Great Britain

BBC backlash: Angry cross-bench Lords demand Beeb end hounding of over-75s

FURIOUS cross-party peers have written to BBC director-general Tim Davie pleading that he end the licence fee legal threat facing over-75s. Their right to a free TV licence, which currently costs £157.50, ended last year except for those who receive pension credit.

Lord Botham speaking in the Lords

Lord Botham speaking in the Lords (Image: House of Lords)

But thousands were so enraged they have refused to pay – while others are simply unable to afford to. England cricket ­legend Lord Botham flagged up the issue with fellow peers last month.

Now he has teamed up with 27 members of the House of Lords to pen a letter to Mr Davie – sent to the ­corporation yesterday – urging him to resolve the matter.

It highlights the plight of 96-year-old Second World War veteran Frank Ashleigh who has received intimidating letters from TV Licensing.

Mr Ashleigh recently said: “The BBC couldn’t care less what I did for my country. It just wants the money. It’s disgusting.”

The peers’ letter to Mr Davie states: “It is beyond doubt these payment demands are causing immense distress. We recognise this is not your objective and that some efforts have been made to mitigate the impact.

Protests against the BBC

Protests against the BBC (Image: Paul Davey / Barcroft Media via Getty)

“However, much more needs to be done. There should be an explicit pledge that TV Licensing will never prosecute anyone over 75.

“There is no moral justification for sending waves of threatening letters to people like 96-year-old Frank Ashleigh who served this country by landing a glider behind enemy lines in Arnhem in 1944.

“The BBC has many friends who want it to survive but the treatment of the over-75s is undermining that goodwill.”

Peers including Lord Dannatt, head of the British Army from 2006 to 2009, signed the letter.

Ashes hero Lord Botham rallied support last month with his own letter saying it was “horrific” how over-75s were being pursued for fees.

The 65-year-old said: “This is institutional bullying on a massive scale.

“There seems to be some kind of blame game between the BBC and Government. I’m no politician but this feels like a real scandal affecting the very frail that needs sorting out.”

The BBC took on ­responsibility for funding TV licences for over-75s as part of the charter agreement with the Government in 2015. But since then the corporation has claimed it cannot afford to continue the universal benefit, saying it could cost £700million.

More than three million over-75s lost their entitlement last summer.

It was criticised by many including charity Age UK and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden. The minister said he felt “let down” by the broadcaster’s decision, however, he has yet to decriminalise non-payment.

A BBC spokesman said: “We have implemented changes with the greatest care and worked to make the process as fair and straightforward as possible.

“There is a dedicated phone line and online support if people have ­questions. We are giving people plenty of time to get set up and there are ­flexible payment plans.”

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