OAPs will lose their free TV licences
Leading protester Lord Foulkes said: “How is the BBC going to get this information? It’s just really unbelievable that it thinks it can find a system to do this between now and then. There will be total chaos and the people who will suffer, and will be left with fear and worry, are the over-75s. The situation is so confused that some pensioners will end up in court by default.”
From June 1, four million people aged 75 and over will have to pay £157.50 every year for their TV licence.
Only households claiming Pension Credit will continue to get it for free.
But around 1.2 million pensioners who are eligible for the benefit do not receive it, with many unaware they are entitled to it and others not wanting to admit they need the extra help.
As the clock ticks down to the free licences being scrapped, Age UK director Caroline Abrahams urged the Government and BBC to find a way to reverse the “disgraceful” decision.
She fears pensioners will accidentally end up as lawbreakers despite being model citizens.
OAPs protest against losing their free licences
She said: “In exactly 100 days, millions of very old people are set to lose their free TV licence, leaving a sizeable minority on low incomes with the possibility of having to forego the pleasure and companionship they get from watching TV.
“The vast majority of older people are model citizens, and one of our biggest worries is that some of the most vulnerable will inadvertently break the law, for example due to chronic ill health, because they will be unable to comply with any new charging regime put in place.
“Whether the legal consequences are criminal or civil is immaterial, their personal distress will be the same.
“In our view, it is disgraceful to expose very old people to even the risk of this happening.”
Fellow campaigner and senior Conservative Sir Christopher Chope said a deal should be struck where the BBC agrees to maintain the free licences for over-75s in return for non-payment by the rest of the population continuing to be enforced in the courts.
He said: “Time is running out and a decision has to be taken and the Government needs to be absolutely firm with the BBC.
“If the BBC is not prepared to continue to allow over-75s to have a free licence then the Government must decriminalise the fee.
“It’s absolutely essential that they do that otherwise, people are going to be facing criminal convictions.”
Earlier this month, outgoing Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan launched a public consultation on whether non-payment of the fee should remain a criminal offence.
If it is decriminalised, the BBC would still be able to pursue non-payers through the civil courts.
The corporation decided to axe free licences for the oldest pensioners last year, after taking over responsibility for the fee from the Government.
But the BBC continues to pay huge salaries to its biggest stars, with £1.75million-a-year football pundit Gary Lineker topping the list.
Meanwhile, members of the public who install or use a TV or watch BBC iPlayer without paying the fee – if they are required to – is guilty of a criminal offence and could face a fine of up to £1,000.
Those who refuse to pay the fine risk criminal conviction and imprisonment.
Tory MP Philip Davies said: “It is completely unacceptable to be subsiding people like Gary Lineker’s grotesque wages on the back of the over-75s. The sooner the licence fee is scrapped for everyone the better.”
A BBC spokesman said: “The reason the BBC has decided to introduce a concession linked to Pension Credit is to ensure that the least well off don’t have to pay. TV Licensing will be writing to over 75s customers well ahead of 1 June to explain what to do next. TV Licensing will operate a self-verification system where individuals simply need to demonstrate their receipt of Pension Credit in order to qualify.
“We are taking steps to support people to pay. Prosecution is always a last resort. TV Licensing’s prosecution policy already allows for consideration of people’s vulnerability and individual circumstances, and does not prosecute unless it is in the public interest to do so."
A Government spokesman said: "We are disappointed with the BBC’s decision and have been clear we wanted and expected them to continue the concession.
"People across the country value television as a way to stay connected and we also want the BBC to look at further ways to support older people.
"Taxpayers want to see the BBC using its substantial licence fee income in an appropriate way to make sure it delivers for UK audiences.”