Over-75s are being reassured they can buy a TV licence without leaving home during the pandemic, after it emerged some felt they needed to post forms or get documents photocopied.
Some elderly people are making postal applications because they are nervous of falling prey to scammers if they do it online or over the phone, according to Age UK.
The charity says feedback from 15,000 people showed most have found the BBC’s new process straightforward to use, although some are reporting financial hardship.
TV licence: A rush of over-75s have already claimed pension credit in order to carry on getting the free perk
All but the poorest over-75s lost the right to a free TV licence this summer, and must pay £157.50 this year unless they qualify for pension credit – find out how to apply here.
The BBC postponed axing the perk due to the coronavirus outbreak, after the Government withdrew funding for it in June, but the extension ended on 1 August.
‘Some of the stories we have heard from older people who do not receive pension credit and who are living on a low income are extremely upsetting,’ says Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK.
‘It’s awful to think of an older person having to choose between buying a TV licence or going to the dentist, or being forced into debt in their 80s or 90s just to keep watching TV.’
The charity says most older people sending it feedback found the BBC’s new process straightforward to use.
However, a minority experienced problems, and Age UK is sharing the information with the broadcaster to make the system as easy as possible.
It identified the following problems.
Why are free TV licences being axed for over-75s?
Charter renewal negotiations between the Government and the BBC in 2015 safeguarded the licence fee system for funding the broadcaster.
The Government boosted the BBC’s income by requiring iPlayer users to have a licence, and unfroze the licence fee for the first time since 2010.
But as part of the deal, the BBC agreed to take over responsibility for bankrolling free licences for the over-75s. This would cost it an estimated £745million in 2021/2022 alone, and force it to drastically cut services.
It therefore announced plans to ditch the free perk for an estimated 3.7million people, while around 1.5 million households will remain eligible if they claim pension credit.
A rush of over-75s have already claimed pension credit in order to carry on getting free TV licences. This has caused a knock-on £600million rise in Government spending on pension credit, This is Money revealed earlier this year.
1. Some older people felt the need to leave their homes to post back forms or get supporting documents photocopied, and though all the transactions required to get a licence or an exemption can be done by phone and online, not all had heard this yet.
2. There were reports that some are feeling overwhelmed by the information and choices, and find hard to wade through the details posted to them by TV Licencing.
‘The new scheme includes various different payment options, to offer choice, but this necessarily makes it complex and the information quite lengthy,’ says the charity.
3. A number of people encountered difficulties paying online or by using the automated telephone payment processes.
4. Fear of scams is making some very nervous about falling prey to fraudsters while applying for their TV licence.
This is deterring some from paying online or over the phone, and encouraging them to use the post when they would rather have stayed safe during the pandemic by remaining indoors, according to Age UK.
5. Some are feeling anxious about dealing with something new in the midst of a pandemic.
Separate recent Age UK research found about one in three older people are finding living through the crisis really tough, and it heard from significant numbers who were deeply anxious, lonely and depressed.
‘It is therefore not surprising that this survey of over-75s generated a number of responses indicating that the stress of dealing with a new TV licence scheme was being keenly felt, especially at a time when they were worried about other things, the pandemic above all,’ says the charity.
6. Some over-75s are struggling to cope with the cost of a TV licence, and are in acute financial difficulty and deeply troubled about having to pay for a licence, it says.
How do over-75s apply for a new TV licence?
TV Licencing has information and frequently asked questions for older people who need a licence here.
It has a free telephone line giving recorded information to help over-75s – the number is 0800 232 1382.
TV Licensing is offering a £3 a week payment plan, and it has Covid-safe processes in place which you can find out about on 0300 790 6151.
Age UK has a help page on TV licences here and it urges any older person who is struggling financially to get in touch on 0800 169 65 65.
What have hard-up pensioners told Age UK about losing free TV licences?
I don’t get pension credit but am on a low income and I have to pay a contribution to my care fees [I am 92 years old]. My heating costs are huge and I had trouble paying last winter. Paying for my TV Licence is just going to make it even harder for me and I am very worried about it. I can’t go without TV because I am housebound and here all day mainly on my own. I feel very depressed about my financial problems. Dorothy
I found it extremely difficult and out of fear and pressure I had to borrow money to pay for the licence. This is a disgraceful situation to expose elderly people to hardship after the promises of a free TV licence. Jean
It has hit me financially and will take me several months to put the money back into the envelopes that I save for electric, gas, insurances and other household bills. I was hoping to be able to afford to go to the dentist now that we are able to. Unfortunately, I will not be able to afford even the NHS charge now I have had to redirect the money to a TV Licence. Jackie
Now with all the other household expenses rising the cost of TV licence is becoming prohibitive. But it is my only contact with the outside world. I shall have to pare down my spending in order to afford the licence. I don’t know yet where from as everything is at rock bottom – no treats or unnecessary expenses. Sad to have reached this state at the end of my life. Esther
STEVE WEBB ANSWERS YOUR PENSION QUESTIONS
We had to start taking money from our food money per month to try and start saving. David
What does Age UK say?
‘This feedback confirms that while most over-75s have so far coped well with the new TV licence process, some have had problems,’ says Caroline Abrahams of Age UK.
‘In response to these findings, Age UK will now work with the BBC to try to make their new scheme as easy as possible for all older people to navigate and we will also do everything we can to get the message across that no older person should worry about leaving home to get their new licence, they can do it all by phone instead.
‘Older people have more than enough to be concerned about at the moment without the added anxiety of believing, mistakenly, that they have to go out to post a payment form or obtain a photocopy to show they’re on pension credit.’
‘We always knew that some older people would find it really stressful using a new TV licencing process, but it’s the inevitable result of the Government’s decision in 2015 to taper their funding away until by 2020 all of it had gone.
‘The upshot is that everyone in this age group now has to make a decision and do something new: buy a licence, certify they are eligible for a free one because they receive pension credit, stop watching TV, or choose to break the law.
‘That’s an unfair ask in our view, and we deeply regret the distress caused to some older people as a result – in this year of all years.
‘The situation is however the direct consequence of decisions ministers made five years ago, which this Government has declined to overturn, despite repeated requests for them to do so.’
Abrahams goes on: ‘These survey findings show once again that the Government should never have passed responsibility for free over 75s’ TV licences to the BBC without the money to pay for them.
‘Sadly, it’s the older people who are most vulnerable and alone, with no one to help them, and others on low fixed incomes, who are losing out the most.
‘Age UK told the Government repeatedly that this would happen but unfortunately our warnings were ignored.’
What does the BBC say?
A TV Licensing spokesperson said: ‘We will continue to work with Age UK to do all we can to make the scheme is easy to use and safe.
‘More than two million households have now successfully set-up a paid for licence and we will continue to implement these changes with the greatest care, including consideration of the survey feedback.
‘No one needs to leave home to apply for a free or paid TV licence as everything can be done online or on the phone – and we are currently running a national radio campaign to increase awareness.
‘We also appreciate this is a tough time for a lot of people, which is why we have protected the most vulnerable on pension credit and put in place payment plans from around £3 per week to help spread the cost for those who do have to pay.’
The Government was approached for comment but had not responded by the time of publication