Boris Johnson is today urged to thrash out a deal with the BBC to save free TV licences for over-75s.
Age UK wrote to the Prime Minister calling on him to honour his 2017 election pledge to preserve the lifeline.
Charity director Caroline Abrahams told the Conservative leader OAPs would be “forced to choose between giving up their TV or reducing spending on essentials like food and heating”, while others would be hauled before the courts for refusing to pay the £154.50 fee.
She added: “It is in the Government’s and the BBC’s interests, as well as older people’s, that a solution to this impasse is speedily found, so these hugely regrettable outcomes can be averted and older people enabled to keep their free licences.”
The Conservatives promised in their manifesto to maintain free TV licences.
But the BBC was handed responsibility for funding the benefit from June 2020, under a deal stitched up in 2015.
The Beeb estimates keeping the entitlement will cost £745million a year.
Planned curbs mean just 1.5 million OAPs who receive Pension Credit are likely to continue receiving the benefit.
Mr Johnson told the Mirror earlier this week the BBC should “cough up”.
But Ms Abrahams said asking the corporation to “cough up” was not “likely to be a realistic solution”.
“We believe that over the last few months it has become crystal clear just how serious the impact the BBC’s decision is likely to be on many older people, as well as how strongly many members of the public of all ages feel that our oldest citizens should keep their free TV licences,” she wrote.
“Hundreds of thousands on low incomes will miss out on the free TV licence they need and are entitled to because they will not claim Pension Credit, or because they will fail the process of ‘self-validation’ the BBC designs, or because their income is just a few pounds or even pence too high.
“This will leave them forced to choose between giving up their TV or reducing spending on essentials like food and heating.
“Others who are required to buy a licence will fail to do so because of dementia and ill health of all kinds, so that they inadvertently break the law, to their great anxiety and distress.
“A few, relatively speaking, but an appreciable number nonetheless, will decide not to buy a licence as a matter of principle and will eventually be brought before the courts and could potentially end up in prison.”
The Mirror’s campaign to save free licences is backed by politicians, celebrities and readers.
More than 18,000 have completed coupons in the paper supporting our fight.
Some 634,334 people signed Age UK’s Switched Off petition – handed into No10 – calling for free licences to be preserved and the Government to take back responsibility.
Labour ’s Deputy Leader, Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson, said: “The Government should listen to campaigners who show how losing free TV licences will leave many of our oldest citizens more socially isolated than before.
“The blame for this lies squarely with the Government.”
A BBC spokesman said previously: “It was the Government who decided to stop funding free TV licences for the over-75s and Parliament gave responsibility to the BBC to make a decision on the future of the scheme.
“There was no guarantee that the BBC would continue to fund free licences for the over-75s, as the Culture Secretary at the time has confirmed.
“We’ve reached the fairest decision we can in funding free TV licences for the poorest pensioners, while protecting BBC services.”
But a No10 source defended the 2015 settlement which “unfroze the licence fee for the first time since 2010 – with it rising each year with inflation”.
They added: “In return, we agreed responsibility for the over-75 concession would transfer to the BBC in June 2020.
“The BBC must honour this agreement.”
Bectu broadcasting union chief Philippa Childs said: “Campaigners are absolutely right that expecting the BBC to pay for the cost of free TV licences for all over-75s from its own budget is not realistic.
“Covering the cost is equivalent to a fifth of the BBC’s budget – double the programming budget for BBC Two.
“The Prime Minister should put his money where his mouth is and protect both free TV licences and the world-class TV and radio programmes the BBC provides.”