BBC accused of using Brexit ‘project fear’ in a bid to axe ‘free’ TV licences for the elderly

BBC bosses were last night accused of using Brexit as cover to ‘soften up’ MPs for the scrapping of free TV licences for the elderly.

  • BBC bosses have been accused of using Brexit as cover to scrap ‘free’ TV licences
  • Tory Tory claimed the BBC was trying to threaten them by warning of cutbacks
  • From 2020 the £745m annual cost of free licences for over-75s will have to be met by the BBC after the Government announced it was withdrawing funding 

Tory critics also claimed the BBC was trying to threaten them by warning of cutbacks that would ‘fundamentally change’ its services – including TV sport and drama – if the over-75s’ free licence scheme continued.

From 2020, the £745 million annual cost of the free licences will have to be met by the Corporation itself after the Government announced it was withdrawing funding.

A public consultation on what to do next is due to end next week.

But the BBC has angered some MPs by warning that continuing with the current scheme would mean cuts to existing services.

In a memo to the Westminster’s all-party group on the BBC, the Corporation said maintaining the status quo ‘would mean around 4.64 million over-75 households would not have to pay…

‘But we think it would fundamentally change the BBC because of the scale of the service cuts we would need to make.’

The £745 million cost in 2021/22 would ‘rise every year after, reaching an estimated £1 billion a year by 2029/30’.

It warned that the cost amounted to a fifth of the BBC’s budget – the equivalent to what it spends on all its TV sport, drama, entertainment and comedy programmes.

Other options set out included scrapping the free licence system or raising the threshold to apply only to the over-80s.

But Tory MP Andrew Bridgen accused the Corporation of a ‘project fear-style’ bid to soften up MPs into accepting the abolition of the scheme while Westminster was focused on Brexit.

He said: ‘If the BBC gets away with this cash grab, they will be getting a 20 per cent revenue increase, all from some of our most vulnerable pensioners.

‘This is totally aimed at the over-75s and we can’t let them get away with it.’

However, the BBC denied threatening MPs last night, saying it had yet to make a decision on the free licences and stressing its letter ‘simply sets out the facts and a range of options’.

‘To suggest this is lobbying for one outcome is nonsense – especially since the BBC will make the final decision on this,’ it added.

The colour TV licence fee currently costs £150.50 a year, but from April it will rise to £154.50.