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Famous faces urge BBC to reconsider licence fees for pensioners as more than 300,000 sign petition

Ricky Tomlinson, Sir Michael Palin and Ben Fogle have all urged the BBC to reconsider the introduction of licence fees for over 75s. Credit: PA

Famous faces and actors have spoken out about the BBC's planned move to start charging pensioners for their TV licences.

Ben Fogle, Ricky Tomlinson, Christopher Biggins and Sir Michael Palin are among those who have said the BBC should reconsider implementing the charges.

Sir Michael said: “I know that the BBC did a pretty bad deal, I think four years ago, saying it would take over the licences and I hoped somehow that would somehow go away and it hasn’t gone away.

“It’s cost them a lot of money and they’re now realising that it’s not going to be changed and they’re going to lose an enormous fraction of their programme making.”

Several petitions have called for free TV licences for all over-75s to be protected. Credit: PA

Meanwhile Ricky Tomlinson, who is famous for playing Jim Royle in BBC comedy The Royle Family, supported Age UK's campaign to continue providing free TV licences for over 75s.

In a video for AgeUK, he said: "We are the fifth richest nation on this planet and we're talking about taking away something which they love.

"I don't think these people who are talking about taking away this little concession know anything about life.

"And the people who are making these rules and decisions are probably earning six-figure salaries."

That sentiment was echoed by Ben Fogle, who wrote on his Instagram: "I owe my whole career to the BBC. They gave me my first break and they (you) employed me for many years but I am disappointed in the recent announcement on the abolition of free licences to the over 75s.

"I don’t entirely blame the BBC. I think the government forced their hand. I have decided to donate my entire salary for this years BBC Animal Park to subsidise licences for those over 75 who have no way of paying for a licence."

On Wednesday, actor Christopher Biggins told Good Morning Britain: "I would certainly be happy to pay a little bit more (to continue with free licences).

"What is so interesting is they seem to be having a go at old, older people and I think that is wrong.

"They raise huge amounts of money for Children In Need; why don't we do Pensioners in Need? Why don't we raise some money for them, because they need the money more than anybody?"

The Government is facing calls to take back responsibility for funding free TV licences for the over-75s amid an outcry over plans to strip the concession from millions of pensioners.

More than 230,000 people have signed a petition launched by Age UK calling for free television for the elderly to be protected, while tens of thousands more have added their names to petitions on the Labour and Parliament websites.

It comes as Tory peer Ros Altman – a former pensions minister – said the BBC should not have to “carry the can” for the £745 million cost of the licences.

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.

Funding the free licences is due to be transferred from the Government to the BBC next year. Credit: PA

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.

Age UK said television was the “main form of company” for more than a million of the country’s oldest people and called for the Government to continue picking up the bill.

“We believe this change will harm millions of older people who rely on their TV,” the charity’s petition states.

“Together, we must demand the Government takes back responsibility for funding free TV licences.”

On Tuesday, the Government was accused of “outsourcing austerity” by MPs in the Commons who said the Conservatives were trying to “offset” cuts to public services.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted that pensioners had spent their lives contributing to society, so providing over-75s with free TV licences “is not too much to ask”.

More than 20,000 people signed a petition on the party’s website, while more than 40,000 added their names to a Parliamentary petition that warned the move “will only penalise the poorest old age pensioners”.

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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”.

Senior Conservatives condemned the BBC’s plan, with leadership hopeful Andrea Leadsom calling for it to be scrapped.

Ex-Commons leader Mrs Leadsom told the Press Association: “It’s a commitment in the Conservatives’ manifesto and we need to find a way to reverse that.”

Fellow candidate Esther McVey said she was “ashamed” of the BBC and warned pensioners could be arrested if they failed to pay.

Sajid Javid and Matt Hancock, who are also running for the leadership, also criticised the move.

However, Baroness Altman said the decision was “both understandable and wrong”.

“Pensioner benefits should never have been outsourced to the BBC. Politicians introduced these perks and they should decide whether to maintain or abolish them,” the peer said in a letter to The Times.

“A public broadcaster whose budget cannot cover the £745 million cost without severely cutting public services should not have to carry the can.

“Any reductions in benefits for the elderly should be decided by ministers in the context of overall pensioner provision, rather than by the BBC, which has no welfare benefit role.”

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.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright told the Commons on Tuesday that it was the job of all in Parliament to make sure that the take-up of pension credit was promoted.