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Over-75s need free TV licences more than ever during coronavirus pandemic

Published on 02 June 2020 05:15 PM

BBC’s proposed charging plan could inadvertently put older people at risk.

Age Scotland has renewed its call to the UK Government to save free TV licences for over-75s, saying TV is even more of a lifeline for many older people during the pandemic.

The charity’s former Chairman, Lord Foulkes, today (JUNE 2) raised the issue in the House of Lords, calling for compassion as hundreds of thousands of older people face “greater loneliness and misery” during these unprecedented times.

Campaigners are also concerned that the BBC’s proposed replacement plan poses a clear risk to public health, as older people might place themselves at risk by visiting shops or libraries to complete the required documentation.

Age Scotland has welcomed the BBC Board’s decision to delay the introduction of its proposed plan to replace the free TV licence for over 75s for two months. But with no end to the pandemic in sight, this is not nearly long enough, and the charity is urging for the plan to be scrapped altogether.

From August 1, only those people over 75 who receive Pension Credit will be entitled to a free licence, and will need to send in documentary evidence. A BBC leaflet (issued prior to the pandemic) advises them to photocopy this in their local corner shop or library. This would contravene Government guidelines for those who are shielding, while libraries remain closed.

The BBC also said that teams of contracted workers will visit older people in their own homes to help them complete their new TV licence documentation. But this too is currently not allowed and is unlikely to be so any time soon for anyone who has been advised to shield.

More than 65,000 people aged over 70 in Scotland are on the shielded patient list for coronavirus and having to live very restricted lives. In addition, many more live with someone who is highly vulnerable or are struggling to get through the pandemic due to mental and physical health problems.

TV is especially crucial for tens of thousands affected by chronic loneliness. Half of over-75s said that their TV or a pet was their main form of company before the pandemic, while 9 in 10 watched TV every day.

Brian Sloan, Age Scotland’s Chief Executive, said:

"Keeping free TV licences for everyone over 75 is more vital than ever, as older people are even more reliant on their TV for news, information, and entertainment. Tens of thousands of older people in Scotland will face tight restrictions on their lives for many months to come and are already struggling in the face of unprecedented loneliness and isolation. Taking away their free TV at this time seems callous and ill-judged.

“There are also clear public health reasons to keep this universal benefit. The last thing we want is anyone putting themselves at even greater risk of infection by leaving their home to complete documentation or asking someone in to help them. The more they avoid this type of unnecessary activity the better as long as this pandemic continues.

“We are urging the BBC and the Government to use their compassion and common sense and keep this lifeline benefit for everyone over 75.”

In a statement following his oral question today, Lord Foulkes, Co-Chair of the All Party Group for Ageing and Older People, said:

“I am extremely disappointed with the Government’s response today, yet again it has failed to show compassion and understanding for the elderly community.

“The Government can clearly see that there is now extensive opposition to the withdrawal of free TV licences for over-75s.

“My question today is testament to this as more Peers, including Baroness Bennett, Lord Reid, Lord Harries and Lord Stevenson, spoke out on this issue. There is also wide-ranging cross-party support from MPs, opposition from Age UK, Age Scotland, and the National Pensioners Convention, as well as a powerful campaign from Silver Voices.

“I’m outraged that the Government continues to turn a blind eye to this, condemning hundreds of thousands of older people to even greater loneliness and misery while bailing out others more able to cope.

“I therefore expect campaigns, like the Silver Voices, to be “ramped up” further – to use the Government’s favourite phrase – until they concede.

“The Government can no longer shrug off its duty to support elderly people to the BBC. In these unprecedented times even greater compassion is needed and the Government must therefore do a deal with the BBC to fund this benefit which is relied upon by so many.

“Ultimately, what is clear is that the Minister appeared unconcerned about both the misery and loneliness experienced by elderly people. This is even more disgraceful since she is the “Minister for loneliness” and her abdication of responsibility in this area will increase, rather than decrease, loneliness. A cruel irony!"

-- Ends --

Notes to editors:

Around 328,000 older people in Scotland will have to pay for a licence from August 1, or face a £1000 fine. This includes 76,000 who are eligible for Pension Credit but do not claim it, and thousands more living just above the poverty line.

More than 600,000 people have signed a petition by Age Scotland and its sister charity, Age UK, calling for the free licence to be retained.

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