Age UK has expressed “genuine worry” for older people’s mental health following the BBC’s decision to scrap free TV licences for most over 75s.
The move means that from August 1, more than three million households will be asked to start paying the £157.50 fee.
Only those who receive the Pension Credit benefit will be exempt.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK described the decision as a “kick in the teeth” for over 75s who have had a “torrid time” over the last few months.
“Many older people on low incomes have told us that if they have to find £150 plus a year to pay for a licence then they will have to forego some other essential, or try to survive without TV at all,” she said.
“We genuinely worry about the mental health of older people living on their own in this situation if they have to give up their cherished TV – for some it really is all they have and their main way of alleviating their chronic loneliness.
“We know from talking to older people that many are feeling anxious and depressed, and frightened about the future – they are being told to be cautious because we are not yet ‘out of the woods’. Everyone in this age group has more than enough to worry about already, particularly those who are alone, for whom their TV is more of a lifeline than ever.”
Free TV licences for up to 3.7 million people had been due to be scrapped on 1 June, but this was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
BBC Chairman, Sir David Clementi, said the decision to commence the new scheme in August “has not been easy”, but delaying it further would have cost the broadcaster £745 million.
“Around 1.5 million households could get free TV licences if someone is over 75 and receives Pension Credit, and 450,000 of them have already applied. And critically it is not the BBC making that judgement about poverty. It is the Government who sets and controls that measure,” he added.
The government took the decision to stop funding for free licences in 2015 and Parliament – through legislation – gave the responsibility to the BBC Board to make the decision on the future of the concession.
The BBC said it believes the new scheme is the “fairest option” for all licence fee payers.
Abrahams agreed that the principal responsibility for the decision lies with the government.
“Until a previous administration transferred these free licences to the Corporation under a tapering funding arrangement they had taken the form of a welfare benefit for a generation, and to have done that without any consultation left a really bad taste in the mouth,” she said.
“The Government cannot absolve itself of responsibility for the upset and distress being caused to many of our over-75s today, the poorest and most isolated above all. And the sadness is that these older people have already endured so much over the last few months.
“The Government needs to sit down with the BBC urgently to keep these TV licences for over-75s free.”