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The BBC faces fresh fury over “outrageous” plans to hike the licence fee by the largest amount in more than 20 years. Campaigners warned the expected £13 rise will only “strengthen the resolve” of pensioners who have refused to pay since free TV licences were scrapped for most over-75s. It has renewed calls to abolish the annual charge which critics branded “decades out of date”.
Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices, said there was “a lot of concern” as the licence fee already costs more than a week’s basic state pension, which he added is a “huge amount” for older people.
Mr Reed said: “I don’t think there’s any justification for raising the licence fee during a cost of living crisis and it’s still going to be a crisis in a year’s time.
“It’s bound to increase evasion and it’s bound to increase the number of people who are criminalised because they can’t afford to pay the fee.
“But also it will definitely strengthen the resolve of the hundreds of thousands of over-75s who still have not paid the licence fee since the free licence was scrapped two years ago.
“So it will certainly strengthen their resolve to keep fighting for that free benefit to be restored.”
Mr Reed called for the Government to launch a consultation on what will replace the licence fee ahead of the current royal charter ending in 2027.
He said: “At the moment everybody seems to be waiting for 2027 to come along and there doesn’t appear to be any sort of live consultation going on at the moment about what should replace it.
“It definitely needs replacing by something because it is the most regressive tax that there is, just being a flat rate with no regard to the ability to pay.”
The licence fee is due to rise in line with inflation in April 2024 following a two-year freeze.
The Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) this week forecast the figure used would be 8.2 per cent, which would see the levy go up from £159 to £172.
Politicians also condemned the move and declared the BBC should no longer be able to rely on taxpayers’ cash.
Tory MP Scott Benton said: “The licence fee is a decades out of date, regressive tax and this slap in the face to viewers at a difficult time will only hasten calls for it to be scrapped for good.”
Baroness Hoey, a former Labour MP who now sits as a non-affiliated peer in the Lords, added: “A £13 increase would be outrageous. More and more people are not watching the BBC and should not be forced to pay a fee to watch other channels which they may have chosen to subscribe to.
“I would hope that if this increase was to be brought in there would be a widespread refusal to pay. A state-funded BBC is no longer tenable.”
Jan Shortt, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said: “£13 a year doesn’t seem much – just over a pound a month. But for those on an inadequate state pension it means yet another choice. Pay or not have a TV.
“For older people, especially those who are isolated, the TV is often their only companion.”
The BBC is under intense pressure after an impartiality row erupted over tweets by Match of the Day host Gary Lineker criticising the Government’s illegal immigration crackdown and comparing language used to that of 1930s Germany.
The corporation was plunged into crisis last weekend when the 62-year-old’s fellow pundits and commentators staged a boycott in a show of support after he was taken off air.
Lineker – the BBC’s highest-paid star on £1.35 million a year – will return to his football programme today [SAT] after director-general Tim Davie apologised for the saga and announced a review of social media guidelines at the broadcaster.
Conservative MP Peter Bone said: “Many people who are pensioners will find this very difficult to afford. And yet at the same time it seems that Gary Lineker and the other overpaid sports presenters can push the BBC around.
“The simple answer to this is scrap the licence fee and if people want to subscribe to the BBC so be it. But to force people to pay an extra £13 for a service they don’t want in the first place is grossly unfair and it just shows how out of touch the BBC is.”
Conservative MP Philip Davies branded the hike “not acceptable”, saying: “The BBC needs to stop sucking on the teat of the licence fee payer and earn a living as everyone else has to do.
“If – as they claim – the BBC licence fee is such wonderful value for money then they have nothing to fear from going to a subscription model as presumably everyone would be queuing up to pay it.
“Then those of us who don’t want to subscribe can opt out and Gary Lineker and friends can trot out as much left-wing drivel as they want and we will all be happy.”
Former minister Andrea Jenkyns said: “The BBC’s licence fee is a hard-hitting tax for the poorest people in our society, it is disgraceful that it is rising another £13 next year.
“I am calling on our Government before the end of Parliament to defund the BBC.”
A report by the National Audit Office in December 2021 found that across the BBC’s three main television channels, 56 percent of the schedule is repeats. The figure stands at almost a third for its flagship channel BBC One.
A BBC spokesperson said: “The Government agreed a six-year licence fee settlement in January 2022 which froze the licence fee for two years, with increases in line with inflation from 2024.
“It is not for the BBC to speculate on what inflation might be and how that might impact the licence fee in future years. Ultimately it is for Government to set and confirm the cost of a licence each year.
“The BBC will continue to focus on what it does best: working to deliver world-class content and value for all its audiences.”
A DCMS spokesperson said: “We agreed a fair settlement with the BBC that will see the licence fee remain at £159 until 2024 to protect licence fee payers from current inflationary pressures, and then rise in line with inflation until the end of 2027. The exact level of inflation is yet to be confirmed.
“The BBC’s funding model faces major challenges due to changes in the way people consume media, which is why we are working with it to look at ways to ensure it is sustainable in the long term.”
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