A senior BBC executive told pressure group Silver Voices, which represents older citizens, that the corporation was not sending enforcement letters to non-payers at present. The decision follows the campaign’s call for its supporters to withhold the fee in protest at the scrapping of free TV licences for everyone aged over 75. In an email to Silver Voices BBC director of policy Claire Sumner wrote: “There are no visits taking place in relation to over-75 licences at this time, nor are enforcement letters being issued to this group.”
Her message came in response to a plea from Silver Voices for a six-month amnesty from prosecutions for failing to pay the £157.50 annual fee.
Silver Voices director Dennis Reed said: “Even on the BBC’s own best-case figures, 1.26 million over 75s are still refusing to pay their licence fee.
“It is gratifying that the BBC has recognised that harassing these licence refuseniks would be a public relations disaster during the lockdowns and would have serious consequences for the mental health of some vulnerable people.
“We will continue to argue that this enforcement amnesty is extended until the future of free licences can be sorted out between the Government and the BBC in the coming licence negotiations.”
But the BBC rejected suggestions from Silver Voices that the prosecutions were being paused.
A BBC spokesman said: “We have never visited households that were previously registered as having an over-75s licence so, to suggest we’ve paused something we were never doing in the first place, is clearly incorrect.
“There are no visits taking place in relation to over-75 licences at this time nor are enforcement letters being issued.
“We have made this process as easy and as safe as possible and it is Covid-secure as no one needs to leave home to apply for a licence.”
It also emerged yesterday that Boris Johnson’s move to decriminalise non payment of the TV licence fee has hit a snag.
Ministers are concerned that the move could lead to elderly people being hounded by bailiffs if the BBC attempts to recover unpaid fees through the civil courts.
A Downing Street source told the Daily Express: “This issue is concerning.”
One report yesterday said ministers will wait for a new BBC chairman to be installed before taking a final decision about whether to go ahead with the decriminalisation plan.
Senior Tories went on the offensive against the BBC after last year’s general election triumph with some MP accusing the corporation of bias.
Ministers have condemned the BBC’s decision to limit free TV licences to people aged over 75 who receive the Pension Credit benefit as “wrong.”
BBC bosses are resisting the plan to decriminalise non payment of the licence fee.
New BBC director general Tim Davie recently said: “If you are a law-abiding, paying customer and licence fee payer, what I am trying to do is get you the most value for money.
“The decriminalisation proposal, frankly in my mind, just doesn’t passs the logic test.”
He added: “If you look at civil systems, the fines are higher, the bailiffs arrive at the door.”