Tuesday, October 19
BroadcastingThe BBC Trust has today warned the government over plans to force the corporation to meet the full cost of providing free television licences to anyone over 75.
The coalition is believed to be considering shifting the £556 million cost of providing the benefit from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to the BBC as part of its Comprehensive Spending Review.
Any household with a single person over 75 is currently eligible for a free TV licence worth £145.50 a year. A total of around 4m homes are understood to receive the benefit.
BBC Two's Newsnight claimed that the cost of providing the free TV licences - which were introduced by Gordon Brown when he was chancellor - could be passed on to the BBC from the time of the next licence fee settlement in 2012.
The cost would be almost exactly the same as the entire £575m budget for BBC Two. Bearing the financial burden would also be equivalent to a 26% real-terms reduction in the BBC's current budget, meaning cuts to the corporation's output would be inevitable.
Tomorrow, chancellor George Osborne will reveal where the cuts will fall on public spending when he sets out the results of his spending review to parliament.
A BBC Trust spokesman said: "Anything at this stage is speculation as we have yet to see the detail of the Comprehensive Spending Review.
"That said it would be unacceptable for licence fee payers to pick up the bill for what is a DWP universal benefit."
Last month, the Trust wrote to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt proposing that the licence fee should be held at this year's £145.50 per household until March 2013.
The move followed Hunt's assertion in July that he could "absolutely" see the BBC licence fee being reduced when the next settlement is agreed in 2011.
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