The BBC is facing a major TV licence rebellion from pensioners who are steadfastly refusing to pay the fee – despite the threat of jail sentences.
The Mail on Sunday has been inundated with hundreds of emails and letters from those aged 75 and over voicing their fury at having just been ordered to pay £157.50 a year to watch television – many vowing they will not pay this ‘disgraceful’ tax. Previously, elderly people got a free TV licence.
They are also enraged that with an annual revenue from TV licences of £4billion, the BBC is ‘squandering’ much of this cash.
No entry: Toby Walne tried to deliver reader complaints to the BBC at its central London HQ
THEY WOULD NOT EVEN LET OUR MAN IN THE BUILDING
Last week, The Mail on Sunday tried to deliver your complaints to the BBC. But if the Corporation was concerned about hundreds of pensioners saying they will refuse to pay the licence fee, BBC staff hid it well.
Having been denied a meeting with new director general Tim Davie, we approached the BBC head office revolving door and asked if we could simply hand Mr Davie our file of 300 letters from MoS readers.
A security man in a yellow jacket looked down on his list – as if scanning for VIPs allowed into an exclusive club – and point-blank refused. He pointed to a loading bay around the corner of the art deco building, revamped with an eye-watering £1billion of licence fee-payers’ money a decade ago. It houses almost 20,000 staff including celebrity TV presenters on more than £1million a year and more than 100 bosses on £150,000 plus.
Once at the tradesmen’s entrance, the MoS pressed a button before the door clicked open. The courier slapped a note on our thick file of complaints – scribbling on it ‘Tim Davey [Sic] DG’.
Opposite on the wall outside was a grand statue of author George Orwell with his words ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’
Fine words – but apparently no one at the BBC was around to listen to our readers.
Their unwillingness to pay the licence fee is because they believe the BBC is serving its own interests by giving excessive salaries to star presenters and managers – while failing to broadcast the type of programmes older viewers want to watch. Some have also told us that they simply do not have the cash to pay for a licence.
Last week, I took a file of more than 300 reader letters (see below) from TV licence rebels to Broadcasting House in Central London. We had asked the BBC to arrange a meeting so we could hand the complaints dossier to new £525,000-a-year BBC director general Tim Davie.
We explained that he ought to know about a rebellion among fee-payers that could cost the BBC vast sums of money – and viewers. But our request was ignored.
Undeterred, we delivered the file, addressed to Mr Davie, to the Broadcasting House trade entrance. We had received no response from Mr Davie at the time of going to press.
Many believe it is wrong that the BBC can use the threat of prison to bully people into paying the licence fee. Non-payers face a fine of up to £1,000 if they watch television without a licence. Ignore the fine and you can be imprisoned.
Former pilot Kenneth Morris, whose letter was among those in our weighty file, says: ‘The thought of being dragged off to prison for non-payment frightens many people half to death.’
The 83-year-old, from Cavendish in Suffolk, who built his own plane and has flown a Spitfire, adds: ‘It is a form of propaganda punishment that is utterly disgraceful.’
More than three million pensioners will have to pay the full £157.50 for a TV licence.
If they refuse, it will leave a near £500million black hole in the BBC finances. Last year, 250,000 fewer people paid for a licence, with many younger viewers opting for online-only streaming subscription services instead.
Jan Shortt, general secretary of the campaign group National Pensioners Convention, says: ‘The BBC boasts how it is all for equality and diversity but then it treats people differently when they get older.’
She adds: ‘If it wants to take the elderly’s money, it must better represent these viewers through its broadcasting.’
Tory MP Julian Knight, culture select committee chairman, described the licence fee as ‘morally on the way out’ earlier this month. Other critics believe it should be replaced with a subscription option.
Up to five million elderly people have been contacted in recent weeks by post telling them they must pay the licence fee from the start of August 2020 – when the BBC cancelled the free TV licence for those aged 75 and over.
Included with the letter are details of how those on low incomes – typically individuals surviving on an income of less than £174 a week – might still get a free licence by claiming Pension Credit.
