BBC defends cutting universal free licence fee for over-75s

Simon Austin's picture
by Simon Austin
Clare Sumner

The BBC has defended its decision to end universal free licences for the over-75s and argued that cutting the pay of senior staff and on-screen stars would only save a fraction of the cost.

Last week the BBC announced it would be means testing the free licences from June 2020, meaning more than three million households will lose them.

The decision sparked an outcry and more than 500,000 people have signed an Age UK petition calling for the universal free licence to be restored.

However, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, responding to a column by Allison Pearson calling for a cap on staff pay at £150,000 and a reduction in on-screen salaries, BBC director of policy Clare Sumner defended the decision.

"Even if we stopped employing every presenter earning more than £150,000, that would save less than £20m,” Sumner wrote. "If no senior manager were paid over £150,000 that would save only £5m.

"If we had continued with the current scheme, its rising cost would have meant closures of services that we know older audiences, in particular, love, use and value every day.”

Providing free TV licences to over-75s who claim pension credit will cost the BBC about £250m by 2021-22 (depending on take-up), compared to £745m for the universal scheme  - a fifth of the BBC's budget.

Pearson had accused the broadcaster of having a "culture of ludicrously inflated salaries" and being "dangerously out of touch" with the public.

According to the BBC annual review last year, among the highest-paid stars were Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker (£1,750,000-£1,759,999), chat show host Graham Norton (£600,000-£609,000) and Radio 2 presenter Steve Wright (£550,000-£559,999). The total pay for on-air talent was £148m in 2017/2018.

Free licences were first introduced by the Labour government in 2000.

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