HC Deb 18 February 1988 vol 127 cc1141-2
10. Mr. Beith

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has revised the guidance given by his Department about concessionary television licences for pensioners in the light of recent litigation.

Mr. Renton

Revised guidelines about the application of the regulations governing the concessionary licence scheme were issued to the national television licence records office in April 1987.

Mr. Beith

Does the Minister accept that in the light of recent court decisions it is now open to local authorities, by providing appropriate services to tenants, to ensure that many more elderly people can have concessionary television licences than do now? Will he place any obstacle in the way of that being done?

Mr. Renton

I stress to the hon. Gentleman that it is not only a matter of appropriate services; nor is it only a matter of a communal facility having to be provided. The accommodation must also be part of a group and specially provided for. Since the Kirklees judgment we have had a great many applications for concessionary licences, and they are being carefully considered in the light of that judgment.

Mr. Latham

I thank my hon. Friend for helpfully receiving a deputation on this matter. Is he aware that hundreds of my constituents who are pensioners have been waiting 11 months for his departmental decision on the issue? Will he please give that decision early priority?

Mr. Renton

I am aware of that. I was pleased to receive the deputation brought by my hon. Friend the other day. There have been a great many applications since the Kirklees judgment, and we shall proceed to a decision on them as quickly as we can.

Mr. Madden

Does the Minister not recognise that pensioners do not want revised guidelines? They want an urgent Government announcement that all pensioner households will receive free television. Does he recognise that the Government's record on pensions is scandalous and that many pensioners are being robbed of £8 to which they are fully entitled? A decision by the Government to give free television to pensioner households is long overdue.

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman should sometimes think before he speaks. He should realise that if every pensioner received a free television licence, it would cost about £360 million a year. That means that the cost of everyone else's television licence would go up by about 50 per cent. Those who are on low incomes, but are not pensioners, would also have to pay that higher price.

Mr. Ward

I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said about blanket subsidies, but is he aware of the sense of unfairness felt by many people living in private sheltered accommodation, who believe that those who live in council-run accommodation are a privlieged group? Will he bear that in mind in future?

Mr. Renton

I fully accept what my hon. Friend has said. The difficulty is that the present scheme is unsatisfactory and gives rise to serious anomalies. Improvements were made to it in 1984, but we have not yet found a way of further improving the scheme without either unacceptably increasing costs or producing more anomalies.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Will the Minister give an assurance that no action will be taken against pensioners who do not have television licences now and believe that they fall into the category of exemption because of the grey area that has arisen since the Kirklees judgment? Is he aware that many pensioners in the Kirklees area do not have television licences because they think they are covered by the exemption scheme? If the Minister makes the ruling retrospective, they could be prosecuted in the interim for not having a television licence.

Mr. Renton

I thank the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to make the position clear. Until the concessionary licence is granted a full licence is required by law. If a concessionary licence is granted, it will be back-dated to the date of application. Anyone eligible who bought a full licence after that date can obtain a full refund, and no prosecution will be initiated against anyone for whom a concessionary licence application has been made while it is outstanding.