Culture Secretary refuses to intervene in BBC decision to scrap free TV licences

The BBC’s decision to abolish mandatory free TV licences for over 75s will not be overruled by the Culture and Media Secretary.

Nicky Morgan, who was returned to Cabinet as Secretary of State by Boris Johnson after he became Prime Minister in July, said she had “no plans” to review the BBC’s television licence shake-up.

The BBC agreed in 2015, following negotiations with then chancellor George Osborne over the terms of the licence fee, to fund the free licences afforded to those aged over 75.

But the BBC announced this year that only low-income households in receipt of pension credits would receive the benefit, meaning around 3.7 million elderly people will be faced with a £154.50 annual bill for a colour TV licence from 2020.

Nicky Morgan (Ian West/PA)
Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan

The broadcaster said that without the reform it would have to close whole television channels and radio stations, such as BBC4 and BBC Radio 5Live, to fund the free coverage for pensioners.

MPs on the digital, culture, media and sport committee published a report last week calling for the pensioner benefit to be reinstated.

They said: “The BBC and the Government must reach an agreement to allow the funding of free licence fees for the over-75s to continue after 2020.”

But Mrs Morgan, making her first appearance in front of the committee as Culture and Media Secretary, said it was “disappointing” some would miss out but refused to intervene.

She told MPs on Wednesday: “I’m not working on anything that would involve that. I don’t have plans to change that (decision).”

The Cabinet minister added: “It is disappointing obviously that there are people who thought they were going to get free TV licences who are not going to.

“I think the important thing now is to work out that those who are eligible do get it and whether there is other support that can be put in place by the BBC.”

The former education secretary said the agreement thrashed out between BBC executives and the Government was seen in 2015 as a “good deal”.

“The BBC is a big enough, old enough and experienced enough organisation to be able to handle itself in these negotiations,“ she told the committee.

“There was an agreement struck that related to the over-75s’ licence but also to the iPlayer loophole and licence fee increase as well.

“I can point to quotes, whether it was the director general or others, saying actually this was a good deal that was struck.

“It is easy with the benefit of hindsight for some people to look back and say, ‘I would have done this or that differently’. But the agreement is the agreement.”

Mrs Morgan confirmed she had met with the publicly-funded broadcaster’s director general and the chairman of its board.

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