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Big names join forces to support free TV licences for the over-75s

Published on 17 July 2019 11:00 AM

Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Lenny Henry and Amanda Redman are among 20 celebrities who have signed an open letter urging the next Prime Minister to “save free TV licences for the over-75s”.

Ahead of the final Conservative leadership hustings and with less than a week to go until the country’s new Prime Minister is announced, the celebrities have joined together to express their disappointment about plans to scrap free TV licences for all over-75s and urge the Government to “think again and do what’s right for the oldest in our society”.

Highlighting their concerns about some of the poorest and loneliest over-75s losing out, the celebrities join the growing chorus calling on the Government to continue funding free licences, arguing that “responsibility for paying for free TV licences for the over-75s should never have been handed over to the BBC in the first place”.

Over four-fifths (83 per cent) of those polled by Age UK – equivalent to over 42 million people – believe the Conservative Party should keep its manifesto pledge to fund free TV licences until 2022.

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

Since its introduction in 2000, the free TV 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. 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.”

In support of the campaign, Dame Helen Mirren said: “It’s just absolutely heart-breaking that so many older people are going to lose their free licence, when television plays such an important role in their lives. In many cases it acts as an important contact with the outside world. I would urge all those involved including the Government to do the right thing and to carry on funding free licences for all over-75s – the cost of which is surely a small price to pay for keeping so many vulnerable older people connected.”

Gogglebox star, June Bernicoff, aged 81, added: “For many older people television is their only company in the evenings. It is a lifeline that keeps them involved, entertained and engaged and to take that away from them would be isolating and heartbreakingly unfair.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: "Hugely welcome as it is, sadly this letter is also a bittersweet reminder of what older people will miss if they can't afford to buy a TV licence in the future.

"I think many older people will be hugely cheered to see these household names supporting their cause and they will be hoping, as we do in Age UK, that our new Prime Minister listens and takes back responsibility for funding free TV licences for 75s - whether it's Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt. The Government should never have outsourced this welfare entitlement in the first place but the new administration that is about to come into place at least has the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and right the wrong that's been done to our older population."

The open letter in full:

17 July, 2019

Dear Sir/ Madam,

We collectively urge the next Prime Minister, whoever that may be, to save free TV licences for the over-75s. We’re extremely disappointed that free TV licences are being taken away from the vast majority of over-75s and are deeply worried about the poorest older people who are set to lose out because they don’t claim Pension Credit – a benefit which is massively under-claimed by this age group.

For those who have lost a loved one, live alone, don’t have family around and live with poor mobility and health issues, the TV provides a great source of companionship. It helps them connect to the outside world and brings news and entertainment to lonely and dark days.

Responsibility for paying for free TV licences for the over-75s should never have been handed over to the BBC in the first place. It is the Government’s place to fund free TV licences and we call on the Government to think again and do what’s right for the oldest in our society. TV is their lifeline – their friend. Please don’t take it away from them.

Yours faithfully,

  • James Acaster
  • Ed Balls
  • June Bernicoff
  • Christopher Biggins
  • Lionel Blair
  • Ben Fogle
  • Len Goodman
  • Sir Lenny Henry CBE
  • Nick Hewer
  • Lesley Joseph
  • Miriam Margolyes OBE
  • Dame Helen Mirren
  • Diana Moran BEM
  • Amanda Redman MBE
  • Angela Rippon CBE
  • Levi Roots
  • Sylvia Syms OBE
  • Ricky Tomlinson
  • Kevin Whately
  • Matthew Wright

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Last updated: May 11 2022

-- Ends --

Notes to editors:

[i] Older households are defined as households with at least one person aged 60 or over.

[ii] 2022-23

[iii]Age UK analysis of Living Cost & Food Survey 2019-20. Figures projected to 2022. Spending patterns are assumed to be the same as those in 2019-20. Prices of items are changed in line with ONS inflation output figures for the years to 2021-22, and then by 9-10% to the year 2022-23 for all items except for energy that are increased by the rise in the energy price cap of 54% in April 2022 and an assumed rise of 40% in October 2022. Household income are changed in line with output data (to 2021-22) and then forecast figures (to 2021-22) and then 3.1% for households whose main source of income is benefits and 4.42% for other households (to 2022-23). 

[iv] By poorest older households we are referring to those older households with the lowest household income after-tax (i.e. those in the lowest income decile).

[v] Age UK analysis of Living Cost & Food Survey 2019-20. Figures projected to 2022. Spending patterns are assumed to be the same as those in 2019-20. Prices of items are changed in line with ONS inflation output figures for the years to 2021-22, and then by 9-10% to the year 2022-23 for all items except for energy that are increased by the rise in the energy price cap of 54% in April 2022 and an assumed rise of 40% in October 2022. Household income are changed in line with output data (to 2021-22) and then forecast figures (to 2021-22) and then 3.1% for households whose main source of income is benefits and 4.42% for other households (to 2022-23). 

[vi] Office for National Statistics (ONS) 2022. Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain: Household finances. Datasets: 19 November 2021 to 1 April 2022. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/datasets/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritainhouseholdfinances.

[vii] Those in receipt of Pension Credit, which can be backdated for three months and tops up the weekly income of a single pensioner to £182.60 or a pensioner couple to £278.70, (or higher in some circumstances) could also be entitled to the following:

  • A Cold Weather Payment of £25, paid automatically when the average temperature is 0°C or below over seven consecutive days
  • £140 off electricity bill thorough the Warm Home Discount Scheme, if eligible
  • A free TV licence (if also over-75)
  • Free NHS dental treatment and help towards the cost of glasses and travel to hospital
  • Help with Council Tax
  • Help with rent
  • Cheaper phone and home broadband deals
  • Reduced water bills
  • An extra amount of Pension Credit for some carers worth up to £37.70 a week.

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 media@ageuk.org.uk 

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