BBC bosses were last night told they will share the blame when pensioners are jailed over licence fees unless they commit to talks with Boris Johnson.
Its chief Caroline Abrahams warned it was inevitable some pensioners will be “brought before the courts and potentially end up in prison” within months.
In a letter, she also pans the Prime Minister over his “unrealistic” demand for the BBC to simply “cough up” and fund the free TV licence.
The Government says the BBC agreed to take over the bill, but bosses say it cannot afford to do so.
As things stand, 3.7million pensioners will lose their free licence with only the poorest still benefitting.
Ms Abrahams told the PM: “We agree with you free TV licences for over-75s should continue but we very much doubt that asking the BBC to ‘cough up’ is likely to be a realistic solution, since the Corporation is adamant that it cannot afford the £500million required.
“We would very much hope that the Corporation and your Government will sit down together now and discuss a way forward that allows our over-75s to retain their free licences.”
Speaking to reporters at the G7 summit in Biarritz earlier this week, Mr Johnson said: “The BBC received a settlement that was conditional upon their paying for TV licences for the over-75s. They should cough up.”
The free TV licence was introduced in 2000, but the BBC agreed to take on responsibility for deciding future policy and funding for the scheme as part of the charter agreement hammered out in 2015.
Those found to be ineligible for a free licence will have to pay £154.50 a year for a colour television and £52 a year for a black and white set.