Up to 3.7 million over-75s will be asked to pay the BBC’s TV licence fee as across-the-board free licences are scrapped - do you qualify for a free licence?

Eastern Daily Press: Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto/EllenaZPicture: Getty Images/iStockphoto/EllenaZ (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto/EllenaZ)

Under new BBC rules, only the lowest-income households where one person receives the pension credit benefit will still be eligible for a free licence.

In 2015, the government announced that the BBC would take over the cost of providing free licences to the over-75s by 2020 as part of its charter renewal neogtiations with the corporation.

This would have cost £745 million, a fifth of the BBC’s budget by 2021/22 and would, according to the corporation, have resulted in “unprecedented closures”.

Had the BBC shouldered the cost of the free TV licences for over-75s, it claimed that BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, the BBC Scotland channel, Radio 5live and a number of local radio stations would have been at immediate risk.

The over-75s have enjoyed free licences, provided by the Government, since 2000.

The new rules mean that 1.5 million households which presently claim pension credit – a government benefit paid weekly to pensioners on low incomes – will be eligible for a free licence, currently priced at £157.50 a year.

The BBC postponed axing the free licences due to the coronavirus outbreak but the Government withdrew funding for the licences in June.

Over-75s will be contacted by letter to tell them what they need to do in the future when the free licences expire on August 1.

The move has led to a rush of over-75s claiming pension credit in order to carry on receiving their free licences which, according to money experts, has caused a knock-on £600 million rise in Government spending on pension credit.

The decision to means-test TV licences has been met with widespread criticism.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director said: “For millions of over 75s who’ve had a torrid time over the last few months, this must feel like another kick in the teeth, during a terrible year.

“Many older people on low incomes have told us that if they have to find £150 plus a year to pay for a licence then they will have to forego some other essential, or try to survive without TV at all.

“We genuinely worry about the mental health of older people living on their own in this situation if they have to give up their cherished TV - for some it really is all they have and their main way of alleviating their chronic loneliness.

“The BBC has taken this decision…but in reality the principal responsibility lies with the Government. Until a previous administration transferred these free licences to the Corporation under a tapering funding arrangement they had taken the form of a welfare benefit for a generation, and to have done that without any consultation left a really bad taste in the mouth.

“The Government cannot absolve itself of responsibility for the upset and distress being caused to many of our over-75s today, the poorest and most isolated above all. And the sadness is that these older people have already endured so much over the last few months.”

Boris Johnson said he believed the BBC has made the “wrong decision” on scrapping free TV licences for the over-75s.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “This is the wrong decision. We recognise the value of free TV licences for over-75s and believe that they should be funded by the BBC.”

BBC chairman, Sir David Clementi, said: “The decision to commence the new scheme in August has not been easy... The BBC could not continue delaying the scheme without impacting on programmes and services.”

The BBC says no one needs to take any immediate action or leave their home in order to claim their free TV license or pay for one so there are no fears for those who are currently shielding due to the coronavirus.

TV Licensing will be writing to all over-75 license holders with information and guidance on how to proceed.

There are a range of payment options for those who would prefer not to pay everything in one go, with the choice to pay in weekly, fortnightly and monthly instalments.

For those who live in Accommodation for Residential Care licences will remain free and those registered blind will only need to pay half the fee.

The new rules and regulations regarding TV Licences are a little convoluted, so we have compiled a guide to make it a little easier to know if you need to pay, are exempt and how to see if you, or a friend or loved one, could be claiming Pension Credit.

Who needs a TV licence?

There are two reasons you need a TV licence:

1) To watch or record programmes as they’re being shown on TV or watch on an online service concurrently as it is being shown on the TV.

2) To download or watch any programmes on BBC iPlayer.

How to keep a free licence

Check to see if you are eligible for pension credit, which is a benefit available to those on the lowest incomes and comes in two parts – guarantee credit and savings credit.

Guarantee credit takes income to £173.75 if you are single and £265.20 if you are a couple. You may be eligible if you have reached state pension age and your income is less than these amounts per week, even if you own your own home. A separate savings credit element is available to people who reached retirement age before April 2016. If you have more than £10,000 in savings you will receive less money.

To find out whether you’re eligible for Pension Credit, and to calculate how much money you’d be entitled to from the government, visit www.gov.uk/pension-credit or call the Pension Service on 0800 99 1234 To claim you’ll need your national insurance number, information about your income, savings and investments and your bank account details. You can also only backdate your claim for three months - you can ask over the phone or if you apply by post, put on the application form that you want to backdate your claim.

TV you can watch without a licence:

You can legally use the following services without a TV Licence as long as you aren’t using them to watch or stream live TV:

* On demand TV – such as catch-up TV and on demand previews, which are available through services including ITV Player, All 4, My5, BT Vision/BT TV, Virgin Media, Sky Go, Now TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku and Amazon Fire TV.

* You can’t watch or download programmes on BBC iPlayer without a TV licence.

* On demand movies - from services such as Sky, Virgin Media, BT Vision, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

* Recorded films and programmes - either via DVD or Blu-ray, or downloaded from the internet.

* YouTube - Video clips that aren’t live through services such as YouTube.

Already claim pension credit? Here is how to claim your free licence

From 1 August 2020, the BBC is introducing a new scheme that offers some over 75 households a free TV Licence.

To be eligible, the licence holder must be 75 years or older and they, or their partner living at the same address, must receive Pension Credit.

If you already receive Pension Credit, you can apply for your free licence when you are 74 years old. The BBC will issue you a short-term licence to cover you until your 75th birthday.

TV Licencing don’t automatically know whether households receive this benefit however, so licences will have to be applied for.

You can download an application form from the TV Licensing website and one will also be sent out to all over-75s anyway along with the letter informing them of changes to the licence regime.

TV Licensing will need to see a photocopy of a document that proves households are in receipt of Pension Credit ‒ for example, a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions or The Pension Service.

What happens if you are no longer eligible for a free TV Licence?

If you are not receiving Pension Credit, you must pay the annual fee of £157.50 if you want to continue watching or recording live TV programmes or downloading and watching BBC programmes on iPlayer

If you no longer need a licence because you never watch or record live TV programmes on any channel or device and never download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer, you can contact the BBC and your licence will be cancelled.

How do I pay my licence?

The licence fee can be paid in one go, or spread over a number of monthly, fortnightly or weekly instalments at no extra cost. There are various ways to contact TV Licensing – online at www.tvlicensing.co.uk or by phone:

Payment card customers: Call 0300 555 0286

Direct Debit or paying all in one go 0300 790 0368;

Further queries about changes to over 75 TV Licences: 0300 790 6117.

What happens if you don’t reply to the BBC’s letter?

The BBC will cancel your licence if you do not reply to its letter within two months of receiving it. You will not owe the BBC anything but if you contact the corporation after your licence has been cancelled and ask for a licence it may backdate your licence to 1 August 2020 if you have been watching or recording live TV programmes on any channel or device, or downloading or watching BBC programmes on iPlayer, after that date.

What if the licence holder has died?

If the holder of an over-75 free TV Licence expiring on 31 July 2020 has died, anyone covered by the licence will stay licensed until the BBC contacts them by letter. You do not need to take any action until then.

I need more help: who can I contact?

TV Licensing will also be launching a free telephone information line this month where older customers and their relatives can access recorded information on the new policy and advice to customers by calling 0800 232 1382.

What other benefits does Pension Credit give me?

If you qualify for Pension Credit, it can open up other useful benefits such as council tax reduction, cold weather payments, warm home discount, housing benefit, free dental care, vouchers for glasses or contact lenses and money off water bills.