The corporation’s outgoing director general Tony Hall admitted to MPs it was “conceivable” over-75s could face proceedings for non-payment of the £157.50 annual charge. He confirmed the broadcaster was prepared to take action during an appearance before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Lord Hall said: “We have a special team to make sure our communications with the over-75s is sensitive.
“We will do everything to make sure they understand what they need to do and how they need to sign up in the easiest possible way because I don’t want to see people going to court.”
But pressed on whether viewers as old as 90 could end up in court, Lord Hall admitted: “It’s conceivable. But we don’t want that, we absolutely don’t want to go there.” Despite a public backlash and campaign led by the Daily Express, over-75s will be forced to pay for their licence for the first time in 20 years from June 1.
Only those receiving pension credit will be excluded, with the new charge set to earn the BBC some £250million a year.
The broadcaster took on responsibility for maintaining the benefit as part of its Charter renewal.
But the Government and the broadcaster have blamed each other for a decision to take it away from 3.75 million over-75s. The corporation said the move was essential if it is to continue making shows like Strictly Come Dancing, Line Of Duty and Bodyguard.
As tempers flared, SNP MP John Nicolson told Lord Hall: “You could be in the bizarre position of sending news teams to cover 90-year-olds potentially in court for non-payment of TV licences because of a system you signed up to.”
Ministers have signalled that non-payment could be decriminalised as more continue to use streaming services like iPlayer and Netflix. There are thought to be 1.5 million people potentially eligible for pension credit.
Figures show that up to 7 percent of licence evaders end up in court while in 2018 five people were jailed.
Asked why millions should not just refuse to pay up, BBC chairman Sir David Clementi said: “The majority want to stay within the law and value the BBC.”
Age UK urges all pensioners to apply for pension credit, saying: “You have nothing to lose by applying but, potentially, a lot to gain.”