BBC TV licence fee turmoil continues

by Darren Gibson

THE cost of the much-debated TV licence fee will increase from £154.50 to £157.50 per year from April 1, an increase of £3.

This comes as no surprise to most, as the UK government stated in 2016 that the price of the licence fee would rise each year for the next five years to coincide with inflation. But there is extra salt added to this year’s rise, with controversy over the fee no longer being free for over-75’s, with the age group now having to shelve out the full whack to enjoy the BBC’s latest programming.

With the new price working out at £13.13 per month – which pays for nine national TV channels, 10 national radio stations plus local radio and websites, as well as the Sounds app and iPlayer – it doesn’t come cheap for most across the country.

Adam Stachura, Head of Policy for Age Scotland, the country’s leading charity representing older people and supporting their rights and interests, said: “We welcome this consultation and hope people of all ages will make their voices are heard. In less than four months’ time, hundreds of thousands of very old people in Scotland will lose their free TV licence, leaving a substantial minority unable to afford it. We fear many of the most vulnerable will inadvertently break the law, and they shouldn’t be taken to court or even face a prison sentence if they can’t pay.  

“However this will not change the issue that requiring over-75s to pay for a TV licence from this year is deeply unfair and will hit the poorest older people hardest. Regardless whether non-payment is a civil or criminal offence, far too many older people living on low incomes will struggle to pay this new bill. TV can literally be a lifeline for older people who live alone or struggle to leave their homes for mobility reasons – in fact half of over 75s say their TV or a pet is their main form of company. 

“We are continuing to put pressure on the UK Government to do the decent thing and restore the free TV licence for everyone aged over 75.”

In the run up to the 2019 general election, current prime minister Boris Johnson threatened to completely remove the licence fee to win a few votes, the volatile subject weighing on many of the electorate’s minds.

Speaking last December, Mr Johnson said: “At this stage we are not planning to get rid of all licence fees, though I am certainly looking at it. I’m under pressure not to extemporise policy on the hoof.

“But you have to ask yourself whether that kind of approach to funding a TV media organisation still makes sense in the long term given the way other media organisations manage to fund themselves.

 “The system of funding out of effectively a general tax bears reflection. How long can you justify a system whereby everybody who has a TV has to pay to fund a particular set of TV and radio channels?”

And this week the prime minister has redoubled his efforts against the BBC, with Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – Baroness Morgan, launching a public consultation looking at whether absent payment of the licence should be considered a criminal act.

In 2018 alone, more than 120,000 people were convicted and given criminal sentences for non-payment of the licence fee.

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