Tuesday 22 October 2019

TV licence to remain free to our pensioners

Decision: Regina Doherty is Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection
Decision: Regina Doherty is Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection

Alan O'Keeffe

There are no plans by Irish authorities to follow Britain's example of taking away free television licences from pensioners, the Government has confirmed.

Huge numbers of elderly people in the UK have expressed anger at the BBC's announcement last Monday that it is scrapping free TV licences for the majority of people in Britain over the age of 75.

While more than a million households in the UK will still receive free TV licences, some 3.7 million British pensioners aged over 75 will lose their entitlement to a licence.

The British Government handed over the responsibility of funding television services through TV licences to the BBC under an agreement that came into force in 2017.

In Ireland, the Household Benefits Package includes a free TV licence for people over 70.

A spokesperson for RTE said that it has no powers regarding who is eligible for a free television licence in Ireland.

He said the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is responsible for the collection of licence fees via An Post.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has responsibilities in respect of 'free' television licences.

RTE receives a grant out of the licence fee funds, he said.

"All decisions regarding licence fee reform are the responsibility of the Government," he said.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection issues free licences to those who receive the Household Benefits Package.

The Department "pays a contribution" to the Department of Communications in respect of those free licences, said a Communications Department spokesperson.

"There are no plans to amend this provision," said the Department spokesperson.

Age Action Ireland spokesperson Celine Clarke said older people are "naturally fearful of any reductions in their pension and secondary benefits, increasing charges across a range of sectors, and their ability to pay their bills".

For those totally reliant on the contributory State Pension and in receipt of all secondary supports, their income has only marginally improved in real terms by €7.89 per week since 2009, she said.

"The cost of a TV licence is prohibitive for many older people who rely on public transfers and it would be very unfair to expect them to meet that cost or go without a TV," she added. "A lot of older people rely on a TV for information and entertainment especially as half of Irish people aged between 65 and 74 have never used the internet.

"Internet use among those aged over 75 is negligible," she said.

Sunday Independent

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