WESTMINSTER is under pressure to take back responsibility for funding free TV licences for the over-75s as the BBC faces furious backlash from the public.

A petition launched by Age UK calling for free licences to be protected was fast approaching 400,000 last night, while more than 100,000 more have added their names to a petition on the Parliament website that warned the move would “only penalise the poorest old age pensioners”.

The Age UK appeal demands the BBC reverse the decision to charge “vulnerable” pensioners £154.50 a year, or they could face a £1000 fine.

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Funding the free licences, which have been available to over-75s for nearly 20 years, is due to be transferred from the Government to the BBC in 2020 after a deal was struck between the two in 2015.

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

It’s estimated that more than 300,000 Scots will be affected by the loss of the concession. Only those over 75 who claim Pension Credit will be eligible for a free licence.

Age Scotland said that about 76,000 pensioners aged 75 and over don’t receive the credit even though they are eligible.

There is concern that older people who fall just below the benefit will also struggle to pay the bill.

Chief executive Brian Sloan told The Herald: “It’s not surprising that the BBC’s announcement has provoked widespread alarm and anxiety. For the poorest pensioners, it’s another kick in the teeth as they cope with the rising cost of living.

“Lonely and vulnerable people will have tough financial choices to make and may even be forced to give up their TVs.”

The BBC has said that free licences will be means tested under a new scheme that aims to protect programming, claiming that continuing to fund free licences would result in “unprecedented closures.”

In a joint statement released on Monday, the BBC's chairman, Sir David Clementi, and Director General Tony Hall said continuing the Government's scheme would have had a "severe impact" on services and that the new model "represents the fairest possible outcome".

The change in the system means up to 3.7m over-75s in the UK will lose the concession from next year.

Age UK said television was the “main form of company” for more than a million of the country’s oldest people and called for the Government to continue footing the bill.

Their petition states: “We believe this change will harm millions of older people who rely on their TV. 

“Together, we must demand the Government takes back responsibility for funding free TV licences.”

Politicians have weighed into the debate, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeting that pensioners have spent their lives contributing to society, so providing them with free TV licences, “is not too much to ask”.

More than 21,000 have signed a petition on the party’s website, while names on the Parliament petitions site continued to climb last night.

In Wednesday’s PMQ’s, Derek Thomas, Conservative MP for St Ives, asked Theresa May if there was anything she could to “reverse this decision”.

The Prime Minister danced around a direct answer by echoing the sentiments of the Director General of the BBC Tony Hall said at the time of the deal.

She said: “Can I say to my right honourable friend that I believe the BBC got a good deal in 2015, indeed the government decision to put the costs of over-75s on the BBC has been more than matched by the deal coming back for the BBC.

“Those aren’t my words, those were the words of the director general of the BBC after the deal in 2015, and I think taxpayers now expect the BBC to do the right thing.”

That was her last word on the matter before she sat down.

On Tuesday, the Government was accused of “outsourcing austerity” by MPs in the Commons who said the Conservatives were trying to “offset” cuts to public services.

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Senior Conservatives condemned the BBC's plan, with leadership hopeful Andrea Leadsom calling for it to be scrapped.

Hundreds of viewers have cancelled their TV licences in protest, taking to Twitter to slam the BBC.  

Trying to confirm numbers, a spokeswoman from TV  Licensing told The Herald: "TV Licensing publishes figures once a year, around the time of the BBC Annual Report."

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.”