Senior Conservatives have condemned the BBC’s decision not to continue with free TV licences for all over-75s, with Andrea Leadsom calling for a reversal of the plan.
The leadership hopeful said the decision was “unacceptable”, while her rival in the race, Esther McVey, said she is “ashamed” of the BBC.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has also criticised the broadcaster over the decision.
The corporation has come under fire after announcing that, from June 2020, the concession will be available only to households where someone receives Pension Credit.
The broadcaster was set to take on the financial burden of providing free licences for over-75s from the Government in 2020.
Ex-Commons leader Mrs Leadsom told the Press Association: “I think that’s unacceptable.
“It’s a commitment in the Conservatives’ manifesto and we need to find a way to reverse that.”
Former work and pensions secretary Ms McVey said she will back a campaign by ITV’s Good Morning Britain asking the BBC to reverse its decision.
Ms Davidson told the show: “If GMB are going to mount a campaign on this, then sign me up as the first person to back it, because television is the window to the world for people that can’t go there themselves, including people who are elderly.
“It’s not just a friend when you’re lonely, it’s not just intellectual stimulation, it’s also a way to reach out and see things and, like Susanna (Reid), if I was asked to pay a few pounds more to help make sure that free TV licences are maintained for people over the age of 75, I would willingly pay it.”
Ms McVey wrote on Twitter: “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. Agree with @RuthDavidsonMSP & @GMB campaign.”
Only around 1.5 million households will be eligible for a free TV licence under the new scheme.
The Government has been criticised for forcing the financial burden on to the BBC.
GMB host Piers Morgan has railed against the move on air and on Twitter, saying: “Shame on the BBC for doing this, they should be forced to do a U-turn and cave on this.”
Labour has launched a campaign to restore free TV licences for all over-75s, describing the move as “an act of cruelty”.
Leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote on Twitter: “Pensioners have spent their lives contributing to our society. Providing over-75s with free TV licences is not too much to ask. Sign the petition if you agree.”
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson branded the burden placed on pensioners an “outrage”, and activists for the elderly warned that the move will directly affect the “sick and disabled”.
In addition, Mr Watson has written a letter to Tory leadership candidates to ask them to “honour their 2017 manifesto promise”.
In the letter, posted on Twitter, he said that it was “a matter of honour”.
He added: “Means testing the TV licence concession leaves your manifesto commitment in tatters.”
The letter ended with Mr Watson saying: “If you are victorious in becoming Prime Minister I know you will not want your first act to be a betrayal of three million pensioners.”
As part of the charter agreement which came into effect in 2017, the BBC would take on the burden of paying for free licences by June 2020.
From that date, following a review by the broadcaster, only households with someone over the age of 75 who receives Pension Credit will be eligible for a free TV licence funded by the BBC.
It is thought that around 3.7 million pensioners will lose out.
"If you are victorious in becoming Prime Minister, I know you will not want your first act to be the betrayal of three million pensioners."
— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) June 11, 2019
The new scheme will cost the BBC around £250 million by 2021/22, depending on the take-up.
The free licence fee was first paid for by a Labour government in 2000.
Under the Conservatives in 2015, ministers announced that an agreement had been reached between the Government and the BBC, and the broadcaster would shoulder the cost.