Jeremy Hunt has promised to protect free TV licences for the over-75s as it was revealed almost all those to be stripped of the perk would refuse to pay.
Amid growing fury about the scandal, the Foreign Secretary says he will ensure elderly people don’t have to pay the £154.50 if he beats Boris Johnson in the race to become Prime Minister.
A new poll released today says that 85 per cent of over-75s would rather go to court than pay it and more than one million people have signed two online petitions opposing the move.
PM candidate Jeremy Hunt (pictured at a hustings last night) says that he will not make over-75s cover the cost of the TV licence as pensioners threatened to refuse to pay
Protesters in London last week opposing the abolition of the free licence fee for over-75s
Scores of pensioners waved placards and chanted slogans outside London’s New Broadcasting House
Silver Voices director Dennis Reed told the Mirror: ‘Many will have to choose between heating, eating and what is often their main form of company, TV.’
Culture secretary Jeremy Wright claims back the £154.50 cost of the TV licence
Jeremy Hunt last night pledged to ‘honour’ his commitment for the over-75s if he comes out on top of the Tory leadership contest.
‘I don’t mind the BBC having responsibility for this, I just think we made a manifesto commitment and we don’t want to start breaking it,’ he told the Daily Express.
It comes after the BBC sparked outrage by saying it can no longer afford to hand out the free package.
A poll today revealed that 85 per cent of senior citizens would refuse to pay for their TV licence.
Hunt was Culture Secretary when the government stopped funding the free licence, but claims he handed the broadcaster ‘enough money’ to keep them going, the Daily Express reports.
Hunt’s announcement comes after it was revealed that just five people were jailed for non-payments last year, compared with 132 over the past five years.
More than 320 MPs received £154.50 for a TV licence for their second home or constituency, expenses figures show.
The BBC announced that it was having to scrap free licences for the over-75s after the government asked the corporation to start funding the concession next year
Since 2010 the bill has reached £323,104, with two thirds of it going to current MPs, according to the figures published by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa).
Yet, 3.7million people over the age of 75 will start having to pay for their licence, in a move which has provoked fury among campaign groups.
One claimant is Jeremy Wright, the culture secretary, who was reimbursed for a licence for his London flat until 2015.
He has claimed for another, for his constituency office in Kenilworth, near Coventry, since 2016.
Mr Wright was heavily critical of the BBC this month after it announced plans to axe free licences for over-75s, except for the poorest pensioners.
Campaign groups said it was unfair that he and other MPs, paid at least £79,468, continue to enjoy the perk.
George McNamara, of the charity Independent Age, said: ‘Pensioners will see this as extremely insulting. It seems there’s one rule for the MPs and another for them.’
The BBC announced on June 10 that over-75s would no longer be able to use a free TV licence from the end of May next year, after the government decided to make the corporation responsible for its funding by 2020.
The national media provider said this would cost around a fifth of its budget, or £745million, forcing it to abandon the free licences.
Since announcing the decision, the BBC has faced heavy criticism from some quarters.
Age UK’s charity director, Caroline Abrahams, said: ‘Make no mistake, if this scheme goes ahead we are going to see sick and disabled people in their eighties and nineties who are completely dependent on their cherished TV for companionship and news forced to give it up.’
This will lead people to feel ‘enormous anxiety and distress and some anger too’, she warned.
From next June, the licence fee will only be waived for over-75s on pension credits, a benefit claimed by just 900,000. More than one million people had signed online petitions against the move
A government spokesman said at the time that they ‘expect’ the BBC to continue the concession.
‘People across the country value television as a way to stay connected,’ they said, ‘and we want the BBC to look at further ways to support older people’.
The BBC’s director-general, Lord Tony Hall, said that Tory cuts lay behind the scrapping of the licences, which the broadcaster forecast would cost it £725million by 2020. The corporation plans to means test the licence.
Lord Hall said that in 2015, at the ‘height of austerity’, the government’s deal was a good one, but that it isn’t sustainable anymore.
He told the House Of Lords Communications Committee: ‘Remember the context of this: 2015, height of austerity, incoming Conservative government.
‘I remember the conversation with the then secretary of state, that this was going to happen come what may.
‘We took on this policy, and it was made quite clear at the time that the policy would come to us and we would have to consult on it, and that is exactly the position we’re in now. We have to find a way of doing this in public.’