BBC star Sir Lenny Henry urges for re-think on decision to scrap automatic free TV licences for over-75s

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Nina Nannar

BBC star Sir Lenny Henry has criticised plans to scrap universal free TV licences for over-75s.

Under controversial proposals announced yesterday by the Corporation, households without someone who receives Pension Credit from June 2020 will now have to pay.

Comedian Mr Henry has become the latest in a string of high-profile names to wade into the backlash the plans have caused amongst pensioners and urged the BBC to re-think.

Speaking to ITV, Mr Henry, 60, who became a household star due to the success of his BBC shows, said: ''We want something where as many people as possible can have access to the BBC and they shouldn't do cost-determined decision making like that.''

He added the move went against the spirit of the BBC for ''binding'' people together through TV and to cut off a group of people over cost ''I don't understand why you would do that,'' he concluded.

Former BBC broadcaster Martin Bell also responded to the uproar by suggesting money could be saved by slashing the salaries of stars at the Corporation rather than target the elderly.

Their comments come as Labour deputy leader Tom Watson earlier said pensioners have been "betrayed" by the Conservatives manifesto pledge to ensure over 75s do not have to pay for their TV licence.

In an urgent question in the House of Commons, Mr Watson attacked the Conservatives' decision to transfer power from the government to the BBC which allowed the broadcaster to set TV licence fees for pensioners.

In his speech, Mr Watson read out the Conservative party manifesto pledge which promised to ensure a number of benefits, included free TV licences for over 75s, would run until the end of this parliament.

Mr Watson said: "A promise, made in 2017 to voters, by the party opposite. And today. 3.7m over 75s find that promise in tatters. They have been betrayed and it's shameful and the government had the breathtaking gall to blame the BBC for this mess.

"But passing the buck won't work."

He continued: "Public broadcasters should never been responsible for social policy... now its older people paying the price. There are 1.8m over 75s who live completely alone who will lose their TV licence under this announcement."

He added: "You can't means test for loneliness, you can't means test for social inclusion."

Former BBC broadcaster Martin Bell said slashing the over-inflated salaries of talent at the Corporation could be one viable alternative.

Mr Bell told ITV: ''If they could reduce the salaries of some of the stars right across the board to the sort of level that I was paid, which was that of an MP.

''The salaries have been a huge embarrassment for them.

''If they want to save money, look to the stars.''

The secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Jeremy Wright, defended the decision to give BBC the power to set its own licence fees. Credit: House of Commons

The secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport , Jeremy Wright, said the decision to raise the fees was not one made by the government and he was seeking answers from the public broadcaster following their announcement.

Mr Wright added the government had transferred power to the BBC so that by June 2020, the public broadcaster would have the ability to set its own licence fee.

Mr Wright said: "This was a fair deal for the BBC at the time. The BBC director general said it represented a fair deal which provided financial stability.

"The BBC is operationally independent so the announcement yesterday is very much their decision."

He added: "We are very disappointed that the BBC will not protect free television licences for all viewers aged 75 and over."

Households without someone who receives Pension Credit from June 2020 will now have to pay for the licence. Credit: PA

In a statement yesterday, the BBC justified the decision to start means-testing licence fees for pensioners.

Chairman of the BBC Sir David Clementi said: "Linking a free licence for over-75s to Pension Credit was the leading reform option. It protects the poorest over-75s, while protecting the services that they, and all audiences, love.

"It is the fairest and best outcome. It is one we can implement and endorse. This is an outcome that is the fairest possible in difficult circumstances."