The BBC should “cough up” and fund free TV licences for all over-75s, the prime minister has said.
Boris Johnson has criticised the broadcaster’s plan to restrict the benefit to the UK’s poorest pensioners.
The prime minister said: “The BBC received a settlement that was conditional upon their paying for TV licences for the over-75s. They should cough up.”
In their election manifesto two years ago, the Conservatives had pledged to protect the free TV licences – but in June, the BBC said it cannot afford to take on the financial burden.
According to the corporation, it would be forced to close BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, the BBC Scotland channel, Radio 5 Live and several local radio stations if it funded the policy.
But critics argue that the high levels of pay awarded to some presenters and executives at the broadcaster show there is cash going spare.
The BBC’s U-turn means 3.7 million pensioners will have to pay £154.50 a year for colour televisions or £52 a year for black and white televisions.
A BBC spokeswoman said: “It was the government who decided to stop funding free TV licences for the over-75s, and Parliament gave responsibility to the BBC to make a decision on the future of the scheme.
“There was no guarantee that the BBC would continue to fund free licences for the over-75s, as the culture secretary at the time has confirmed.
“We’ve reached the fairest decision we can in funding free TV licences for the poorest pensioners, while protecting BBC services.
“It is a matter for the government if it wishes to restore funding for free licences for all over-75s.”
Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson has called for the government to stop passing the buck and step in to fund the free TV licences.
Labour’s deputy leader said: “This prime minister’s disregard for older people is appalling. He is trying to blame the BBC for his own government’s policy, but this obfuscation will not work.
“The blame for scrapping free TV licences lies firmly with the government.”
A Number 10 source told the PA news agency: “The government agreed the licence fee settlement with the BBC in 2015.
“At the time, the director general said it was a ‘strong deal for the BBC’ and provided ‘financial stability’.
“It saw BBC income boosted by requiring iPlayer users to have a licence, and unfroze the licence fee for the first time since 2010 – with it rising each year with inflation.
“In return, we agreed responsibility for the over-75 concession would transfer to the BBC in June 2020.
“The BBC must honour this agreement.”