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MPs call for restoration of free TV licences for all over-75s | Politics News

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A group of MPs has called for the government and BBC to work together to restore free TV licences for all over-75s.

In a new report, the House of Commons’ digital, culture, media and sport committee urged ministers and TV bosses to agree a deal to allow the funding of free licence fees for over-75s to continue after 2020.

In June, the BBC controversially announced a free TV licence will only be available to households with someone over 75 who receives pension credit from next summer.

Damian Collins
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Damian Collins MP, the committee’s chair, expressed concern about the BBC’s finances

About 3.7 million households which previously received a free licence will have to pay for one under the new scheme.

The move, which prompted a fierce backlash, will coincide with the BBC taking on sole responsibility for funding free TV licences from the government.

In their report, published on Friday, the committee claimed the BBC had put itself in an “invidious position” by linking free TV licences to welfare payments.

The cross-party group of MPs said: “It is not the BBC’s role to become involved in take-up of pension credit.

“The broadcaster must ensure that its implementation plans do not result in more licence fee income being diverted to activities that are rightly the responsibility of the Department of Work and Pensions.”

They called for the government and BBC to “agree a funding formula that maintains the free over 75s licence fees”, while urging the next round of negotiations over the TV licence fee to be “conducted in a wholly different way, with a sensible timescale, parliamentary oversight and meaningful involvement of licence fee payers”.

“This dispute has also revealed a concerning picture about the overall finances of the BBC,” the report added.

The BBC agreed to take on responsibility for free TV licences – estimated to cost around £700m – in 2015, following a negotiation with ministers over the corporation’s financing.

Conservative MP Damian Collins, the chair of the committee, told Sky News: “The concession of free licence fees for the over-75s should continue.

“This will require a new funding commitment from the BBC to do that, but also I think this should be part of the discussions they have with the government too about the future of the licence fee.

“These guarantees were given to people over the age of 75, that the licences would continue.

“When the BBC took on responsibility for it, it gave the impression it could do that and afford to do that.

“Its plans have now changed but the losers shouldn’t be people who were promised this concession and now face having it taken away.”

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Mr Collins added the BBC had been “bounced in a few days” into taking on the financial commitment for free TV licences in 2015, but added: “On the other side of it, the BBC asked the government for some compensation to do it, it was given what it asked for and then said it would do it.

“Therefore it’s wrong of the BBC to turn round and say ‘Well, now we can’t do it.'”

He also expressed concern at the “big underlying picture” of the BBC having to deal with rapidly rising TV production costs.

“Unless the BBC can bridge that gap with additional commercial revenues, it’s going to run into financial problems quite soon,” Mr Collins said.

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