750,000 over-75s 'refusing to pay BBC licence fees' after it stopped being free
They could risk £1,000 fines and possible jail time if they don't pay for their licence.
The £157.50 licence had previously been free for people over the age of 75 for 20 years, but the Government shifted the responsibility for the licences onto the BBC in 2015. The BBC then withdrew the free service as it looked to pensioners to cover the funding hole.
The move has been criticised by many who feel the elderly should continue to have free access to the BBC. Now 750,000 pensioners are ‘risking the legal consequences and refusing to pay’, The Sunday Mirror reports. The large group could be forced to pay £1,000 fines and even face between three and six months of jail-time if they do not pay.
People cannot be directly imprisoned for TV licence evasion, they can be for failing to pay court fines which can include TV licence fines. The Government was set to decriminalise non-payment of the BBC licence fee, but these plans were put on hold due to the pandemic.
Campaigners, including Silver Voices and The National Pensioners’ Convention, celebrities and other protestors, have spoken out against the elderly having to fork out for their licence.
Some critics, including former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe, argued that pensioners shouldn’t pay for the salaries of stars on ‘c**p’ shows ‘full of swearing and violence and nudity and sex’.
Show hosts, including Match of the Day’s Gary Lineker and Strictly’s Claudia Winkleman, make around £1.75 million and £365,000 a year. Silver Voices director Dennis Reed said the BBC had ‘flooded’ over-75s with reminder letters to pay their licence. He said: ‘Some had three or four letters in the last couple of weeks reminding them their licences would be cancelled.
They are desperate to get people to pay. ‘The BBC has made a total pig’s ear of this and if the courts start fining and jailing the over-75s their roof will fall in.’
The BBC denied that there are 750,000 pensioners refusing to pay their licences and also denied sending more than two reminder letters.
A spokesperson said: ‘Around 80% of over-75 households have now transitioned to the new system, including those in receipt of Pension Credit who are eligible for a free licence funded by the BBC.’ The BBC said it had received 750,000 free licence applications but noted that there was ‘no evidence to suggest that customers we are yet to hear from are refusing to pay’.
The broadcaster’s own figures show there were 4.2 million licences in place for households with over-75s before the free licence was scrapped on August 1. Since then, 2.7 million licences have been paid for by customers over-75 and 750,000 have applied for a free licence. This leaves a shortfall of 750,000.