Northern Ireland

BBC TV Licence: Charging over-75s 'not solution'

Couple sitting watching television stock image Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The new scheme will come into effect from June 2020

Asking pensioners to pay for a television licence will "not solve the real long-term issues facing the BBC," a DUP MP has said.

Ian Paisley made the comments following an announcement on Monday that 3.7 million over-75s would no longer be eligible for the free licence.

The BBC said funding the free licences would lead to "unprecedented closures".

Mr Paisley also claimed that the BBC had "failed to adapt to the modern broadcasting landscape".

A DUP source told BBC News NI the party would not rule out the possibility of the issue being included in future confidence-and-supply talks with the Conservative Party.

Under the new rules, only low-income households where one person receives the pension credit benefit will still be eligible for a free licence.

In 2015, the government announced the BBC would take over the cost of providing free licences for over-75s by 2020 as part of the fee settlement.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Paisley said the BBC should look at alternative options, other than charging pensioners

But that would have cost £745m, a fifth of the BBC's budget, by 2021/22, while the new scheme will cost the BBC around £250 million by 2021/22 depending on the take-up.

It is due to be implemented from June 2020 - and follows a consultation with 190,000 people, of whom 52% were in favour of reforming or abolishing free licences.

'Penalising section of society'

Mr Paisley said the announcement would create "suspicion that the BBC has taken the easy option".

"They have burdened a huge number of pensioners with this cost instead of looking at other options," the North Antrim MP added.

"The changes to this system brings not just a financial cost, but will see many older people faced with this extra charge when they consider whether to continue with what can be their main outlet to the wider world.

"If the BBC are determined to press ahead then it must be monitored closely by Parliament."

Sinn Féin's Mickey Brady described the cut as "yet another example of the Tories penalising large sections of our society".

He added that the move could potentially "increase isolation" of some pensioners "and have a negative impact on their mental health".

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