ST HELENS Council will call on the government and the BBC to reverse the decision to scrap blanket free TV licences for over-75s.

Earlier this year the BBC announced up to 3.7 million pensioners will have to start paying £154.50 a year from next June, with only households on pension credit benefit remaining exempt.

The decision came after the government announced in 2015 the BBC would take over the cost of providing free licences for over-75s by 2020 as part of the fee settlement.

This would cost the BBC £745 million by 2021-22, which equates to a fifth of its budget.

The BBC estimates the new scheme will cost around £250 million by 2021-22, depending on the take-up.

But last month, Boris Johnson told reporters at the G7 summit the BBC should “cough up” and fund all of the free TV licenses for over-75s

This was after the Prime Minister was asked if the Tories would honour their 2017 manifesto pledge to protect pensioners’ benefits, including free TV licences.

This week, a motion was passed by St Helens Council that calls on the government to honour the Conservative Party’s 2017 manifesto promise to maintain free TV licences for over-75s.

Former council leader Barrie Grunewald, who submitted the motion, said the BBC has been put in an “impossible position” and accused the Tory government of “political cowardice”.

Cllr Grunewald said: “Keeping TV licences free for all over-75 would require unprecedented cuts to the BBC’s spending on broadcasting and content.

“This is political cowardice.

“If the government want to cut free TV licences for over-75 they should say so— they should include it in the manifesto and let the public decide on the policy.

“If the government want to cut the BBC’s budget by a fifth, they should say so— they should put it in the manifesto and let the public have their say at the ballot box.

“Passing the buck to the BBC was not a decision made in the national interest, or for the benefit of older people. It was designed to give the government political cover to cut a popular policy.

“This is austerity by stealth. The Conservative party made a commitment to the older people of this country, so now the government should act and take both the policy and the financial responsibility for funding free TV licences for over-75 back in-house — the two should not be separated.”

Cllr Grunewald said for many older people, their free TV licence staves off “poverty, isolation and loneliness” all in one go.

He said  people who are “barely scraping by will suffer”, adding that 4.5 million older people in receipt of free TV licences could be “betrayed” unless the government acts.

“It’s shameful the Conservative government are scrapping it and those that support it should hang their heads in shame,” Cllr Grunewald said.

“Lots of older people have struggled throughout their working life to save a little extra for retirement.

“But that small pot of savings for a rainy day means they don’t qualify for means-tested benefits. Others are coping with the costs of ill-health or disability.

“Removing older people’s access to TV would be an unthinkably cruel blow when many are already facing huge challenges.”

Cllr Grunewald said the move will “force older people into poverty “and leave many more feeling isolated and alone.

“Our social contract, whereby people who work hard all their lives are afforded comfort in old age, is being slowly but certainly unpicked,” he said.

“Free TV licences are a small but important part of that social contract. Taking them away will force older people into poverty and leave many more feeling isolated and alone.

“Rather than standing by their manifesto promise and standing up for dignity and comfort in old age, the Government are taking it away.”

Rainford Tory councillor Rob Reynolds insisted the decision to scrap free TV licenses for over-75s lies squarely with the BBC.

“Cllr Grunewald is right that the decision was transferred to the BBC,” Cllr Reynolds said.

“It is the BBC’s decision. But he neglects to mention that the Prime Minster has already called for the BBC to overturn the decision. We support that.

“We believe it is very important that the free TV licence does continue for the over 75s, not least because, as Cllr Grunewald mentions, it is the principal source of company for far too many elderly people.”

Labour councillor Seve Gomez-Aspron called the decision a “disgusting Tory attack on the most vulnerable” paid for by tax breaks for the rich.

Fellow Labour and Newton ward councillor Jeanie Bell said the BBC have been left with “no other option”.

Cllr Bell said: “The responsibility for the free TV licence was passed by the government to the BBC. It is a fifth of their budget. So, it is a huge budget cut.

“They’ve been left with no other option.

“So, passing it off as ‘it’s their fault it’s their choice’ – that isn’t gonna wash.”

St Helens South and Whiston Labour MP Marie Rimmer wrote to more than 4,000 constituents following the BBC’s announcement in June.

Labour’s Nova Charlton, cabinet member for protecting young people, said the MP received more than 100 responses, most of them written by hand.

Cllr Charlton said: “The majority of respondents said that they will continue to pay their licenses because they were too afraid of the consequences if they didn’t.

“And therefore, they would go without something else in order to do this.”

The motion received cross party support and was passed following a vote.

The council’s chief executive will write to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Director General of the BBC asking them both to take steps to protect the future of the free TV licences for over-75s.