Stars including Jeremy Paxman and Sir Michael Palin have blasted the decision to axe BBC-funded free TV licences for 3.7million over-75s, as a petition to reverse the move topped 430,000 signatures.
The former Newsnight host accused the BBC of ‘shooting itself in the foot’ for accepting responsibility for the benefit from the government.
‘Benefits are the business of government, not broadcasters,’ he said. ‘Like many of the BBC’s friends, I keep wondering how the organisation can keep shooting itself in the foot. It must look like a chunk of Emmental by now.’
Newly-knighted Sir Michael said: ‘I know the BBC did a pretty bad deal [on licence fee negotiations]… I just wish it wasn’t at the expense of the people who now have to fork out for their licence.’
The fightback over the decision is continuing today, with furious viewers tweeting that they were cancelling their direct debit payments to the BBC in outrage.
Ricky Tomlinson joins protestors outside BBC Media City in Salford, Greater Manchester, this afternoon
Jeremy Paxman (left, at a London book launch on June 3) and Sir Michael Palin (seen right, receiving his knighthood at Buckingham Palace yesterday) are among the BBC stars who have spoken out over the licence fee scandal
Baroness Bakewell (seen at the BAFTA Awards on May 12) said responsibility for the over-75s concession was ‘a government decision imposed on the BBC’
Other BBC stars also condemned the decision to restrict the benefit solely to people on Pension Credit, although many blamed the Government.
What petitions are there and how many people have signed?
Age UK –
Calls on the government to fund free licence fees for over-75s.
More than 430,000 signatures.
Parliament website –
‘Continue the universal benefit’ – More than 128,000 signatures.
‘Abolish the licence fee’ – Upwards of 186,000.
Baroness Bakewell, the presenter and former ‘tsar’ for the elderly, said responsibility for the over-75s concession was ‘a government decision imposed on the BBC’ and ‘pensioners who do not claim tax credits but are still needful should get a free licence’.
Meanwhile, broadcaster Ben Fogle announced he would donate his entire salary from this year’s BBC Animal Park to pay for pensioners’ TV licences
It is not known how much the former Countryfile Star will be donating, but he did not feature on last year’s list of BBC stars earning over £150,000.
In a post on Instagram, Fogle said: ‘I love the BBC. I think it is one of the greatest institutions in the world. It is the envy of most nations, it makes amazing content and I’d argue it is still value for money.
‘I also owe my whole career to the BBC. They gave me my first break and they (you) employed me for many years but I am disappointed in the recent announcement on the abolition of free licences to the over 75s.’
What does the BBC spend its money on?
The BBC Annual Report and Accounts for 2017/18 shows what the corporation spends its money on. The following is spent on TV:
BBC One- £1.2bn
BBC Two- £481.2 million
BBC Four- £52.3 million
CBBC- £96.1 million
CBeebies – £43.4 million
BBC ALBA- £10.7 million
BBC News Channel – £68.2 million
BBC Parliament – £10.1 million
The BBC pays a combined £655.6 million for radio, that includes Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4 and services in Scotland and Wales.
The cost for the BBC Online website and the red button service is £290.3 million.
Some of the other services the BBC spends money on are as follows:
Orchestras and performing groups – £32.2 million
Development Spend – £57.3 million
BBC World Service Grant – £70.5 million
BBC World Service Operating Licence – £268.3 million
Building a new EastEnders Albert Square set – £86 million
The generous move comes as the scandal added further attention to the BBC’s ‘profligate’ spending, including the whopping salaries of its presenters, with Match of the Day host Gary Lineker topping the table with a £1.8m pay packet.
Age UK’s petition, which calls on the government to return to funding free licence fees for the over-75s, has already racked up more than 430,000 signatures.
Another 128,000 people have signed one of the Parliament website calling on the universal benefit to continue – breaching the 100,000 level needed for it to be considered for a debate.
Meanwhile, another to abolish the licence fee altogether because it is ‘too expensive’ has attracted more than 186,000 supporters.
The government used to cover the bill for free TV licences, but the responsibility was handed to the BBC in 2015.
This had saddled the broadcaster with a bill of at least £745m from 2021, rising to more than £1billion by 2029. In return, the Government gave the BBC permission to either limit or remove the entitlement.
They were also allowed to raise the general licence fee by inflation.
The changes, which come into effect in June 2020 will give the BBC a total saving of £495m from 2021.
Six Tory leadership hopefuls have now spoken out against the move.
