Ben Fogle has said he will donate his entire salary from a BBC series to subsidise TV licences for over-75s, following plans to strip the concession from millions of pensioners.
The TV presenter and adventurer’s pledge came as an Age UK petition calling for free television for the elderly to be protected hit more than 350,000 signatures.
Former Countryfile star Fogle said that he believes the corporation to be “one of the greatest institutions in the world”, and that he owes his “whole career to the BBC”.
However, in a post on Twitter, he said that he is “disappointed” over the abolition of free licences for people over the age of 75.
He said that he does not “entirely blame the BBC”, adding that he thinks the Government “forced their hand”, before pledging to donate his entire salary from this year’s BBC documentary series Animal Park to help over-75s “who have no way of paying for a licence”.
Fogle wrote: “My late grandparents, Jean and Dick LOVED the BBC. They would have been lost without it in their twilight years.”
He added: “This is not virtue signalling (although I do think it’s time to rethink the licence) but we owe it to those over 75 who have served their country in the armed forces, the NHS, the fire service etc. Let’s not penalise those who most value the great BBC.”
Fogle said it is the “least I can do for those over 75, an often neglected sector of society”.
In the comments section on Instagram, where he also posted his statement, Fogle said he will help Age UK to set up a fund to help over-75s with his donation.
Funding the free licences, which have been available to all over-75s for nearly two decades, is due to be transferred from the Government to the BBC next year as part of an agreement hammered out in 2015.
The corporation has said free licences will be means-tested under a new scheme that intends to protect programming while dealing with the extra funding burden.
Age UK said television was the “main form of company” for more than a million of the country’s oldest people, and called for the Government to continue picking up the bill.
“We believe this change will harm millions of older people who rely on their TV,” the charity’s petition states.
“Together, we must demand the Government takes back responsibility for funding free TV licences.”
The petition has now received just over 350,000 signatures, while tens of thousands more have added their names to petitions on the Labour and Parliament websites.
Many have criticised the move, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said that providing over-75s with free TV licences “is not too much to ask”, and senior Conservative Andrea Leadsom, who called for the new ruling to be scrapped.
However, Tory peer Ros Altman – a former pensions minister – said the BBC should not have to “carry the can” for the £745 million cost of the licences.
In a joint statement released on Monday, the BBC’s chairman, Sir David Clementi, and Director General Tony Hall said continuing the Government’s scheme would have had a “severe impact” on services and that the new model “represents the fairest possible outcome”.
Only around 1.5 million households will be eligible for a free TV licence under the new scheme.
It is thought that around 3.7 million pensioners will lose out.