THE UK Government has signalled that the delay to scrapping free TV licences for the over-75s should be pushed back further beyond August in light of the coronavirus pandemic, a Scottish peer has suggested.

Lord Foulkes told The Herald that in a parliamentary written answer a minister had hinted at a further extension and that this, given the circumstances facing the nation, must happen and be formally announced soon to reassure people during a deeply worrying period that could last for several months.

“The delay has to be extended,” declared the Labour peer. “People are at home and watching TV to get important information. It is a lifeline for older people.”

He insisted any further delay should at the very least be extended to the end of the year; the former Scotland Office Minister believes the whole policy should be scrapped and free licences retained for 3.7 million older pensioners.

Lord Foulkes asked the Government, in light of people being confined to their homes during the coronavirus outbreak, what plans it had to postpone further the scrapping of free TV licences for the over-75s.

Baroness Barran, the Minister for Civil Society and Loneliness at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, pointed out how the Government and the BBC, which now has responsibility for the concession, had agreed - recognising the “exceptional circumstances” the country faced - that the scrapping of free TV licences for the over-75s due to come in on June 1 should be pushed back to August 1. The Corporation has agreed to cover the cost of the two-month delay.

However, she stressed: “The BBC’s priority over the coming period will be to do everything it can to serve the nation at this uniquely challenging time.

“As the national broadcaster, the BBC has a vital role to play in supplying information to the public in the weeks and months ahead.”

Baroness Barran pointed out that the corporation would “keep the issue under review as the situation continues to evolve”.

Lord Foulkes said this was a “signal” from Government that the August 1 timescale should be pushed back further. “It should make an announcement soon and let the BBC get on with what it is supposed to be doing.”

He pointed out how pensioners were continuing to receive letters referring to the June 1 date and added: “The policy is in total disarray.”

Free TV licences for the over-75s have been provided by the Government since 2000 but responsibility for the provision passed to the BBC as part of its last licence fee settlement.

Last year, the Corporation caused controversy when it announced from this June only low-income households where one person received the pension credit benefit would still be eligible for a free licence. It said maintaining the free licence policy would have cost it £745 million, a fifth of the BBC's budget, by 2021/22. In contrast, the new policy would cost around £250m depending on the take-up.