Thursday 20 December 2018 / 9:54 AM Digital / Tom Watson

2.4 million older people living alone at risk of losing their free TV licences

New figures produced by the House of Commons Library for the Labour Party show that approximately 2.4 million over 75s who live on their own could lose the free TV licence in 2020.

The BBC has begun a consultation looking at options to reduce or scrap the free TV licence concession for over 75s from 2020 following the Government’s decision to pass the responsibility for funding the concession to the BBC.

This will have a severe impact on the many millions of older people living alone, many of whom rely on their TV for company.

New figures produced by the House of Commons Library have found that in 2020 there will be approximately 2.4 million people aged over 75 living alone. If free TV licences are scrapped completely, which would save the BBC most money and is an option in the BBC’s consultation, all of these people will lose their free TV licences.

The Library has also estimated that there is likely to be 751,000 over 75s living alone and in receipt of pension credit in 2020/21. That would mean that was the free licence concession to be limited to just those eligible for pension credit then over 1.6 million pensioners living alone will lose their free licence.

Free TV licences are an important benefit for older people who suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation. The Campaign to End Loneliness found that 40% of older people say their television is their main source of company.

The Christmas period is a particularly bad time for loneliness. Analysis by Age UK found that almost a million (873,000) pensioners wouldn’t have seen or heard from anyone over the festive period.

If free TV licences are scrapped or means-tested millions of older people who live alone will have to pay to keep the little company they do have.

Many over 75s also have a disability and may not be able to leave their homes easily. House of Commons analysis of ONS data estimates that in 2020 there will be 3.3 million people aged 75 and over with a disability.

Tom Watson MP, Labour’s Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, said:

“It’s at Christmas time that the harsh reality of loneliness is felt most keenly across this country.

“If any single older person living on their own loses their free TV licence because the Government has devolved spending cuts to the BBC it will be a tragedy. The word callous won’t cut it, particularly when the Conservatives promised to keep TV licences in their last manifesto and when pensioner poverty is on the rise.

“We must protect older people living on their own – the Government must step in and save free TV licences for the over 75s.”