The director general of the BBC has said he “refutes and resents” the idea the corporation is not honouring its agreement with the Government over free TV licences for the over-75s.
From June next year, the benefit will be restricted to over-75s who claim pension credit, with the BBC saying it cannot afford to take on the financial burden from the Government.
The free TV licence was introduced in 2000, but the BBC agreed to take on the cost as part of the charter agreement hammered out in 2015.
Giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Wednesday, Lord Hall said the BBC had carried out the agreement with the Government “to the letter”, after it came under fire over the plans to end universal entitlement.
He said the corporation has been “completely consistent about the reforms we would need to make to live with the budget means we were set”.
He stressed that from the beginning, it has been the Government which is “withdrawing the concession”.
Discussing the value of the concessions the BBC was given as part of the charter agreement, including an increase to the licence fee, committee chairman Damian Collins MP suggested they were worth “about £700 million”, adding “it seems you’re net gainers from this process”.
Lord Hall replied: “The idea we are not honouring the agreement is wrong, I really refute that and I really resent that. It is crucial I establish this.
“We are carrying out what the Government said we should do to the T.”
He continued: “What I’m trying to establish is that as part of that settlement in 2015 with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was clear reform of the over-75s – provided we could go through the proper consultation and the consultation backed us up – was on the table and everybody knew reform was likely. Not inevitable, but likely.”
Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Lenny Henry, actress Amanda Redman and Gogglebox star June Bernicoff are among 20 celebrities who have signed an open letter urging the next prime minister to restore free TV licences for all over-75.
The letter will be delivered to Conservative Party headquarters by Age UK.