Gordon Brown’s 2001 exemption rule has a huge loophole which should never have been agreed
From 1980-84 a big part my then job at the BBC was to deal with the PR and political issues relating to the corporation’s prime income source, the TV licence. None of the challenges that was as sensitive or as problematic as what should be done about the oldies who were required to pay the same fee as everybody else.
There had been a long-standing campaign for oldies to get free licences which at one point in the early 80s saw some pensioners deliberately trying to get themselves sent to prison for non-payment of fines over their refusal to get a licence. The idea was that their incarcerations would be the focus of marches and other demonstrations.
This was dealt with by secretly paying the outstanding fines and licence fees of the would be TV licence martyrs who were then released from jail much to their annoyance.
On its return to power in 1997 LAB took up the cause of free TV licences for pensioners and in the 2001 general election year the current scheme was introduced by the then chancellor, Gordon Brown in a move to offer something to help win the pensioners vote.
His plan was simple – all those aged 75 or more would get free licences irrespective of their financial circumstances. The massive problem was that the rules were drawn up far too widely so that any household with someone of that age living there qualified for the benefit even if everybody else there was younger.
The result is that we now have the nonsensical situation in which one in six of all TV licences are now paid for out of central taxation irrespective of the incomes of everybody at the address.
Clearly that has to change and the only households which would qualify are those where everybody is 75+.
My reckoning is that Osborne has made his move to make the BBC fund this knowing that there’ll be less political damage to the Tories if the BBC is seen to be be trying to close down the Gordon Brown loophole and not the government.
This is pure politics. Let the Beeb and not the Tories take the flak.