The BBC is to consider asking the over-75s to give up their free TV licence, or make a voluntary contribution to it.
The corporation is said to be weighing up multiple options as it looks to reduce the £650 million annual cost of providing free TV licenses for the elderly from 2020.
Cuts to meet the reduced budget have already cost the BBC multiple major sporting contracts, with more expected in the near future.
In the past, the government covered the cost of free licence fees for the over-75s, and transferred the money to the BBC on an annual basis.
In 2013/14, the government bill was £608 million – a fifth of the BBC’s budget.
In return for taking on the license fees, the government agreed the corporation could request voluntary payments.
It was also agreed that the BBC could look into closing the ‘iPlayer loophole’, whereby viewers can avoid purchasing a TV licence if they do not watch live TV.
Labour peer Dame Joan Bakewell, formerly a government-appointed champion of the elderly, said, “The government pulled a fast one recently because what they did was this – transgress from one enterprise, which is government policy about [cutting] welfare, into the BBC’s licence fee – which is a completely original and outrageous undertaking.”
Frontier Economics, the consultancy led by former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell, is set to report back within the coming months on the best approach to asking people for contributions.
Dot Gibson, general secretary of National Pensioners, said, “Many older, vulnerable people might be taken in by this when they should be protected.
“The government needs to take back responsibility for the free TV licence or we’re going to see it cut by stealth and then eventually removed altogether.”