Democratic Unionist Party: We back free TV licences for over-75s, so should May

Theresa May faces mounting pressure to save free TV licences for the over-75s after the Tories’ confidence-and-supply partners backed the lifeline.

The Democratic Unionist Party called on the Prime Minister to honour a 2017 manifesto pledge and preserve the £154.50-a-year benefit.

The Government relies on the DUP’s 10 MPs for its majority – and the demand comes just months before the two-year pact between the hardline Northern Ireland party and the Conservatives is due for renewal.

The DUP could make preserving the perk a key condition in any new deal with the Tories.

Party frontbencher Emma Little-Pengelly said: “We believe action must be taken now to prevent the removal of this concession and we strongly urge the Government to step in and ensure this happens.”

Labour vowed to work with the DUP and use “every tool” in Parliament to force Mrs May into a screeching U-turn.

Currently all households with someone aged 75 or over are entitled to a free licence.

The Conservatives pledged at the 2017 election to maintain the benefit for the length of this Parliament, due to run until 2022.

But OAPs face being stripped of the perk after the then Tory Chancellor George Osborne stitched up a deal in 2015 to make the BBC responsible for funding the £745million-a-year perk from June 2020.

Options put forward by the corporation include scrapping them altogether, replacing them with a 50% concession for all over-75s, lifting the threshold for eligibility to 77 or 80, or means-testing so those who get pension credits are able to claim the benefit.

A decision is expected by June.

The DUP could make preserving the perk a key condition in any new deal with the Tories


Writing on the Conservative Home website, Ms Little-Pengelly outlined the case for saving the benefit.

“Removing the concession would punish many of the BBC’s most loyal viewers and listeners, particularly the poorest and oldest, many of whom would find it hard or impossible to pay,” she said: “In a fast-changing and uncertain world, my party believes older people need our support more than ever, and that’s why we support the continuation of free TV licences for all over-75s.

“Some people have however argued that we should use this as an opportunity to means-test the licence fee.

“In theory, this sounds like an ideal solution, but in reality it would be expensive to administer, would provide no help for those living just above the line, and many of the poorest would miss out – just as they do on pension credit – because of the complexities and stigma associated with claiming means-testing benefits.”

Slamming the “backroom arrangement” thrashed out between ministers and the BBC in 2015, she went on: “Whether they keep it, scrap it, or amend the current funding formula, the BBC would be deciding and implementing social policy.

Protesters outside BBC New Broadcasting House in London


“This is not the BBC’s job, and what confidence would any of us have that they would perform it well?

“The BBC has no experience of this, nor are there the right levels of scrutiny or accountability for their decisions or reasoning.”

Ms Little-Pengelly feared pensioners were “inappropriately stuck in the middle of a debate between the Corporation and policy makers about the BBC’s long-term funding future”, adding: “Surely we should keep vulnerable older people out of it.”

Labour could highlight divisions in Parliament and potentially inflict a symbolic but humiliating defeat on the PM by tabling an Opposition Day debate and forcing a vote.

The party’s deputy leader and Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson said: “Emma Little-Pengelly is right – this is going to hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest.

“The Government is outsourcing austerity to the BBC and hoping no one will notice.

“Well, we are not having it.

“The Tories promised in their last manifesto that they would keep free TV licences for over-75s and Labour will work with the DUP to use every tool available to us to force them to honour that commitment.”

More than 90,000 people have signed an Age UK’s Switched Off petition calling for the licences to be preserved and more than 8,000 readers have backed the Mirror’s campaign, completing coupons in the paper.

Currently all households with someone aged 75 or over are entitled to a free licence

Royle Family actor Ricky Tomlinson and former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown have supported the fight.

Age UK Charity Director Caroline Abrahams said: “With the DUP coming out against the abolition of free TV licences for our over-75s this means that all the Opposition parties at Westminster want the Government to take back responsibility for funding the policy, so this valued entitlement can keep going.

“We trust the DUP and all other parties too will now do everything in their power to persuade the Government to do the right thing by our older population.”

National Pensioner Convention general secretary Jan Shortt(CORR), said: “The DUP could play a pivotal role in standing up for pensioners by persuading the Government to change its policy on the TV licence.

“Now is a crucial time for renegotiating their confidence and supply arrangement and it would be hugely popular if they were to make the Government take back responsibility for funding the TV licence for the over-75s.

Royle Family actor Ricky Tomlinson has supported the fight to keep the TV licence perk

“It was a ridiculous move by George Osborne in 2015 to make the BBC fund the concession – and now we have a unique chance to stop it from happening.

“I hope the DUP can make a stand.”

Asked by MPs in September to guarantee licences will remain free, director-general Lord Hall said: “I can’t give you a guarantee it will continue.

“The concession, as formulated, comes to an end in June 2020.

“We have got to decide what will replace it.”

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