Broadcaster Ben Fogle will donate his entire salary from this year’s BBC Animal Park (pictured) to pay for pensioners’ TV licences
The former Countryfile star revealed his plans on Instagram earlier today, saying it is the ‘least I can do’ for an ‘often neglected sector of society’
As hashtags like ‘#axethetax’ spread on Twitter, Age UK petition ‘save free TV for older people’ racked up more than 400,000 signatures
Any viewers tweeted yesterday that they were cancelling their licence fee direct debits in protest at the decision to suspend most free licences
How not have a licence can lead to fines or even imprisonment
If you either (a) watch or record programmes as they’re being shown on TV or live on an online TV service, or (b) download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer – live, catch up or on demand, you must have a TV licence.
This applies to any device or provider you use, including a TV, desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, tablet, games console, digital box or DVD/Blu-Ray/VHS recorder.
You can be prosecuted under the criminal law if the BBC – which has a national database and a fleet of detector vans – discovers you have een watching, recording or downloading programmes illegally.
The maximum penalty is a £1,000* fine plus any legal costs and if the fine goes unpaid it is possible a jail term can be imposed.
As the backlash grew yesterday, furious pensioners posted pictures on social media of themselves ripping up their TV licences in a symbolic protest.
On Twitter user wrote: ‘Just cancelled my DD for TV licence! If everyone in the UK done the same what could they do?!’
Another tweeted: ‘Just cancelled my BBC TV licence and disconnected my aerial in response to the BBC’s poor decision to cancel TV licence fee waiver for the over 75s!’
And a third said: ‘We must stop watching the BBC. I just cancelled my TV licence because I am annoyed they want to start charging over 75s to pay TV licences.’
World War Two veteran Victor Gregg led the condemnation yesterday, accusing the BBC of ‘robbing the piggy banks’ of the generation who saved the world from Hitler.
Mr Gregg, 99, told Good Morning Britain: ‘It’s only two days ago that they were patting all these old people on the head and calling them heroes.
‘It’s disgraceful – they want money, they’re overspending. Who do they attack? Those who can’t answer back.’
Victor Gregg (pictured on the left during World War Two; and right, prior to the war) was being held as a prisoner of war in Dresden when hundreds of Allied bombers attacked the city. He spoke today on GMB about the licence fee cuts
These was further controversy last night as it emerged people forced to buy TV licences will help top up generous BBC staff pensions.
Some former corporation bosses are entitled to six-figure handouts in retirement as members of a gold-plated payment scheme.
But the BBC faces a financial crisis with a black hole in its pension pot, its accounts reveal. It plans to spend £2billion plugging the gap by 2028 at a rate of around £200million a year, some of which will come from licence payments.
Tory leadership hopefuls condemn licence fee move
Six Tory leadership hopefuls have spoken out against the move to strip over-75s of free TV licences if they do not receive Pension Credit.
Matt Hancock, Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey all condemned the BBC’s decision.
Miss McVey, a former TV presenter, said: ‘As someone who used to work for the BBC I am ashamed of them for this decision. Our ‘public service broadcaster’ who has forgotten the public they are supposed to serve.’
Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt also waded in, with aides for the two leadership candidates saying respectively that they would work with the BBC to find a way to deliver the Tory manifesto promise from 2017.
It pledged to ensure over-75s continued to receive free TV licences for the ‘duration of this parliament’, currently set to run until 2022.
Meanwhile, Michael Gove vowed to decriminalise non-payment of the fee.
Some have questioned whether the BBC’s pension crisis played a part in its decision to scrap most free TV licences. Corporation staff have long enjoyed enviable pension deals, with some entitled to six-figure sums because they are on a ‘final salary’ scheme.
Former BBC creative director Alan Yentob’s pension is at least £216,667 a year, according to a calculation by analysts in 2010. Ex-deputy director general Mark Byford gets at least £229,500 a year, according to analysts – although others say it is closer to £400,000.
The BBC’s final salary pension scheme was deemed unsustainable in 2006 and closed to new joiners in 2010. The broadcaster no longer publishes the entitlements of executive board members.
Pensions expert Baroness Altmann wrote in a letter to The Times yesterday: ‘One week our country salutes the magnificent D-Day veterans who fought for our freedom, the next it snatches away their much-valued benefit.’
The BBC said last night it ‘is no different to many organisations in having a deficit in its pension scheme caused by external market factors’.
A spokesman added: ‘We closed the scheme to new joiners in 2010, are required by law to make payments to close the deficit and by managing this over the next decade we’re minimising the impact on our services. The reality is that the Government decided to stop funding free licences for all over-75s and the BBC has made the fairest decision on the future policy.’
