JEREMY Hunt has vowed to preserve free TV licences for over 75s if he wins the race to replace to becomes Britain’s next prime minister.
The Tory leadership contender said his government would protect the benefit, which the BBC announced earlier this month it would be scrapping.
Hunt said he would honour a pledge to protect free TV licences for over 75s made in the 2017 election[/caption]
Under new rules, only low income households where one person receives Pension Credit will remain eligible, with others having to pay the £154.50 annual fee.
The Conservative Party pledged in its manifesto at the 2017 election that the free licences, which currently benefit 3.7 million people, would be maintained.
Speaking to the Daily Express, Hunt said: “I don’t mind the BBC having responsibility for this.”
“I just think we made a manifesto commitment and we don’t want to start breaking it.”
After winning the 2015 election, the Conservatives transferred the cost of the free licences, previously covered by the government, to the BBC.
Hunt had supported the move while culture secretary in 2010, but it was blocked by the Liberal Democrats, then in coalition with the Conservatives.
The BBC’s eventual decision to withdraw the benefit has caused a backlash.
Hunt’s remarks will put pressure on leadership rival Boris Johnson, who has so far been silent on the issue, to speak out.
There have already been protests outside the BBC’s Salford studios, and almost half a million people have signed Age UK’s Switched Off petition.
Stars including Dame Esther Rantzen and Sir Michael Palin have also publicly opposed the change.
At Westminster, Labour peer Lord Foulkes has tabled a private members’ bill seeking to move responsibility for the cost of the benefit back to the Government.
The Corporation has said that continuing to provide free licences would cost £745million by 2022.
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Under the new arrangements limiting the benefit to low-income households, the cost will instead be £250 million.
BBC chairman Sir David Clementi described the move as a “very difficult decision” but said it was the “fairest and best outcome”.
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