MPs have urged the government and the BBC to reach a funding arrangement to restore free TV licences for people aged over 75.
In a damning report the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee slammed the government of 2015 for trying to “bounce” the BBC into accepting measures that left it liable to fund the benefit.
The MPs also took aim at director general Tony Hall for his handling of negotiations, and criticised both sides for holding negotiations behind closed doors rather than consulting with licence fee payers.
Earlier this year the broadcaster announced it will scrap the blanket free TV licence scheme from 2020, meaning millions of households will have to start paying the £154.50 annual fee.
The controversial decision came after the government ditched the scheme in 2015, leaving the BBC to pick up the costs after 2020.
DCMS committee chair Damian Collins said the BBC had put itself in an “invidious” position.
“It agreed to fund a pensioner benefit that it couldn’t afford and, as a result, false reassurances were given to the over 75s that their free licence fees would be maintained,” he said.
Under the new measures, any household with someone aged over 75 who receives pension credit will be eligible for a free licence funded by the BBC.
But the report found that the BBC had been left in the “absurd situation” of being an administrator of welfare benefits that should only ever be issued by the government.
The MPs also concluded that there was no clear assumption in 2015 that the BBC would take over the financial burden of TV licences and that is was “disingenuous” of government ministers to suggest otherwise.
The committee called on the government to set out proposals on how it can support the licence in future and said a funding model should be agreed in its next round of negotiations with the BBC, which is due to take place in 2021.
“Under the 2015 agreement, the BBC was given responsibility for the policy, and related funding, of the concession for over-75s,” said BBC chairman Sir David Clementi. “We are pleased that the committee recognises that there was no automatic assumption that the BBC would continue to bear the cost of these free TV licences.”
He added: “The committee say that the government’s process in 2015 was flawed and we agree with this; it was never a process the BBC would have chosen. In terms of the agreement itself, we are satisfied that it was properly discussed within the BBC and properly authorised.”
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