Pensioners in Britain who have watched television such as “Blue Planet” and “Doctor Who” for free will have to start paying after the publicly-funded BBC said it would scrap free licences for those over 75-years-old.
The BBC, which is funded by a tax on all television watching households, said around 3.7 million pensioners who previously received a free TV licence will have to pay when its new rules come into force in June 2020.
However any household that receives a Pension Credit, a form of welfare to top up income for the poorest, will still be eligible for free access. The current annual licence fee costs 154.50 pounds ($195.81) for a colour TV.
The move is likely to prove unpopular. The broadcaster has a central presence in British cultural life, with its TV, radio and online content reaching 92 % of the population each week.
“While research suggests pensioners are now better off than they were when the concession was first introduced nearly 20 years ago, the simple fact is that many are still in poverty - and many want the companionship the BBC can provide,” said BBC Chairman David Clementi.
The BBC agrees a funding settlement with the government. In 2015 it had to take over the cost of providing free licences for over-75s by 2020 as part of its latest funding round.
It said on Monday its proposed scheme was the most cost effective way of helping the poorest retain a TV licence without having to spend so much on the scheme it would lead to the closure of services.
The BBC said the funding available for British services is already 24 percent lower than if the licence fee had gone up with inflation from 2010. It estimates the new scheme will cost it around 250 million pounds ($317 million) a year.