Campaigners’ fight to restore over-75s’ free TV licences has been boosted by revelations Whitehall officials and the BBC are in talks about how to “further support older people”.
Culture Minister John Whittingdale said discussions between his department and the corporation were underway.
The revelation came in a letter he sent to a Conservative backbench MP, who raised the issue of over-75s’ licences with him on behalf of a constituent.
In Mr Whittingdale’s reply he says: “My officials have met with the BBC to look at ways it can further support older people, and discussions continue.”
The Silver Voices pensioners’ group was buoyed by the response.
Director Dennis Reed said: “For months we have been urging the BBC and Government to get together to find solutions to this dispute and we are pleased that this now seems to be happening.”
Bectu broadcasting union chief Philippa Childs said: “We have long maintained that free TV licences for the over-75s is a welfare benefit that should be the responsibility of Government and should not fall to the BBC to fund and administer.
“I sincerely hope that John Whittingdale’s intervention is a long overdue sign that Government are recognising that they should be providing this vital benefit to the over-75.”
Free TV licences for over-75s were introduced in 2000.
But millions of pensioners were stripped of the lifeline last summer after the Conservatives ditched a promise to protect the benefit.
The party pledged at the 2017 election to maintain the benefit for the rest of that Parliament, which was due to run for five years.
But the BBC had already been handed responsibility for funding the concession from June 2020, under a deal agreed in 2015.
It said keeping licences free for all over-75s would cost £745million by 2021-22.
Only over-75s who receive Pension Credit are now eligible – meaning an estimated 3.7 million have to pay £157.50 a year.
Department of Work and Pensions officials have also held talks with the BBC over alerting OAPs to how they can claim Pension Credit, amid fears some eligible for free licences are missing out.
Welfare Minister Baroness Stedman-Scott told a House of Lords debate this week: “We have written to the BBC.
“Officials have had a meeting with its representatives and we are awaiting the outcome of that meeting.
“This is a work in progress.”
Labour peer Lord George Foulkes, who chairs Parliament’s cross-party group on ageing and older people, has tabled a parliamentary question on TV licences which is due to be answered on March 8.
Lord Foulkes, who believes the Government should take back responsibility for funding over-75s’ licences, told the Mirror: “If there is no progress, we will raise the roof in the Lords.”
Shadow Media Minister Chris Matheson said: “This situation is entirely of the Conservative Government’s making and it is right that they take responsibility rather than dump it on the BBC.
“The Tories broke their promise to the over-75s – it’s time they fixed this.”
The Government has previously criticised the BBC for means-testing.
A BBC spokeswoman said tonight: “The BBC has repeatedly said that we are willing to work with government and charities on the smooth implementation of the new policy after government ended funding.
“We have done so and will continue to do so.
“The vast majority of over-75s have now moved to the new system with only a small proportion now remaining.”
The Culture Department was approached for comment.
The Mirror has fought to save free TV licences, with more than 18,000 readers backing the fight by completing coupons in the paper.