Boris Johnson says BBC must ‘cough up’ and continue free TV licences for all over-75s
Boris Johnson has reignited a government row with the BBC by insisting that it must “cough up” to continue funding free TV licences for all over-75s.
The Prime Minister hit out at the broadcaster over its decision in June to scrap the £154.50-a-year benefit for almost three million pensioners from 2020, leaving only the poorest able to claim it.
It came despite the 2017 Conservative manifesto including a pledge to protect over-75 benefits, “including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences” until at least 2022.
The BBC however said it could no longer afford to stump up the £745m required to fund the perk without having to axe major channels, including BBC Two, BBC Four and the BBC News Channel.
When asked whether his government would consider funding the scheme, the Prime Minister said: “The BBC received a settlement that was conditional upon their paying for TV licences for the over-75s. They should cough up.”
But the BBC hit back at Mr Johnson, saying: “We’ve reached the fairest decision we can in funding free TV licences for the poorest pensioners, while protecting BBC services.
“If the BBC funded all TV licences for the over-75s it would mean the closure of BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, the BBC Scotland channel, Radio 5 Live, and several local radio stations.
“It is a matter for the Government if it wishes to restore funding for free licences for all over-75s.”
Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson said: “This Prime Minister’s disregard for older people is appalling.
“He is trying to blame the BBC for his own government’s policy, but this obfuscation will not work.
“The blame for scrapping free TV licences lies firmly with the government.”
A Number 10 source told the Press Association: "The Government agreed the licence fee settlement with the BBC in 2015.
"At the time, the director general said it was a 'strong deal for the BBC' and provided 'financial stability'.
"It saw BBC income boosted by requiring iPlayer users to have a licence, and unfroze the licence fee for the first time since 2010 - with it rising each year with inflation.
"In return, we agreed responsibility for the over-75 concession would transfer to the BBC in June 2020. The BBC must honour this agreement."