Thursday, 23 Sep 2021

TV licence warning: BBC ‘tightens screw’ as elderly Britons ‘threatened’ in new crackdown

TV licence: Dennis Reed criticises ‘stupid’ BBC plan

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Over 75s across the country have received letters telling them they face a knock on the door if they fail to take action by August 4. The £159 fee was imposed on the age group a year ago and 260,000 are still refusing to hand over the cash. BBC bosses insist they are taking a gentle approach to encourage payment as the 12 month anniversary looms on Sunday.

But over 75s in Maidstone, Bath, Cambridge, Guildford and Scotland all reported receiving a letter in the last few days warning them their details will be passed to local enforcement teams for investigation if they fail to make contact with TV Licensing.

Campaigners said the cases are “just the tip of the iceberg” and the letters are a “concerted attempt to tighten the screw”.

Capita, which enforces licence fee payment, is making so-called customer care visits to pensioners’ homes from next month.

But the BBC last night insisted it is “simply not true” that enforcement letters have been sent to older people who previously held a free licence.

Silver Voices said it had been contacted by six members over 75 who have received the “threatening” letter and at least two have confirmed did hold the free licence previously.

The group insisted the actual number of those affected is likely to be much higher as many more people will not have come forward.

Director Dennis Reed accused the BBC of finding ways to deflate the number of pensioners who have refused to pay up as the one year anniversary approaches of the fee being introduced.

He said: “I think 300,000 over 75s have been taken off the database since January because it’s the only way their figures add up.

“It may well be local officers who are doing this. They are using different ways to deflate the figures.

“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Failure to pay the TV Licence can lead a fine of up to £1,000. Failing to pay the penalty can lead to a prison sentence.

Mr Reed added: “We are reaching the defining moments of this campaign. The BBC now has to decide whether it is going to deliver on its threats to fine and potentially imprison hundreds of thousands of senior citizens, or whether it is going to back off and seek a solution to this dispute.”

Lord Foulkes, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Older People, said: “I’m appalled at the insensitivity and double dealing of the BBC on this. They told us they wouldn’t take this action.

“They talk about fairness in their letter.

“What is fair about threatening poor pensioners with action that could end with them in prison?

“People who have received the letter should contact their MP and ask what they should cut back on so they can pay.

“Meanwhile the Government and the BBC should get round the table to find a way to end the tightening of the screw on some of the poorest in our society.”

Former cricketer Lord Botham said many older viewers had paid “extremely reluctantly” and would “sit on their chequebooks” in the future.

“The BBC is now threatening to send round the boys for what it calls ‘customer care visits’,” he said. “The public can see through this Orwellian language and will never stomach the BBC intimidating the elderly,” he added.

TV Licence: Head of Silver Voices hits out at cost for pensioners

Jan Shortt, leader of the National Pensioners’ Convention raised fears about the impact the bill is having on older people who are just above the limit for qualifying for Pension Credit.

She said: “These are the people with very little, if anything, of their pension left at the end of the week. “These are pensioners who have to make daily decisions about what they spend their money on – food, rent, utility bills.

“This is also the group of pensioners at risk of falling into poverty because without access to Pension Credit and the gateway to other benefits, they are struggling to meet the cost of inflation on a fixed income let alone a TV licence.

“The issue for NPC is how pensioners who do not have the income to enable them to pay the £3 a week will be treated.

“A society that accepts the largest recorded increase in income for billionaires during the pandemic, yet expects those aged 75 plus to struggle to pay for a TV licence from the most inadequate state pension in the economically developed world, shows just how wrong our priorities are.”

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BBC bosses will rake in £400 million from the over 75s in the first year of the charge.

The corporation said more than nine in 10 over 75 households have now made arrangements for their new licence and denied that threatening letters have been sent to older people who previously did not have to pay.

A TV Licensing spokesman said: “This is simply not true. No enforcement letters have been sent to older people who previously held a free licence and this isn’t the letter we sent to 260,000 older customers.

“As we announced last month we have written and confirmed the end of transition arrangement, the support available and the simple steps to take to get set-up.”

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