TV Licence Refuseniks Gaining SupportFebruary 10 2021
A number of newspapers this week reported on the huge gap left in the BBC’s finances by the refusal of 750,000 older people to pay for a TV licence after losing their entitlement to free one following George Osbourne, Chancellor of the Exchequer in Cameron’s government, decision to withdraw funding for the scheme.The deficit equates to £117 million but despite the threat of a £1,000 fine and a possible prison sentence of three to six months a significant number of pensioners are sticking it out and refusing to pay the £157.50 annual fee. Silver Voices, one of the pensioners groups, campaigning against the loss of the entitlement said ‘ There is a hard core who are resisting. The stalling is significant. The over-75s have suddenly been flooded with further reminder letters. Some had three or four letters in the last couple of weeks reminding them their license would be cancelled.They are desperate to get people to pay’.
Following its introduction 20 years ago by Gordon Brown, when he was Labour’s Chancellor, the Conservatives decided to withdraw the funding and pass responsibility for the cost onto the BBC as part of its last fee settlement in 2015. Although the BBC signed up to this agreement, it was quite clear that the Conservatives were indirectly responsible for the outcome and despite Boris Johnson stating before the last General Election that he intended to resolve the problem little has been heard on the subject from the Prime Minister. Although free TV licences are still available to anyone on ‘pension credit’, before the BBC withdrew the entitlement, over 4.2 million over 75s held free licenses. Plans to decriminalise non-payment were shelved last week and over 10,000 have signed an online petition criticising the Conservatives failure to uphold their pledge to protect free licenses.
The BBC claim that providing the entitlement would cost them £745million a year which they say they cannot afford. Jan Short, General Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said ‘We believe there is a case for the government to take back responsibility and accountability for the free license’. It’s very unlikely that the Government will allow a situation where over-75s are being imprisoned or receiving hefty fines. Although a report in the Mirror quoted several pensioners who are refusing to pay the £157.50 saying that if necessary they are willing to go to jail. Although the majority of over-75s have paid the fee there is a significant number who are willing to hold out. This could be a problem for the government in the local elections due in the Spring. Many pensioners are expected to use their vote to register opposition to the loss of free licenses when it comes to these elections and the government will not want a string of negative media reports regarding threats against the TV license ‘refuseniks’. Whatever happens this problem is not going away for the BBC, the government or any future government. 750,000 elderly people refusing to pay the license fee is a significant amount and considering the problems resulting from the Coronavirus crisis and communications during this period it’s a measure of the strength of feeling that so many have joined the campaign. However this is not just a matter for the elderly or pensioners to concern themselves with. A whole range of media personalities have come out in support of the campaign, including BBC personality Christopher Biggins, Radio host Paul O’Grady and author Jilly Cooper but little has been heard from the Labour Party or the trade unions on this issue. If the ‘refuseniks’ hold the line a solution will be found because the alternative of imprisoning or fining thousands of pensioners is inconceivable. The labour movement needs to get behind this campaign and maybe the votes of pensioners and the elderly will swing away from the Conservatives and support the Labou