Ninety could be dragged to court for failing to buy a TV licence after the over-75s are stripped of their free licences, the BBC admitted today.
Director-general Lord Tony Hall said it was “conceivable” a nonagenarian could be prosecuted for dodging the fee, when curbs are imposed from June.
He was asked by the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee if he “was really prepared to take 80- or 90-year-olds to court” for non-payment.
He said: “I don’t want to see people going to court, of course I don’t.
“It’s conceivable but we don’t want that. We absolutely don’t want to get there.”
MP John Nicolson told him: “Imagine the reputational damage.
“The distress caused to these old people… You’d be in the bizarre position of sending out your news teams to cover 90-year-olds potentially up in court for non-payment of the TV licence because of a system you, Lord Hall, signed up for.”
BBC policy director Clare Sumner said it was “highly unlikely” nonagenarians would be hauled before magistrates, adding: “We are doing everything to help support people to pay.”
The corporation is under huge pressure for planning to restrict the over-75s’ benefit to only those who receive Pension Credit after it takes over responsibility.
Boris Johnson has urged the corporation to “cough up” and preserve the lifeline – despite the Tories breaking a 2017 election manifesto to maintain free licences.
But MPs heard the BBC and Government have held no talks about reversing the decision.
The Mirror has spearheaded the campaign to save the benefit, with up to 3.7 million pensioners forced to pay £157.50 from June.
Quizzed by the committee if any “meaningful” conversations had taken place with the Government about saving the benefit, Lord Hall admitted: “No, there haven’t been any conversations.”
Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams, at said: “In just over two months’ time, millions of very old people are set to lose their free TV licence, leaving a sizeable minority on low incomes with the possibility of having to forego the pleasure and companionship they get from watching TV.
“It’s absolutely true that the majority of older people are model citizens who wouldn’t dream of breaking the law, but the fact remains that if you’re an older person living on a low income and simply cannot afford this new extra bill of £157.50 then tough choices are likely to lie ahead.
“Older people should never have been put in this position in the first place.
“Now more than ever, the Government and the BBC must sit down and broker a deal to agree a solution for all over-75s that preserves their free licences.”
Bectu broadcasting union boss Philippa Childs said: “There is absolutely no evidence that over-75s will find themselves in court for not paying their TV licence fees, and if they do the blame rests squarely with the Government who have decided to discontinue a universal benefit that they had promised to keep.”
Meanwhile, Committee chairman Julian Knight pointed to ongoing tensions between the BBC and Downing Street, warning channel chiefs: “You’re in a fight to the death with certain elements in No10.”
Lord Hall was also forced to deny the BBC was “too woke”, insisting the corporation had to improve diversity.
The director-general triggered anger from TV presenter Victoria Derbyshire’s whose BBC2 is being axed, after suggesting her show was watched mainly by old men.
She tweeted: “This COMPLETELY ignores the rest of our figures – last month interviews/stories from our TV prog were viewed 20 MILLION TIMES online – stories & ints (interviews) that wouldn’t have been commissioned without our on-air programme.
“On our FB ( Facebook ) page three quarters of our viewers are women.”
Source: Read Full Article