PLANS to reduce free TV licences for the over-75s have sparked a furious political row, with the Conservatives accused of breaking a manifesto promise to safeguard the benefit.

The UK Government currently pays the £150 fee for around 4.8m pensioners, but a change in the system means up to 3.7m will lose the concession from next year.

At the 2017 general election, the Conservatives pledged to maintain pensioner benefits, “including… TV licences for the duration of this parliament”, meaning until 2022.

READ MORE: Politicians hit out at BBC over decision to scrap free TV licences for over 75s 

However, by 2015 ministers had already made the BBC take responsibility for the over-75 concession as part of a deal on the corporation’s funding.

The BBC has now said it cannot afford to give free licences to everyone over 75, as this would consume almost a fifth of its £5bn budget, and will means-test them instead.

In future, only the 1.5m over-75s eligible for Pension Credit will be eligible for free licences.

However, as 600,000 of these fail to claim the credit, the true figure is likely to be 900,000.

The change will reduce the BBC’s bill from around £745m to £250m.

The SNP challenged Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson to join its campaign "against the Tory government's axing" of the scheme, which could affect 268,000 Scots over 75.

SNP MP Hannah Bardell said: "It is shameful that Ruth Davidson is staying silent on another broken Tory manifesto commitment, which threatens to make so many older people in Scotland poorer.

"Instead of shirking responsibility again, the Scottish Tories must back the SNP's campaign to properly fund and protect the free TV license for over-75s, and put money back into older people's pockets by reversing Tory cuts to benefits and pensions."

After ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Tuesday featured war veterans appalled at their new bill, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson suggested the cost of keeping free licences for all over-75s could be spread across other licence payers.

She told the programme that if it wanted to “mount a campaign on this then sign me up as the first person to back it”.

READ MORE: TV licence fees for over-75s will be means-tested

She said: “Television is the window to the world for people that can’t go there themselves, including people who are elderly.

“It’s not just a friend when you’re lonely, it’s not just intellectual stimulation, it’s also a way to reach out and see things.

“If I was asked to pay a few pounds more to help make sure that free TV licences are maintained over the age of 75, I’d willingly pay it.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “Many pensioners simply won’t be able to afford this, leaving them feeling even more isolated.

“The Tories promised to keep free licences for the over-75s in their last manifesto.

“They should honour that promise and reverse this decision.”

Green MSP Ross Greer added: “The Tories should be utterly ashamed. They made a manifesto commitment to keep licenses free for people over 75, and are now cynically attempting to shift the blame onto the BBC after almost a decade of attacking its budget.”

Former Prime Minister Godon Brown said: “This is a clear breach of an election promise that was made by the Conservative Party that the licence fee would remain free to pensioners over the age of 75 for the duration of the Parliament.

“This is the wrong decision, made in the wrong way by the BBC. It should not be an agency for means testing pensioners. Any costs should be covered by the government without endangering BBC services."

The change follows a BBC-led consultation last year.

By 2021/22, it is estimated it would cost the corporation £745m to give free licences to all over-75s, or 18 per cent of its budget, as much as it spends on BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, CBBC and CBeebies combined.

In its consultation response, the Scottish Government said the over-75s concession should be maintained, but with the UK Government paying for it, not the BBC.

Announcing the means-testing decision on Monday, the BBC said the burden of free licences would “fundamentally change” the broadcaster, and reduce its output because of cost pressures.

Director-General Lord Hall said: “This has not been an easy decision. It would not be right simply to abolish all free licences. Equally, it would not be right to maintain it in perpetuity given the very profound impact that would have on many BBC services.”

In her response to the BBC’s consultation on the issue, Dr Lisa Cameron, the SNP MP for East Kilbride, warned the loss of free licences could affect some people’s mental well;being.

She said: “I oppose this being means tested or costing elderly adults.

“As my party spokesperson for Mental Health, the companionship TV can provide for the elderly is unequivocal".

Borders Tory MP John Lamont said: “The BBC agreed to take on control of the over-75 concession as part of a generous funding package which allowed them to increase the license fee above inflation and charge people for using iplayer.

“The UK Government made it clear that they expected this over-75 concession to be maintained as part of this package.

“Rather than targeting older people, the BBC should be looking at ensuring value for money elsewhere. Given that some BBC presenters are getting paid more than £1m, many people will rightly question whether the BBC have got their priorities right.”