The 16 page BBC letter and application form being sent to over-75s is their own version of War and Peace without the peace, as 800 bullies on success bonuses will be calling.
The BBC will seek today to quell a growing revolt over the end of free TV licences for people aged above 75 as it sends out millions of letters to affected households. The corporation has hired 800 licence-fee agents [Crapita] and will allow poorer over-75s to claim a free licence without submitting documentary proof as it tries to reassure pensioners.
The first letters informing people that they must pay the £157.50 annual levy will arrive today. Pensioner groups are co-ordinating resistance, urging all over-60s to cancel their TV licence direct debits in solidarity with over-75s and instead offer to pay with monthly, backdated cheques.
Dennis Reed, of Silver Voices, the community organisation behind the protest, pledged a “long attritional campaign” to force the BBC into a U-turn. He told The Times that many members had already cancelled their automatic payments. The goal of the campaign is to gum up TV Licensing’s administration systems, making collection and enforcement unworkable, without putting protesters at risk of prosecution by refusing to pay.
Jan Shortt, of the National Pensioners Convention, a separate group, said that she was aware of members planning to ignore demands, even if that led to criminal proceedings. “We cannot condone people breaking the law,” she said. “But, individually, each member will take their own choice. There will be people who refuse to pay”.
The BBC was forced in 2015 to take responsibility for funding TV licences for all over-75s by George Osborne, then the chancellor. It has said that maintaining them beyond this year would cost an annual £745 million and necessitate the closure of BBC Two, Three and Four and a number of radio stations.
The corporation is scrapping the universal subsidy from this month but will continue to provide free licences to over-75s on pension credit. This benefit is available to single pensioners on a weekly income below £173.75 and couples on less than £265.20.
A 16-page letter and application form sent to 4.5 million affected households when their present licence expires states that applicants should submit photocopies of documents from the Department for Work and Pensions or the Pension Service to prove that they are in receipt of pension credit. Those who do not have access to a photocopier can post bank statements instead.
TV Licensing confirmed to The Times that an over-the-phone “verbal declaration process” was also available for over-75s who could not leave home or go online. Staff will ask questions to verify whether applicants are receiving pension credit, without seeing documents. It would not reveal the questions. Means-testing the benefit will lead to about three million older pensioners being stripped of their free licences.
Crapita, the outsourcing company that runs TV licence enforcement, has previously been accused of heavy handed tactics, but the BBC has indicated that over-75s who fail to pay will not face home visits, at least for now. There were 129,446 prosecutions for licence-fee evasion in 2018, resulting in 120,533 fines. Defendants who refuse to pay can be jailed but only five were given a custodial sentence that year.
The BBC said that 90 per cent of older pensioners were aware of the new system after it was promoted on its services, and 450,000 had applied for a free licence. A spokeswoman said “Over-75s will start to receive letters from today. No one needs to do anything until they have received the letter and no one needs to leave their home”.
The National Pensioners Convention was concerned about over-75s whose income put them a few pounds above the pension credit threshold. “They will have to buy less food and not put the heating on to afford a licence,” it said. And Silver Voices said “It defies belief that, as a second wave of coronavirus marches over the horizon, the BBC are doing this. It shows a lack of compassion, a lack of empathy, a lack of understanding.”
What to do if you are asked to pay? • Over-75s will begin receiving letters from TV Licensing from today, saying they are required to buy a licence unless they receive pension credit. Those no longer entitled to a free licence are able to pay the £157.50 in one go or spread the cost over a year. Arrangements can be made online, by post, or over the phone.
• Recipients have two months to respond to the letter. If they do not, their licence will be cancelled. Anyone who continues watching live TV or BBC iPlayer without a licence is committing an offence.
• TV Licensing pays the outsourcing company Capita to make “enforcement visits” to unlicensed homes. However, the BBC insists there are no immediate plans to send agents to the homes of over-75s.
• Enforcement officers have no legal authority to enter properties.
• TV Licensing says it only prosecutes as a “last resort”. More than 120,000 people were fined in 2018. At the going rate of £69 per success, the BBC paid the Crapita bullies £8,280,000 between them. It shames them!