The free TV licence for people aged 75 or over has been scrapped, but many of the five million impacted are only just being told what to do – and have yet to be asked to pay up.
The cost of a licence is £157.50 a year for colour or £57 for black and white. Many elderly people will be initially contacted via post this month informing them they have to pay the full licence fee from the start of last month.
They will also be told of a monthly payment plan that they can choose to spread the cost – and how those on certain benefits can avoid the bill.
The free TV licence for people aged 75 or over has been scrapped, but if you claim a Pension Credit you are eligible for a free TV licence
Jan Shortt, general secretary of campaign group National Pensioners Convention, is not impressed.
She says: ‘The BBC could not give a monkey’s about the plight of hard- up pensioners – otherwise it would never have scrapped free TV licences for most of those aged 75 and over. These letters are designed to look as if it cares. It is just a public relations cover-up for the BBC grabbing as much money as it can.’
Shortt is also concerned about the profligacy of the BBC and its use of annual revenue approaching £5billion. She says: ‘In removing universal free TV licences for the elderly, the BBC is targeting the most vulnerable. This is not a fair and inclusive way to behave. A TV often gives company and comfort to the poorest, loneliest and most isolated among us.’
The National Pensioners Convention also believes that up to 1.5million households are not claiming a Pension Credit that they are entitled to – and which if claimed would make them eligible for a free TV licence.
Anyone who is not sure if they can claim should contact the Pension Service helpline on 0800 731 0469. Households with someone who is registered blind should also only pay half price – £78.75 a year.
You do not need a TV licence to listen to the radio.
The Government is soon expected to ‘decriminalise’ non-payment of the TV licence fee. Currently, you face a fine of up to £1,000 if you refuse to pay. Ignore the fine and you can be imprisoned for non-payment.
Don’t forget there’s more than the BBC
● If you are a single pensioner and your weekly income including any pension is below £173.75 – or you are a couple with joint weekly income of less than £265.20 – call the Pension Credit claim phone line on 0800 99 1234. You should be entitled to the credit which tops up income by an average of £58 a week and also includes a free TV licence.
● Catch-up services escape the TV licence fee. Providers include ITV Player, All 4, My 5, Now TV, Sky Go, Apple TV, Netflix and Amazon. Unfortunately you cannot watch live TV or ‘catch up’ on programmes on BBC iPlayer without a TV licence.
● There is nothing to stop you enjoying videos provided online through services such as YouTube. Alternatively, listen to the radio or read a book – as the original is always better than the TV remake.
● There are a host of on-demand movie services – Netflix, Amazon, Sky and Virgin Media – to keep you entertained. Of course, there is nothing to stop you watching DVDs of favourite films.
The National Pensioners Convention ‘sympathises’ with those unable or unwilling to pay the licence fee. Those not wishing to break the law can spread payments. Six monthly payments of £26.25 can be made or 12 monthly instalments of £13.12.
Alternatively, a quarterly direct debit payment of £40.62 can be set up though this means paying an extra £4.98 for the privilege.
Those struggling with their finances can also consider a TV licensing payment card that enables them to pay £6 a week for half the year. Once you have kept up payments for the first year then TV Licensing may allow you to pay through fortnightly instalments.
Payments can be made online, at shops that accept PayPoint, by phone or even via text. Details are available at the TV Licensing website or by phoning 0300 555 0286.
Rory Stoves, of comparison website Uswitch, believes that although it can be difficult to get by without paying for a TV licence, there are other options available to continue watching the goggle box.
He says: ‘With the explosion of subscription services, you can survive without watching live TV – which is when the right to charge a TV licence fee kicks in.
‘Main players such as Netflix and Amazon have now been joined by Apple and Disney. If you are missing your BBC fix, you can watch many of its period drama re-runs on BritBox – a BBC and ITV subscription service you can enjoy without paying a TV licence fee.’
Apple TV Plus is £4.99 a month, Netflix starts at £5.99 a month, Disney Plus £5.99 a month (or discounted to £59.99 a year), BritBox is £5.99 a month while Amazon Prime Video is £7.99 a month.
A spokesman for TV Licensing says: ‘No one is expected to pay for a new licence until they have been contacted by a letter from us.’
Are you 75 and over and keen to rebel against the licence fee? Email firstname.lastname@example.org