More than 10,000 retired Redbridge households 'under attack' after losing entitlement to free TV licences, pensioner group claims
PUBLISHED: 12:24 13 June 2019 | UPDATED: 10:16 14 June 2019
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"Pensioners are under attack" after more than 10,000 retired households in Redbridge will lose their automatic entitlement to free TV licences.
The BBC has announced that free licenses for over-75s will be means tested from June 2020, in a controversial move which has drawn criticism from campaigners.
Households without anyone who receives Pension Credit will have to pay for a TV licence under the new policy.
Angela Banner, Redbridge Pensioners' forum general secretary, protested the decision at the national pensioners' convention.
She said after cutting winter fuel allowance, the news is another hit on retired residents.
"Pensioners are under attack - it's so awful we are having to fight for so-called benefits that we have paid for over the years," she said.
"There are so many women with reduced pensions for various reactions and now they will have to face this.
"It is just such a let down that it has happened - I expected more from the BBC and the government - they are equally culpable.
"The BBC pay fantastically high salaries to some of its staff and executives - they should have a look at that."
BBC director-general Tony Hall said that the move was "not an easy decision" but argued that the policy was fair.
"Whilst we know that pensioner incomes have improved since 2000, we also know that for some the TV licence is a lot of money," he said.
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"It would not be right simply to abolish all free licences. Equally, it would not be right to maintain it in perpetuity given the very profound impact that would have on many BBC services.
"And importantly, it is not the BBC making that judgment about poverty - it is the government who sets and controls that measure."
The corporation was due to take over the cost of free TV licences as part of its new charter agreement which commenced in 2017.
The shift from government to the broadcaster was being phased in, with sole responsibility set to begin from 2020, when it was estimated to be due to cost the BBC around £725 million.
Pensioners had protested at the possibility of the concession being scrapped, and concerns were raised by some MPs over removing the free licence.
Shadow culture secretary and deputy Labour leader Tom Watson accused the government of trying to "means test for loneliness".
"It is an outrage that this government is overseeing the scrapping of free TV licences for 3million older people, leaving a Tory manifesto promise in tatters.
"In the same week that Boris Johnson has championed tax cuts for the richest 8per cent, his government has delivered yet another ruthless welfare cut to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
"Millions of elderly and isolated people will lose because of this announcement - Labour will fight it with everything we've got."
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said: "Make no mistake, if this scheme goes ahead we are going to see sick and disabled people in their 80s and 90s who are completely dependent on their cherished TV for companionship and news, forced to give it up.
"Means-testing may sound fair, but in reality it means at least 650,000 of our poorest pensioners facing a big new annual bill they simply can't afford, because, though eligible for Pension Credit, they don't actually get it.
"The BBC's decision will cause that affected enormous anxiety and distress, and some anger too, but in the end, this is the government's fault, not the BBC's.
"It is open to a new prime minister to intervene and save the day for some of the most vulnerable older people in our society, who will otherwise suffer a big blow to their pockets and to their quality of life."