Many critics of the BBC’s move to scrap automatic free TV licences for over-75s pointed out the BBC’s huge salary bill. Gary Lineker (left) received £1.8million last year and Fiona Bruce £190,000
Presenter Graham Norton received a £600,000 salary last year. He is pictured filming the Graham Norton Show on June 6
Claudia Winkleman (left) is the highest paid female star of the BBC with a salary of £379,999. Meanwhile, the BBC refuse to disclose how much it costs for the army of hundreds of staff that cover Glastonbury festival every year, claiming it would breach EU human rights laws. Pictured right is Jo Wiley at the festival
Licence fee evasion ‘could be decriminalised’ if Michael Gove becomes Prime Minister
TV licence evasion could be decriminalised if Michael Gove becomes Prime Minister, sources suggested last night.
The former justice secretary called for the offence to be downgraded in 2015 so evaders would no longer be sent to jail.
Raising expectations that he will drive reform through if he comes to power, a source in his leadership campaign said: ‘Michael argued for the decriminalisation of non-payment of the BBC licence fee as justice secretary and his views are unchanged.’
The former justice secretary (seen today) called for the offence of licence fee evasion to be downgraded in 2015 so evaders would no longer be sent to jail
The Government also faces fresh pressure to decriminalise TV licence fee evasion from Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who has campaigned on the issue in the past.
‘It’s an anachronism that it is a criminal offence to not pay the TV poll tax,’ he said. ‘The TV licence is the most regressive tax. The punishment is criminalising people for being poor.’
He added that under the sweeping changes the BBC has made, many evaders ‘will be elderly and vulnerable and they are going to have Capita beating down their door because they’re on commission’.
The BBC said yesterday: ‘An independent review carried out for the Government in 2015 concluded that licence fee evasion should not be decriminalised and that the current regime is a ‘fair and proportionate response to the problem of licence fee evasion and provides good value for money’.
The licence fee debate has focused further attention on the BBC’s spending decisions, which have repeatedly caused controversy.
It has lavished licence fee payer cash on behind-the-scenes staff. More than 100 of them are paid more than the Prime Minister, according to the most recent annual report.
Some of its biggest earners have such nonsensical job titles, that most members of the public will have little idea of what they actually do.
In 2017, the Corporation said it had paid between £150,000 and £200,000 a year to its ‘integration lead’ Richard Smith and ‘identity architect’ Colin Brown.
Former BBC creative director Alan Yentob’s pension is at least £216,667 a year, according to a calculation by analysts in 2010 (pictured last month in London)
BBC bosses defend its spending on talent, arguing that it needs to compete with rivals for the best staff.
However, they would be hard-pressed to justify many of the other costs they rack up. The BBC wasted £200,000 of licence fee payer’s money on taxi, train and hotel bookings that were never used between 2015 and 2018. According to the Sun on Sunday, bosses paid £172,000 for 3,418 rail tickets, £15,000 on 944 taxi trips and £32,000 for 233 hotel rooms that were cancelled.
The BBC was unable to claim refunds on any of them. The Corporation also seems to be remarkably bad at finding flights that are good value for money.
Last year, an unnamed BBC boss spent £9,000 on a return flight to Miami – which wasn’t even first class.
Business class flights costing £3,000 less than this were easily found by reporters.
The Miami trip was one of 20 eye-watering fares for back office staff for the 12 months to December, which together cost nearly £100,000.
The BBC claims that a lot of its travel arrangements have to be made last minute to accommodate its executives’ busy schedules.
BBC insiders are understood to be irate at director general Lord Tony Hall (pictured last year) for agreeing to take on the bill for free licences for the over 75s
But they keep some spending strictly under wraps. They refuse to disclose how much it costs for the army of hundreds of staff that cover Glastonbury festival every year, claiming it would breach EU human rights laws.
However, it has admitted to lavishing money on holidays for its stars. In 2016, it spent around £5,000 on a pair of business class flights for Undercover actress Sophie Okonedo and her boyfriend. They used them to go wine tasting and whale watching in Cape Town after she had finished filming in Johannesburg.
However, these sums pale in comparison to the huge sums the Corporation has overspent on landmark projects.
In 2013, it was forced to cancel its ‘Digital Media Initiative’, having spent £100million. It also blew £12.5million on the BBC Store, a download service supposed to bring in millions by cashing in on viewers’ nostalgia. It closed after just over a year.
Its building projects have also been a disaster for the coffers. In 2015, the NAO censured the BBC over its £1billion London headquarters, which went £107million over budget.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘The BBC is assessed as one of the most efficient telecoms and media companies and by significantly cutting running costs we’ve made sure as much money as possible goes straight into programmes which audiences love.’
Elderly women and vulnerable groups such as the disabled and dementia sufferers will be the worst hit by BBC’s decision to withdraw free licences for pensioners, figures reveal
By Katherine Rushton for The Daily Mail
Vulnerable elderly women will bear the brunt of the BBC’s decision to strip millions of pensioners of free TV licences.
