Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee warned the Beeb not to “alienate” the over-75’s after it emerged the corporation have been sending “not particularly nice” letters demanding payment of the licence fee. Mr Knight explained how the BBC usually “relies” on the elderly to cover funding but are now desperate to fill a massive £50 million funding hole left open by Brits fed up with its output and now refusing to pay their licence fee. The news comes as the corporation ended its licence fee grace period for over-75s on Saturday, with 260,000 pensioners still yet to pay the £159 annual fee which many say will push the elderly into financial hardship.
Mr Knight said: “We are seeing a degree of non-payment that we’ve not seen since the early 1990s – that is quite a major hit to the bottom line.
“The BBC is now walking a real tightrope.
“It needs to ensure compliance with the law, but if it’s too heavy-handed it risks a great degree of alienation which will cost it a lot of money when it comes to non-payment.”
He went on to suggest: “I think the BBC needs to love bomb the over-75s. An honest discussion about what the BBC delivers for them.
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“They’re the group that actually, in many respects, get the most from the BBC because they’re most reliant on terrestrial television.”
And in a damning conclusion, the chair stressed how “it really isn’t a good look for anyone if over-75s end up in the magistrates court.”
While National Pensioners Convention (NPC) general secretary Jan Shortt, who is calling for the Government to pick up the bill once again for pensioners’ TV licences, told the Today programme that the BBC risk making a severe error for Britain’s elderly.
She said: “The group we are most concerned about, and the reason why they are not paying perhaps is because they can’t pay.
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“This is a group that is just above the pension credit limit threshold and they get no extra help, so they don’t get any assistance to pay any bills.”
In a heartbreaking moment, Ms Shortt added: “They are already having to make decisions every day about how they spend their money and particularly in the winter when you have competing bills coming in for extra heating.
“And sometimes they have to make the decision whether they have a hot meal or put the fire on to keep warm.
“Then all of a sudden, they find there is another bill to be paid, which is their TV licence.”
As a result there are now major fears from campaigners who say elderly people will be scared and struggling when TV licence enforcement officers arrive to seek payment.
In defence of the move, the BBC hit back saying that if it continues to fund free licences it would cost a fifth of its total income.
A TV Licensing spokesperson said: “We will continue to support the small group of older customers who are yet to get set up, which is why we have written to them outlining the simple steps they need to take.
The universal right to a free TV licence ended on July 31 for the over-75’s and only those in receipt of pension credit do not have to pay the £159 annual fee to the Beeb.