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When is the free TV licence ending?

Carlton Boyce / 15 January 2019 ( 16 March 2020 )

The BBC will end the automatic free TV licence for the over-75s on 1 August, 2020, and the free licence will only be available to over 75s receiving pension credit.

An illustration of vintage TV sets to represent the ending of the free TV licence for the over 75s

Here are the facts, as well as a call to action for those of you who feel strongly about it.

What’s being proposed?

The BBC has released its plans to scrap the current arrangement whereby people aged 75 and older automatically qualify for a free TV licence.

The BBC, whose public consultation started last November, stated that it recognises that the free TV licence has benefited older people, saying that they have seen “a marked improvement” in their living standards since the policy was introduced in 2000, but after the responsibility for collecting the TV licence passed from the Government to the BBC back in 2015, the BBC has had to reassess the situation.

The Government's move, which was made without public consultation and so escaped the notice of many, did not make any provision for funding past 2019. This means that the BBC is now forced to look for ways to maintain its income - and the loss of automatic free TV licences for the over-75s is just one of the measures.

From August 2020, automatically free licences for over-75s will be scrapped - except for any households where one person receives pension credit. These households - numbering about 1.5 million in 2020 - will still be able to get a free TV licence. 

The BBC's Director-General, Tony Hall, said: "This has not been an easy decision. Whilst we know that pensioner incomes have improved since 2000, we also know that for some the TV Licence is a lot of money. I believe we have reached the fairest judgment after weighing up all the different arguments. 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.

'This decision is fairest for the poorest pensioners. Around 1.5 million households could get free TV licences if someone is over 75 and receives Pension Credit. It protects those most in need. And importantly, it is not the BBC making that judgment about poverty. It is the Government who sets and controls that measure.

'It is fairest for all audiences - of all generations, old and young - who we know value the BBC and the programmes and services we provide. It means these services can continue.'

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Who will means-testing the free TV Licence affect?

First introduced in 2000, the free TV licence enables many older people to maintain their connection with the wider world without having to worry about the cost. But, for many, it’s even more important than that because more than one million older people also say that the TV is their main source of companionship.

And, while the monthly cost of £12.56 might not seem like much to many of us, research by the charity Age UK shows that more than 50,000 people are so impoverished that they could be pushed below the poverty line if they are forced to pay for their TV licence.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, said: 'Scrapping the free TV licence would be a real blow for many older people who already have many other challenges to contend with. Millions of older people, particularly those who are lonely or housebound with disabilities, rely on their TV as their trusted companion and window on the world, and it would be cruel indeed to undermine this in any way.

'Contrary to the stereotype suggesting that everyone in later life is well-heeled, the reality is that most are living on quite modest incomes, particularly as you go higher up the age range. People in their late seventies, eighties and nineties are less likely than younger pensioners to have a private pension, especially if they are women, and by this time in their lives they may also have spent quite a lot of any of the savings they have carefully put by. These are the people who stand to lose out if free TV licences are scrapped: many of them living alone, disabled and coping with serious health problems.

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'Unfortunately the threat of pensioner poverty has not been vanquished in this country, in fact official statistics make it clear that after big advances at the start of this century progress has more recently juddered to a halt and gone into reverse. At Age UK we are deeply concerned that scrapping free TV licences will simply accentuate this trend, pushing up to 50,000 more pensioners the wrong side of the poverty line.'

Age UK calculate that nearly 900,000 individuals, or a fifth of those aged 75 and older, live in poverty in the United Kingdom and having to pay for a TV licence would inevitably mean many of them will be forced to choose between the companionship it provides and eating and keeping warm. Many wonder if that’s a choice they should have to make.

A Saga spokesperson said: 'We know from our members that for many of their elderly relatives the TV is often their only window to the world for the large part of the day. For those that would be unable to pay the licence fee without cutting down on essentials it would mean an increasing risk of social isolation.

'Whilst our research tells that the BBC remains incredibly popular it also shows that many believe the licence fee system is broken and that the BBC should be looking at alternative sources of funding. In fact, when asked only two in five felt the BBC should continue to be funded by any form of licence fee, with a quarter of respondents believing that there should be no licence fee at all. The BBCs consultation may be well intentioned; however, many would prefer they expanded their review to look at creative funding solutions rather than being seen to be targeting the more vulnerable in society.' 

How to get a free TV Licence if you're over 75

What can I do to stop them scrapping the free TV licence for over 75s?

The next phase of Age UK’s campaign to save the TV licence, Switched Off: Save free TV for older people, encourages the relatives and friends of those aged 75 and over to sign its petition calling on the UK Government to take back responsibility for the funding of the free TV licences policy and, by extension, to keep the free licence for those that currently qualify.

 The petition, which can be found here, has already attracted more than 465,000 signatures. If it’s something you feel passionately about, then sharing it via social media and encouraging friends and family to sign it will help.

Any older person who is worried about money and/ or losing their free TV licence can call Age UK Advice free of charge on 0800 169 6565, visit or contact their local Age UK for further information and advice.

Saga readers say...

'The BBC should stop paying ridiculous salaries to their stars/staff, then they would be able to fund better programmes and keep the TV licence free form anyone 75 and over.' Sue, via Facebook

'So if you’ve been careful with your money ,you get penalised. Spend it willynilly and you get hand-outs. Wish we hadn’t bothered to conserve our money now.' Julia, via Facebook

'It's about time that it is scrapped altogether. We pay 3-4 times over for repeats that are shown.' Jackie, via Facebook

'The BBC should pay their own way like every other TV channel...' Tom, via Facebook

'There are many over 75s who can’t get out and about much and totally rely on their TV. Just because the minority can afford to pay for the licence the rest of us shouldn’t be penalised! There isn’t much to look forward to if you’re housebound... shame on the government and the BBC once again! A lot of us don’t have pension credit but could be borderline! Many feel they don’t want to apply for pension credit, it’s not easy to do!' Mvarie, via Facebook

'I wish someone would introduce a telly that can’t get BBC -I would buy one as most programmes are repeats.' Sue, via Facebook

'This is the first step by the Tories to take all the concessions away from pensioners, they also want to remove the winter fuel allowance and free public transport! These concessions were initially instead of a rise in pensions. It's disgraceful!' Val, via Facebook

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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