Women are two-and-a-half times more likely than men to be dragged through the courts after failing to pay the £154.50 annual charge, according to 2018 statistics disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. They are also far more likely to end up in jail.
Last night, licence fee abolition campaigner Caroline Levesque- Bartlett said: ‘There is something deeply wrong with a system that routinely punishes women more than men, despite overwhelming evidence that men commit more crimes.
‘The TV licence is a regressive tax and a deeply sexist one.’
Broadcasting House, the BBC headquarters in London, the broadcaster’s own researchers new the impact it would have on the vulnerable
The BBC’s own research into licence fee reform has revealed the corporation knew that elderly women and other vulnerable groups such as the disabled and dementia sufferers would be the worst hit by its decision.
‘Any decision other than copying the existing concession would affect more women than men, more of those from a BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] background, and more disabled people and people with long-term health issues like dementia,’ its ‘equality impact assessment’ said.
‘Any decision other than copying the existing concession will also adversely affect more women than men as women tend to live longer.’
The decision to strip free TV licences from the 3.7million over-75s not on pension credit will also ‘have a more significant qualitative effect on women than men because women, especially older women, are more likely to be single, and so be reliant on TV for information and companionship’, the BBC’s research said.
Figures obtained by the Mail show that of the 139,719 people prosecuted for licence fee evasion last year, 100,725 were women. Around 9,300 were found not guilty, meaning they suffered the ordeal needlessly.
The vast majority of convicted evaders got a criminal record and a court fine of up to £1,000. But in 65 cases people were jailed after they failed to pay the fine, spending an average of 19 days each behind bars.
Of those sentences, 40 were for women – more than 60 per cent of the total. By contrast, less than 5 per cent of the general prison population is female, Ministry of Justice figures show.
Some people jailed in Northern Ireland for failing to pay their fine went to prison more than once over the issue.
Age UK director Caroline Abrahams said: ‘Many older women are missing out on pension credit and are therefore set to lose their free TV licence, despite living on a very low income. A big extra bill on top of the other challenges that many will be facing by this age will be a bitter blow. For many, the possibility of being taken to court for non-payment will be a source of huge anxiety.’
A TV Licensing spokesman said: ‘Individuals cannot be imprisoned for licence fee evasion, only for non-payment of court-ordered fines.
‘The number of women imprisoned in England and Wales in 2018 was four, a 50 per cent reduction from the previous year’s eight women.
‘Prosecutions in England and Wales have fallen by 6 per cent from 138,000 to 129,000 over the same period.’
Q&A: When will the new charge be introduced and will I be affected?
When will the licence fee change come in?
June 1, 2020
Who will be affected?
Anyone over the age of 75 will lose their exemption – except those on pension credit.
How many households could be exempt?
Around 3million UK households are eligible for a pension credit – which tops up weekly income to £167.25 for a single person or £255.25 for a couple. People who reached state pension age before April 2016 can also apply for up to £15.35 per couple per week if they have savings.
Half of those households – 1.5million – have residents over the age of 75, so would be eligible for a free TV licence. However, only around 900,000 actually claim the benefit.
How do I obtain pension credit?
Aimed at retired people on low incomes, both single people and couples, it is means tested but can be worth thousands of pounds a year. Call the pension credit claim line on 0800 99 1234. They will fill in the application for you over the phone.
You need your national insurance number and bank details along with information about your finances including savings, mortgages, investments and any other assets.
How do you claim a free TV licence?
You will have to show TV Licensing – the arm of the BBC in charge of collecting the charge – proof that you receive pension credit. This could be a copy of the letter you received from the Department for Work and Pensions.
How will it be policed?
TV Licensing will develop and operate an ‘independent self-verification system’ online. It will also provide pensioners who think they are entitled to the pension credit, but do not claim it, details of how to do this.
How much will the new scheme cost?
The continued exemptions will cost the BBC £250million a year, including the bill for hiring extra staff to talk to elderly pensioners about the changes face to face.
That is the equivalent to the budget for Radio 4, Radio 2, the BBC News Channel and some local radio stations.
Where will the BBC get this money from?
£100million from recent savings efforts that was supposed to go into programming and the £150million a year previously committed to the national roll-out of rural broadband.
The broadcaster was freed from that obligation as part of its 2015 deal with government.
Why not tap the high-paid stars?
Bosses rejected cutting tlaent pay because capping salaries at £150,000 would save only around £20million a year.
Could I go to jail if I don’t pay?
Non-payment of the TV licence is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine of up to £1,000, plus court costs. Disobeying the court and not paying that fine can land you in jail.