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Pensioners who are angry at BBC plans to strip over-75s of free TV licence

Pensioners angry about BBC plans to strip over-75s of free TV licences said they would rather risk going to jail than pay up.

About 3.7million OAPs lost the lifeline, worth £157.50 a year, from the start of this month.

The BBC had delayed the move, initially planned for June, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But campaigners are demanding a further stay of execution and want the Government to intervene.

In echoes of pensioners’ angry opposition to council tax rises in 2005, some over-75s insist they will not stump up no matter what the punishment.

Grandmother Ivy Siegfried, 82, from Greenock, Scotland, said: ‘The BBC are targeting the elderly because they know they will be afraid. Many pensioners will feel threatened by the prospect of someone coming to their door for money and the BBC know they will pay.

‘Well, I’m not frightened. I’m not afraid to go to court or prison if I have to and I have quite a number of friends who feel the same, they are with me on this.

‘If I go to prison I will get three meals a day and free TV in there anyway! The BBC should stop paying the big wages of the likes of Gary Lineker and his football cronies, instead of going for us.

‘They need to start listening. If we all take a stand then there is no way they could take everyone to court, they can’t take us all on.’

Octogenarian Shirley Whyatt, from Maghull, Merseyside, added: ‘I already have my battle plan worked out, which includes going to court and getting a fine. Well, I’m not paying that either, so they may as well send me straight to prison.

‘How well that will look? An 87-year-old deaf and partially blind woman sent to jail for non-payment of TV licence.’

Refusal to pay for a TV licence is not a crime, but it is punishable with a fine and people can be dragged to court – and even jailed – for not paying the fine.

Dennis Reed, of campaign group Silver Voices, said they were not advocating over-75s refuse to pay. But he instead urged all over-60s to ‘gum up’ and disrupt the BBC’s payment system, by cancelling direct debits and sending time-consuming monthly cheques and postal orders instead.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, which is lobbying the Government to intervene and reverse the BBC’s decision, added: ‘Last year a policymaker told me he feared this row over the Government’s handling of free TV licences could turn into another poll tax revolt, and it’s beginning to look like he might have been right.’

Although those receiving Pension Credit will still be entitled to a free licence, she said as many as two in five on the lowest incomes do not claim the benefit they are entitled to, and will suffer.

MPs and campaigners have warned the justice system will be unable to cope if tens of thousands opt to go to court.

Peter Bone, the Conservative MP for Wellingborough, accused the BBC of being ‘totally out of touch’.

The TV licence has been free for over-75s for the past 20 years. It was funded by the Government, but as part of the 2015 charter negotiations the responsibility was passed to the Corporation.

Last year the BBC said it could no longer afford to subsidise over-75s.

It has allocated £38 million to chasing non-paying pensioners through the courts.

Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Lenny Henry are among celebrities to call for a re-think.

Retired social worker Sylvia Hardy, 73, became the first pensioner to be jailed for refusing to pay £53 council tax arrears in 2005 – getting seven days’ prison in Exeter. She took a stand over a 50 per cent rise in her bill in ten years.

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