Boris Johnson last night went to war with the BBC as he demanded it ‘cough up’ the money to fund free TV licences for the over-75s.
The Prime Minister demanded the corporation rethink its plan to strip 3.7million pensioners of the benefit.
Mr Johnson said the broadcaster had no excuse to start making them pay the £154.50-a-year charge from next June.
It puts him in a stand-off with BBC bosses, who are refusing to back down.
As he attended the G7 summit in Biarritz yesterday, the Prime Minister said the BBC had more than enough money to cover the free licences.
He said: ‘The BBC received a settlement that was conditional upon their paying for TV licences for the over-75s. They should cough up.’
The Prime Minister, pictured today at the G7 summit in Biarritz, had told the BBC they should ‘cough up’ for free licences for the over 75s
It sets him on a collision course with BBC Director General Tony Hall, pictured, as the Corporation insists it cannot save the £745m any other way. Mr Hall is paid £400,000
Downing Street officials are now working behind the scenes to look at ways the BBC could be forced to pay up.
A source said Mr Johnson would not let the broadcaster ‘off the hook’ over its commitment to cover the cost of the free licences.
A No 10 source said: ‘The Government agreed the licence fee settlement with the BBC in 2015.
‘At the time, the director general said it was a ‘strong deal for the BBC’ and provided ‘financial stability’.
‘It saw BBC income boosted by requiring iPlayer users to have a licence, and unfroze the licence fee for the first time since 2010 – with it rising each year with inflation.
‘In return, we agreed responsibility for the over-75 concession would transfer to the BBC in June 2020. The BBC must honour this agreement.’
The corporation faces a huge backlash over plans to scrap free licences for millions of over-75s.
A government spokesman said that at the time of the latest BBC settlement, ‘the director general said it was a “strong deal for the BBC” and provided “financial stability” ‘
This year’s annual review revealed the direct salaries of some of the BBC’s highest paid stars
The cost of funding free licences is being transferred from the Government to the BBC next year, which was agreed as part of its 2015 licence fee deal with ministers.
At the moment, everyone over the age of 75 is exempt from the charge – amounting to 4.6million households.
But BBC bosses insist it cannot afford to pay for free licences – a bill which would reach £745million in 2021 – without doing away with vast swathes of services.
From next June it has announced it will give free licences to only those over-75s who are on pension credits – a benefit claimed by just 900,000 low-income households.
Granting free licences to only these pensioners will cut the cost to the corporation to around £250million.
The change has sparked a huge public outcry, with pensioners vowing to go to prison rather than pay the charge.
Gary Lineker, left,and Graham Norton, right, are among the Beeb’s highest-paid stars raking in close to £2.5m between them in direct salaries from the Corporation
Mr Johnson is under pressure to resolve the dispute as the last Conservative election manifesto in 2017 included a promise on maintaining free TV licences.
It pledged to ensure over-75s continued to receive them for the ‘duration of this parliament’, currently set to run until 2022.
Anger with the BBC over the change has been exacerbated by news that it has hiked wages for bosses and stars.
Its annual report last month revealed that the total pay bill for its 22,000 staff had soared by £83million to £1.48billion.
Q&A: Free TV licences
What will change under the new licence scheme?
At the moment, every household with at least one resident over 75 is entitled to a free TV licence – worth £154.50. But from June 2020 the BBC will means-test the perk, so it is only free to over 75s who claim a pension credit.
How will those people claim a free TV licence?
They will have to show TV Licensing – the arm of the BBC that collects the licence fee – proof that they receive a pension credit. This could be a copy of the letter they receive from the Department for Work and Pensions.
How will they do this?
TV Licensing will operate an online ‘independent self-verification system’.
How much will the new scheme cost?
The BBC will pay £250million a year to run the scheme, including the cost of hiring extra staff to talk to elderly pensioners about it face to face.
The number of stars paid more than the Prime Minister’s £150,000 salary rose from 64 to 75, with the on-air ‘talent’ bill up by £11million in 2018-19.
Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker was the BBC’s top earner last year, taking home £1.75million.
James Roberts, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, welcomed Mr Johnson’s intervention.
He said: ‘After the kickback against dragging pensioners into paying the dreaded TV tax, the PM is tuning into the public mood.’
But Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said Mr Johnson was ‘trying to blame the BBC for his own Government’s policy’, adding: ‘This Government must ‘stop passing the buck and step in to fund the free TV licences’.
Last month, Age UK warned that the plan to charge over-75s for TV licences was a ‘slow-motion car crash’.
It said pensioners will struggle with the procedure of paying for a licence – or proving they are eligible for a free one.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘We’ve reached the fairest decision we can in funding free TV licences for the poorest pensioners, while protecting BBC services.
‘It is a matter for the Government if it wishes to restore funding for free licences for all over 75s.’