Lord Hall ‘resents’ claims BBC not honouring deal in row over TV licences

The director general of the BBC has said he “refutes and resents” the idea the corporation is not honouring its agreement with the Government over free TV licences for the over-75s.

From June next year, the benefit will be restricted to over-75s who claim pension credit, with the BBC saying it cannot afford to take on the financial burden from the Government.

The free TV licence was introduced in 2000, but the BBC agreed to take on the cost as part of the charter agreement hammered out in 2015.

Lord Tony Hall said the BBC had carried out the agreement with the Government 'to the letter'. Credit: PA

Giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Wednesday, Lord Hall said the BBC had carried out the agreement with the Government “to the letter”, after it came under fire over the plans to end universal entitlement.

He said the corporation has been “completely consistent about the reforms we would need to make to live with the budget means we were set”.

He stressed that from the beginning, it has been the Government which is “withdrawing the concession”.

Discussing the value of the concessions the BBC was given as part of the charter agreement, including an increase to the licence fee, committee chairman Damian Collins MP suggested they were worth “about £700 million”, adding “it seems you’re net gainers from this process”.

Lord Hall replied: “The idea we are not honouring the agreement is wrong, I really refute that and I really resent that. It is crucial I establish this.

“We are carrying out what the Government said we should do to the T.”

He continued: “What I’m trying to establish is that as part of that settlement in 2015 with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was clear reform of the over-75s – provided we could go through the proper consultation and the consultation backed us up – was on the table and everybody knew reform was likely. Not inevitable, but likely.”

Age UK protesters delivered a letter to Tory HQ on Wednesday. Credit: Age UK

Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Lenny Henry, actress Amanda Redman and Gogglebox star June Bernicoff are among 20 celebrities who have signed an open letter urging the next prime minister to restore free TV licences for all over-75.

The letter was delivered to Conservative Party headquarters by Age UK.

The pensioners called on the party to honour its 2017 election pledge to maintain the concession for the length of this Parliament.

They carried banners and posed in front of the building’s gates alongside boxes containing some of the letters, chanting: “Don’t switch us off!”

Tony Gomm, 79, from Whitechapel in London, said the Tory Party risked losing “millions” of votes if it did not heed calls to scrap the move.

He said: “We have to hope they will take notice of the strength of feeling against the removal of the TV licence from a lot of people.

“It’s going to be difficult for the BBC to do it because then they will have cut programmes. They can’t save much on salaries.

“I’m hoping the Government will bear in mind they could lose millions of votes if they are so mean-minded to deprive millions of pensioners of their TV.

“A lot of people really struggle to find 150 odd pounds to pay for a TV licence.”

Elaine Osborle, from Catford in south-east London, represented the Lewisham Pensioners Forum at the event.

The 66-year-old said she would like the BBC’s highest-paid stars to speak out on the issue.

She said: “I hope (the BBC) will change their mind. That’s what we want. But the BBC are very stubborn. They have made a decision without asking. That’s what they want.

“I will tell you who we would like to see put their weight behind it – Gary Lineker, Jonathan Ross, Chris Evans and suchlike because they are the ones who have scooped most of the BBC’s money in the past.

“I pay for my licence so that older people can benefit but the people who really benefit are those people.”

Actor and presenter Christopher Biggins recalled his reaction to the news last month.

He said: "I was appalled. Also the timing wasn't great - we'd been celebrating D-Day and celebrating a lot of people who are over 75 and saying how wonderful they were and what they did for this country.

"Then suddenly we say 'oh by the way, you're not going to be able to have your TV licence for free', I mean that was just ghastly, just a terrible thing to do."

  • What has happened to the TV licence for over-75s?

TV licence fees for over-75s are to be means tested. Credit: PA

The BBC confirmed in June that free TV licence fees for over-75s are to be means tested.

This means households without someone who receives Pension Credit from June 2020 will now have to pay for the licence.

Around 3.7 million households which previously received a free licence will now have to pay for one.

It is thought 1.5 million households will be eligible for the free licence under the new scheme, which will cost the BBC around £250 million by 2021/22 depending on the take-up.

Licence fees were being reviewed by the BBC, with the full cost of concession due to be passed to the corporation from government in June 2020.

Facing financial pressures and attempting to streamline, the BBC has said previously that shouldering the burden of free licences would “fundamentally change” the broadcaster.

Lord Hall has announced that licence fees will now be linked to Pension Credit and will be means-tested.