Over-75s may claim millions in benefits for free TV licences

Over-75s may claim millions in benefits for free TV licences as Age UK reveals it’s been ‘inundated’ with calls

The Government may have to pay out hundreds of millions of pounds in unclaimed benefits as a result of the row over scrapping free TV licences for pensioners.

Under the new rule, only over-75s who receive Pension Credit will be eligible for a free licence from next year.

Publicity over the BBC’s controversial decision has led to a surge in enquiries from concerned elderly people seeking advice on how to claim the credit so they obtain a free licence.

Charity Age UK has revealed it has been ‘inundated’ with calls.

The latest Government figures show 650,000 Britons aged 75 and over are eligible for Pension Credit but are not claiming it – about £1.6 billion in 2016-17.

Controversial: The BBC decision to limit the licence fee has proved to be controversial 

An increase in Pension Credit claims would also have a knock-on effect for the BBC, as fewer people would be liable to pay for a TV licence.

The Corporation said on Monday that it would strip 3.7 million pensioners of their free licences.

Director-General Tony Hall announced the move, calling it a ‘difficult’ decision but one that was ‘fairest to the poorest’.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: ‘Ever since the BBC announced its decision to means-test the free TV licence from June 2020, we have been inundated with phone calls, emails and petition sign ups’

Currently, over-75s are exempt from the £154.50-a-year charge – amounting to 4.6 million households. From June next year, the BBC will give free TV licences only to those over-75s who are on Pension Credit – a benefit currently claimed by 900,000 people.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: ‘Ever since the BBC announced its decision to means-test the free TV licence from June 2020, we have been inundated with phone calls, emails and petition sign ups, to the extent that our IT has sometimes struggled to cope.

‘While it’s true that every new successful Pension Credit claim will increase the BBC and the Government’s bills, we fear hundreds of thousands of older people on low incomes will still miss out.’

Last night, an Age UK petition against the proposal reached half a million signatures.

Consumer campaigner Martin Lewis said: ‘Pension Credit is a poorly claimed benefit – let’s see this as a clarion call to improve take-up.’

Helen Morrissey, of insurer Royal London, says: ‘The coverage of the BBC’s decision may well prompt a spike in pension credit enquiries.

Ricky Tomlinson (fourth left) joins protesters outside BBC Media City in Salford, Greater Manchester, at the broadcaster’s decision to axe free TV licences for 3.7 million pensioners

‘Pension credit is there to help the poorest, and not claiming means they are missing out on valuable top-ups to their income, as well as a host of other benefits, such as discounts on utilities, cold weather payments and free dental care.’ 

The Department for Work and Pensions used to shoulder the bill for free licences. However, as part of a deal struck in 2015, the then chancellor George Osborne offloaded the responsibility on to the BBC.

How can you claim Pension Credit (and get a free television licence)

The decision to end free television licences for all over-75s will have alerted many to the existence of Pension Credit. But what is it, who’s eligible and how can you claim it?

The benefit, intended as an add to the state pension for those who need it, comes in two parts.

Guarantee Credit tops up weekly income to £167.25 for single people and £255.25 for couples, and is available to pensioners whose income is below these amounts.

Savings Credit is available only to those who reached retirement age before April 2016 and who have also made some provision in the way of savings for their retirement.

The maximum amounts are £13.72 a week for a single person and £15.35 for couples, but the more savings you have, the less you’ll get.

The fastest way to claim is by calling 0800 99 1234, providing your National Insurance number, your income, investments and savings. Claims can be backdated for up to three months and you can apply up to four months before reaching state pension age. 

By doing so, the Government saddled the broadcaster with a potential bill of £745 million in 2021, rising to more than £1 billion by 2029.

Meanwhile, the BBC has been accused of timing its announcement last Monday in the hope of pressuring candidates for the Conservative leadership to reverse Osborne’s decision. The BBC denies the claim.

However insiders at Age UK said that although it had been expecting a decision in June, the charity was only given two hours’ notice of the BBC’s announcement.

A Government source said the announcement ‘was a little earlier than anticipated’ and ‘Ministers were not given very much notice.’

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen – who has long campaigned to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee – last night said that the timing of the BBC’s announcement ‘was clearly an issue’.

‘Effectively the BBC is holding a gun to the Government’s head and we don’t give in to that,’ he added. ‘I think the BBC thought it was a good day to bury news.

‘We have effectively no Prime Minister at the moment and effectively no policy on this issue.

‘The BBC are trying to blame the Conservative Government for the loss of the £750 million a year they are going to take from the pockets of the over-75s when it’s clearly the BBC reneging on the agreement of charter renewal.’

Mr Bridgen said that the BBC had been only too happy to accept the additional responsibility at the time of the agreement.

A BBC spokesman said: ‘This is untrue. In our consultation document in November we said we aimed to make a decision by June 2019, and that is exactly what we have done, so to suggest the timing is related to leadership issues is complete rubbish.

‘An announcement in June was widely expected by the media who have followed the issue and as the Board made its decision last week, the responsible thing to do was to make that public, and to give both us and those people affected a full year to prepare for these changes.’

Look how the BBC’s wasted your cash!

  • In 2017, 139 BBC workers received long-service payments totalling £701,260. 
  • In September last year, a single claim for a taxi journey from Heathrow Airport to Cardiff cost £418. Another employee claimed back £320 to cover the cost of a return taxi trip from Heathrow to Bristol. In 2018, 29 taxi rides totalled £200 or more. 
  • The BBC spent just over £4.1 million on consultants between October 17, 2017 and October 17, 2018. 
  • In 2017, the Corporation spent £839,000 on flights between April and September, including 24 business-class trips at a total cost of just over £35,000 and one to Miami costing £8,727. 
  • A BBC employee claimed back the 2p charge on a cash withdrawal last year. 
  • In 2017, the BBC spent £3.2 million on hotel accommodation between January and September. 
  • The same year, it spent £1.7 million on rail tickets between April and September. Some 512 of these tickets, costing £24,479, were unused, with one journey costing £606. 
  • Between 2016 and 2017 the BBC spent £196,114 to provide free refreshments to employees. 
  • Nearly £300,000 was spent repairing crashed cars. 
  • There were also two claims of 9p for mileage.

In September last year, a single claim for a taxi journey from Heathrow Airport to Cardiff cost £418. Another employee claimed back £320 to cover the cost of a return taxi trip from Heathrow to Bristol. In 2018, 29 taxi rides totalled £200 or more

 

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