Ben Fogle: Government should reverse ‘poor decision’ over free TV licences

Ben Fogle has said the Government should be held accountable for its “poor decision” over revoking free TV licences for all over-75s, and that it should be made to reverse it.

The BBC TV presenter, who said he is “ashamed” at how older people are being treated, is supporting the charity Age UK’s SwitchedOff campaign to save free TV licences for those over 75, because “older people are being forgotten in this country”.

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.

Fogle, who on Wednesday pledged to donate his entire salary from this year’s series of the BBC’s Animal Park programme to subsidise TV licences for pensioners, said he is concerned for those who will not be able to afford the cost of a TV licence from next year.

The former Countryfile star told the Press Association: “I’m ashamed to say that we as a nation are not looking out for those who fought and risked their lives for us all – they deserve better.

“TV brings great comfort to millions of older people who live alone and those who are housebound – no doubt helping them to keep informed, entertained and connected to the outside world. I just can’t believe this is being taken away from them.

“My grandparents loved the BBC and would have been lost without their TV, but if they were alive today they could have afforded a TV licence.

“It’s those who are struggling to get by and can’t even afford the basics that I’m worried about.”

He added: “Why has the Government passed on what is essentially a welfare benefit to a media broadcaster – they should be held accountable for this poor decision and made to reverse it. Older people should be allowed to keep their free TV licences – it’s the least we can do.

“I urge everyone who feels the same to sign Age UK’s petition and support their work to make older people’s voices heard.”

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His comments come as Age UK’s petition to save free TV licences hit more than 420,000 signatures, calling for the Government to continue picking up the bill.

Through the campaign, the charity is calling on all leadership candidates of the Conservative Party to take back responsibility for the funding of free TV licences for over-75s if they become prime minister.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “I think the public agrees this situation is deeply unfair – our petition has more than 400,000 names on it today and rising.

“It is totally unnecessary too: the Government should never have given the responsibility for the free TV licence to the BBC without the money to fund it and the mess we have now is the inevitable result.

“The BBC cannot save the free TV licence for over-75s, it would cost them a fifth of their total budget, but our next prime minister certainly can: at less than 0.1% of public spending, the cost to the public purse is small change – but saving this entitlement would mean so much to so many older people.

“We call on all the candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party to pledge their support.”

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.

Tory peer Ros Altmann – 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.