In theory, around two million should not have to pay due to their low incomes. But the National Pensioners Convention believes as many as 1.5million households are not claiming a Pension Credit they are entitled to.
For further details contact the Pension Service on 0800 731 0469. Others have been told how the bill can be paid in instalments. A TV Licensing spokeswoman says: ‘Those aged 75 or over previously covered by a free TV licence can join our new 75 plus plan, allowing them to pay in equal weekly, fortnightly or monthly instalments without upfront payments.’
It’s all rubbish and repeats…I’d rather give my money to the Gurkhas
Here are just some of the furious letters BBC staff refused to let us hand to director general Tim Davie:
Defiant: George Spence says he would get free TV if he went to prison
I would rather give the £157.50 to the NHS or Gurkha Welfare Trust. If we all turn up to court, we could enjoy that spell in prison – paying no council tax or utility bills, getting well fed, enjoy priority health and dentistry without queues – and free TV. Mr George Spence, aged 79, Glasgow
This is an attack on the most vulnerable in society where the bullying BBC believes it can frighten law-abiding elderly people into paying up. Well not me. It’s time to stand up to the politically correct ‘woke’ unBritish Broadcasting Corporation. Mrs G. R., aged 76, Warwickshire
If everyone refused to pay, we might succeed. I am not destitute but have too many bills to pay already. It is wrong to be bullied this way. Mr P. B., aged 84, Suffolk
I simply cannot afford to pay their inflated wages and am treating the TV licensing letter as junk mail and believe others should, too. But rather than just throwing it in the bin, I redirect BBC mail to my MP. Mr J.M., aged 83, Surrey
Why should we foot a bill so it can promote its constant Left-wing propaganda? I have never funded a political party in the past and do not intend to start paying for the privilege now. Mr P.G., aged 88, Nottinghamshire
I refuse to pay for anything that I do not watch. It is like paying for a gym membership and never going. The BBC should be a subscription service. Mr G.C., aged 76, North Yorkshire
I shall not pay the BBC’s licence fee until I see it making an effort to save money. This includes cutting obscenely high salaries, stopping sending celebrities on junkets and getting rid of all those layers of unnecessary management. Mr P. B., aged 84, Suffolk
I will go to prison rather than pay for the rubbish pushed out by the BBC. I recently started working again due to dwindling savings. But I cannot stay healthy forever or afford to waste money on the BBC. Mr J.C., aged 86, Essex
The BBC continues to take my direct debit payments despite requests for a refund. Once my contract ends in February, I will no longer pay. If they don’t like it – bring it on. TV is free in jail. Mr T.D., aged 75, East Yorkshire
I am so angry and am prepared to go to prison for non-payment of the fee and fines. Yet this would simply impose a further drain on national expenditure and will cost far more than collecting a licence fee. Mr H.C.C., aged 83, Surrey
The BBC should economise before putting the onus on pensioners to subsidise such extortionate wages that only the broadcaster believes it deserves. I have written to the BBC asking if it wants to buy my TV set. So far no reply. Mr R.E., aged 81, West Midlands
As a widow on a limited income I refuse to pay. The BBC must pay its greedy managers less for creating this mess, not pick on pensioners. Mrs J.D.H., aged 80, Berkshire
‘Disgrace’: Former pilot Kenneth Morris with a Spitfire that he flew in 2000
The thought of being dragged off to prison for non-payment of the licence fee frightens many people half to death. It is a form of propaganda punishment that is utterly disgraceful. Mr Kenneth Morris, aged 83, Suffolk
Sadly, I know people now worrying over whether they should pay the gas bill or TV licence – heating the home over winter or watching TV on long, lonely nights. I am not paying. Mr D.C., aged 76, North West London
The BBC pays outrageous rising sums to its presenters and staff while pension income remains the same. I am not prepared to pay on principle. If this means going to prison, then so be it. Mr H.G., aged 77, Bedfordshire
I intend to rebel. I have received renewal notices – but have no intention of paying. What a liberty to ask when such a high proportion of the programmes are repeats. Mrs C.G., aged 76, Suffolk