Government must not pass the buck on licence fee funding

20 November 2018

The government should stop passing the buck on funding for free BBC licence fees, BECTU has warned.

The comments from the UK’s media and entertainment union come as the BBC formally launches its consultation into future funding of the free television licence fee for over-75s.

As a welfare benefit, meeting the cost of free licence fees should be the duty of the government. Yet the government has washed its hands of its responsibility, forcing the BBC to shoulder the cost at a time of unprecedented cuts to its budget.

The BBC today (November 20) launched a public consultation into future funding of the free over-75s licence fee after the government previously announced that responsibility for meeting the full cost will rest with the corporation from 2020. The cost to the BBC is expected to be in excess of £700million per year.

BECTU welcomes the opportunity for an open discussion on the future of free licence fees, but is deeply concerned about the unsustainable financial pressure on the BBC; the impact on quality and content of programming, and the impact on BECTU members dealing with the consequences day-in and day-out.

Head of BECTU, Philippa Childs, said: “It is vital that the public is fully aware of the implications for the BBC of taking on responsibility for the policy and funding of free licence fees for the over-75s.

“This consultation provides an opportunity for a debate about future funding of the BBC, which has faced continuous funding pressures and unrelenting cuts to its budgets.

“BECTU has consistently argued that free licence fees are a welfare payment and should, like all other welfare payments, remain the direct responsibility of government.

“The BBC offers world-class programming that is envied and respected around the world, and there is no fat left to trim without an unacceptable impact on quality. That is why we will be campaigning to highlight our concerns about the extra financial pressures being placed on the BBC, which could be devastating for a service that is so treasured by the British public.”

BECTU will issue a formal response to the consultation, highlighting its full concerns about the implications for the BBC of providing the over-75s benefit from within the licence fee settlement, and will publish this response shortly.

Further information:

  • Free licence-fees for over-75s were introduced as a universal benefit by the government in 2000.

  • The government announced in 2015 that the cost of providing the free licence fee to over-75s would be transferred to the BBC on a phased basis from 2018. The BBC is expected to meet the full cost from 2020. 

  • In 2001/2, the cost to the government was £365million. If the BBC replicates the existing concession, it is forecast to cost £745million by 2021/22.