BBC boss says ‘no visits taking place’ regarding over-75 licences presently

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BBC director-general Tim Davie has signalled that over-75s will not be threatened with legal action over non-payment of the TV licence fee. Source: PA

BBC director-general Tim Davie has signalled that over-75s will not be threatened with legal action over non-payment of the TV licence fee.

The universal right to a free TV licence ended last year for the age group and only those in receipt of pension credit do not have to pay.

Former cricketer Lord Botham, backed by more than 20 other members of the House of Lords, has urged Mr Davie to ensure TV Licensing, which logs whether or not households own a licence, makes an “explicit pledge” they “will never prosecute anyone over 75”.

In his email response, Mr Davie said: “We are not sending any enforcement letters to older people who previously held a free licence. There are no visits taking place in relation to over-75 licences at this time.

“When free TV licences were introduced by the Labour Government in 2000, we understand according to the Ministry of Justice that no-one over 75 was prosecuted between 1992-1999.

“We have been very clear that we are giving people time to transition which has been extended further because of Covid.

“We are continuing with that policy. We have now transitioned 3.6 million households. The majority of households have paid in one go and over 770,000 have applied for free TV licences. We have taken over one million calls.”

Lord Botham, a prominent Brexit supporter who became a peer last year, welcomed the news.

He said: “It would be plain wrong for Tim Davie to break this practice and start prosecutions of our oldest pensioners.

“I have countless complaints from pensioners in their 90s who find the BBC’s letters threatening.

“For the BBC to start doorstep visits from enforcement officers and then criminal prosecutions would be unacceptable.

“It’s also clear that people of this age cannot be expected to cope with the bureaucracy of means testing. The BBC and the Government need to sort this out.”

The BBC agreed to take on responsibility for funding TV licences for over-75s as part of the charter agreement with the Government in 2015, but has since said it cannot afford to continue the universal benefit.

Mr Davie has previously said that not implementing the policy would have cost the corporation £700 million.

The move to end free TV licences for the over-75s has been criticised by some, including charity Age UK and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who said in July that he felt “let down” by the broadcaster’s decision.

In January, it was announced the Government is not going ahead with plans to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee.

A BBC spokesman said: “Our position on enforcement has not changed – we are not visiting households that previously held a free licence.

“As we’ve said before, we’re giving older people plenty of time to get set up. More than 3.5 million customers (over 85%) have made arrangements and we continue to process applications.”

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