Corporation chiefs are scrambling to quell a growing revolt over the controversial move to makeover-75s pay the annual £157.50 fee which came into effect last Friday. An extra 800 licence-fee agents have been taken on in a bid to prevent chaos and have also agreed to allow poorer pensioners to claim a free licence without submitting documentary proof.
Pensioners’ campaigners are urging resistance and had called on all over-60s to cancel their TV licence direct debits in solidarity with over-75s and instead offer to pay with monthly, backdated cheques.
Dennis Reed, of Silver Voices, the community organisation behind the protest, pledged a “long attritional campaign” to force the BBC into a U-turn.
He said many pensioners had already cancelled their automatic payments with to try to jam TV Licensing’s administration systems rather than put protesters at risk of prosecution by refusing to pay.
Silver Voices said: “It defies belief that, as a second wave of coronavirus marches over the horizon, the BBC are doing this.
“It shows a lack of compassion, a lack of empathy, a lack of understanding.”
Jan Shortt of the National Pensioners Convention said she was aware of members planning to ignore demands even if that led to criminal proceedings.
She said: “We cannot condone people breaking the law.
“But, individually, each member will make their own choice. There will be people who refuse to pay.”
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The bitter row dates back to 2015 when the BBC was ordered to take responsibility for funding TV licences for all over-75s by the Chancellor at the time George Osborne.
The corporation said maintaining them beyond this year would cost an annual £745 million and necessitate the closure of BBC Two, Three and Four and a number of radio stations.
It will continue to provide free licences to over-75s on pension credit which is available to single pensioners with a weekly income below £173.75 and couples on less than £265.20.
The National Pensioners Convention warned over-75s whose income put them a few pounds above the pension credit threshold would be among the hardest hit.
A spokeswoman said: “They will have to buy less food and not put the heating on to afford a licence.”
The BBC said that 90 per cent of older pensioners were aware of the new system after it was promoted on its services, and 450,000 had applied for a free licence.
A spokeswoman said: “Over-75s will start to receive letters from today.
“No one needs to do anything until they have received the letter and no one needs to leave their home.”
People applying for a free licence must submit photocopies of documents from the Department for Work and Pensions or the Pension Service to prove that they are in receipt of pension credit.
Those who do not have access to a photocopier can post bank statements instead.
An over-the-phone “verbal declaration process” is also available for over-75s who could not leave home or go online.