single income – and the 1.5 million over-75s who are sometimes or often lonely.[vii]

Countless older people have told the Charity just how important their TV is to them, using phrases such as a “lifeline”, “my link to the outside world”, “not just a pastime but a necessity… my life support machine.”

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, said: “The idea that more than a million over-75s who are coping with serious health and care challenges will be able to comply with a new TV licence process, having never done so before, is cloud cuckoo land. However straightforward the process it will still defeat many of them, unless they have friends and family who can help, and unfortunately a lot don’t.

“We think there will be difficulties whether an older person is entitled to a free TV licence because they are on Pension Credit, or not. For example, the letter the BBC has sent out to over-75s who are currently receiving a free licence advises them to keep a copy of their Pension Credit entitlement letter if they get it, as they might need to show it next year as part of the ‘self-validation process’. That is simple enough for those of us with home computers and scanners, but most over-75s are not online so for them this will be much more of a faff. And for anyone who finds it difficult to get around, or who is housebound or indeed bedbound, it will be a lot more challenging still.

“The older people we are talking about here – who are often backwards and forwards to hospital, in the twilight of their lives – have more than enough to deal with on a day to day basis without having to jump through these hoops, just to keep watching their TV. It is unfair to put them through this – and it is already clear that many will be deeply worried about ‘getting it wrong’ and somehow finding themselves on the wrong side of the law. The BBC’s setting up of ‘visiting teams’ may be designed to be helpful but that’s not how most older people we have talked to have reacted to the idea.

“This is what happens when a government tries to outsource social policy and delivery to a body like the BBC with no experience or expertise in this field – nor with any in depth understanding of over-75s and their lives. A slow motion car crash is a foregone conclusion if the BBC is allowed to carry on with its means-testing plan.

“It’s in everyone’s interests for the new Government to abide by the last Conservative manifesto and continue to fund a free licence for our over-75s. We call on our new Prime Minister to do so.”


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Last updated: Feb 05 2024

Notes to editors:

Age UK is a national charity that works with a network of partners, including Age Scotland, Age Cymru, Age NI and local Age UKs across England, to help everyone make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances.

In the UK, the Charity helps more than seven million older people each year by providing advice and support.  It also researches and campaigns on the issues that matter most to older people. Its work focuses on ensuring that older people: have enough money; enjoy life and feel well; receive high quality health and care; are comfortable, safe and secure at home; and feel valued and able to participate.

Age UK’s subsidiary charity, Age International, supports older people globally in over 30 developing countries by funding programmes such as vital emergency relief and healthcare and campaigning to raise awareness and change policies.

Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and registered company number 6825798). Charitable services are provided through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity’s Community Interest Company (CiC) (registered company number 1102972) which donates its net profits to Age UK (the Charity)


For more information

Contact the Age UK Media team on 020 3033 1430 during office hours (Mon-Fri 08:30-17:30) or for out-of-hours media support please email 

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