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“Televisions are a lifeline for pensioners and it’s cruel to expect them to pay for their licence”

NOTE: This content is old - Published: Saturday, Jul 20th, 2019.

Wrexham’s MP has spoken in Parliament in support of war veterans, saying they should receive special dispensation when the BBC axes free TV licences for over-75s next year.

Ian Lucas pressed BBC bosses, including director general Tony Hall and chairman Sir David Clementi, on the issue during a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee hearing on Wednesday.

There has been a backlash over plans to end the free licence scheme, a decision which will affect thousands of pensioners in Wrexham and millions across the UK – including many who served during World War Two. Only those who receive the pension credit benefit will be exempt, but Mr Lucas has asked BBC to consider extending this to include veterans.

He cited the example of one of his constituents, D-Day veteran Ted Edwards, 94, during the evidence session, describing him as a ‘wonderful community activist’ who ‘contributes hugely to his community’.

Addressing Lord Hall, Mr Lucas added: “It doesn’t sit right with me that we are withdrawing benefits from such people. Will you reconsider the position?”

Lord Hall said had had the ‘deepest respect’ for Mr Edwards and others like him but explained that pension credit had been deemed the fairest way of deciding who should continue to receive free licences.

Sir David added: “We will take it (the idea) away but I can give no certainty as to what my board might think.”

The free TV licences for over-75s scheme was introduced in 2001 under Gordon Brown however, in a settlement deal struck between under David Cameron and the BBC in 2015, it was agreed that responsibility for funding it would pass over to the BBC from June 2020. Four years on, the BBC says it cannot afford the estimated cost of funding the free licences, which would be £745m by 2021/22.

The corporation’s decision to end the scheme next year means a 2017 Conservative manifesto pledge to maintain the free licences through this current Parliament looks set to be broken.

(Ted Edwards, 94, of Wrexham, is one of two remaining D-Day veterans living in the town, the other being Dennis Young.)

Mr Edwards, who was 19 when he landed on Gold beach in 1944, said: “It’s a broken promise from the Government – they put the ball into the BBC’s court on this and must have had an idea it would work out this way.

“Televisions are a lifeline for pensioners and it’s cruel to expect them to pay for their licence. TV licences should be free across the board for anyone over 75.”

Speaking following the evidence session, Mr Lucas, whose late father Colin was a D-Day veteran, said: “Responsibility for the loss of free TV licences for over-75s lies squarely with the Tory UK Government. They shifted the burden of paying for the licences over to the BBC and we now find ourselves in a position where millions of pensioners face having to pay if they wish to continue using their TV, something which is a lifeline to them.

“At the very least, heroes like Ted Edwards – who served their country with distinction – should be exempt from having to pay as a ‘thank-you’ for what they did for future generations. The BBC have it in their power to do this and they should work with the Government to make it happen.”

Speaking during DCMS questions on July 4, Secretary of State Jeremy Wright said he had spoken to the BBC about the issue of free licences for veterans, saying he ‘expects’ the corporation to do more.

Top pic: Ian Lucas MP addresses Lord Hall during the DCMS Select Committee session on Wednesday, July 17.

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