The petition of the residents of Linlithgow and Falkirk,
Declares that free TV licences to households with someone aged over 75 should remain for the foreseeable future; notes that this scheme should remain in governmental hands rather than being privatised via the BBC; further that the removal of the free TV licences will have a negative impact on some of the poorest pensioners in the constituency and across the country; further notes that one of BBC's proposals in the consultation is means-testing the concession by linking the free licenses to pension credit; further that the Department for Work and Pensions own estimates show that nationally 40% (two in five) of those entitled to receive pension credit are not in the receipt of the benefit and would be excluded; further that access to media, especially if frail or housebound, can reduce loneliness in older age and improve wellbeing.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to reverse the planned decision to end the funding of the free TV licence to households with someone aged over 75 and the privatisation of this to the BBC.—[Presented by Martyn Day, Official Report, 10 April 2019; Vol. 658, c. 425 .]
Observations from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Jeremy Wright):
In the 2015 funding settlement, the Government agreed with the BBC that Government funding for the concession would be phased out between 2018 and 2020, with control of the concession passing to the BBC from June 2020. The Government and the BBC agreed this was a fair deal for the BBC. In return, the Government committed to close the iPlayer loophole and committed to increase the licence fee in line with inflation, among other measures. The Government are clear that the future of the concession from June 2020 is the responsibility of the BBC.
Parliament made this decision and legislated to put it into effect. Transferring responsibility for the concession was debated extensively during the passage of the Digital Economy Act 2017, which was agreed by Parliament.
The BBC announced on 10 June 2019 that from June 2020 only those who are over 75 and in receipt of pension credit would continue to receive a free TV licence.
The Government are disappointed that the BBC will not protect free television licences for all viewers aged over 75. We recognise that television is a vital link to people of all ages, but particularly so for older people who value television as a way to stay connected with the world. That is why we have guaranteed the over 75 concession until June 2020 and that is why we believe that the BBC can do more to support older people, and why we have asked them to do so.
On the concerns about loneliness, the Government recognises loneliness as one of our biggest public health challenges and we are working to help people of all ages to have meaningful social relationships and to avoid loneliness. We are the first Government in the world to appoint a Minister to lead work on tackling loneliness.
The Government are taking important steps to tackle loneliness, which can particularly affect older people. Last year, we published the world’s first Government strategy on loneliness, as well as securing £20 million of new grant-funding for projects run by charities and community groups to bring people together. The strategy contains over 60 policy commitments, covering many aspects of people’s lives, from transport to health to education.
On the concerns about the take up of pension credit, the Government are committed to ensuring that older people receive the support they are entitled to and the DWP targets activity on engaging with people who may be eligible to benefits at pivotal stages, such as when they claim state pension or report a change in their circumstances. The DWP uses a wide range of channels to communicate information about benefits to potential customers; including information on https://gov.uk/, in leaflets and by telephone. DWP staff in pension centres and Jobcentres including visiting officers are able to provide help and advice about entitlement to benefits, as are staff in local authorities who administer housing benefit.
One of the best ways to reach eligible customers is through trusted stakeholder working in the community and we have developed the pension credit toolkit, as an on-line tool for agencies and welfare rights organisations to use in order to encourage pension credit take up. It can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/pension-credit-toolkit.
The toolkit contains resources for anyone working with pensioners and includes guides to pension credit. It also contains publicity material and guidance designed to help older people understand how they could get pension credit and help organisations support someone applying for pension credit as well as ideas for encouraging take-up. The toolkit also provides links to information about disability and carers benefits.
Most recently we have provided to relevant stakeholders a fact sheet about pension credit and the changes introduced on 15 May for mixed age couples to ensure that accurate information is available in the places where people are most likely to seek information.
Potential customers can use the pension credit https://www.gov.uk/pension-credit-calculator to check if they are likely to be eligible and get an estimate of what they may receive. People wishing to claim pension credit can do so by calling 0800 99 1234.