NEARLY 5,000 Inverclyde senior citizens could be affected by controversial plans to switch off free TV licences for over-75s.

The BBC is consulting on the future of the scheme, which is due to come to an end in June next year.

It is currently funded by the UK Government but the corporation will have to foot the bill if it chooses to carry on with the concession - something which bosses say would be too expensive.

The policy was introduced by Labour in 2000 and will have cost a total of £745m by 2021/22.

According to the House of Commons Library, an estimated 4,870 Inverclyde households currently benefit from it.

Martin McCluskey, Labour's general election candidate for the area, has accused the current Conservative government of breaking a key election manifesto promise to continue the concession, but officials from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) say they have told the BBC to maintain it.

Mr McCluskey said: "The Tory government knew what it was doing when it forced the cost of paying for free licences for over-75s out to the BBC.

"The government needs come clean and to tell us urgently what they are going to do to ensure free TV licences aren't cut and they don't break their manifesto promise. "If they do nothing, responsibility for older people losing their TV licences will rest firmly at their feet."

The corporation says maintaining the benefit would cost around a fifth of its budget - the equivalent to what it spends on BBC Two, Three, Four, its News Channel, CBBC and CBeebies.

Cutting it altogether is one of the options being considered, as well as increasing the age of eligibility from 75.

Officials could also opt to introduce a discount scheme or making the fee 'means-tested', so that those in greater financial need would not have to pay while those who can afford it would.

If the age threshold is raised to 80, for example, Mr McCluskey says 1,980 local pensioners would lose their licence while 3,120 would miss out if it becomes means-tested.

He said: "It will be a terrible blow to older people who already struggle to make ends meet and particularly to those who are housebound or isolated and rely on their TV for company."

Mr McCluskey has now launched an online petition for Inverclyde residents to have their say and will submit the feedback to the BBC.

A DCMS spokesperson said: "The BBC has confirmed no decisions will be made until the public have been consulted. "We have been clear that we expect them to continue this important concession."

The consultation ends on February 12 and comments can be submitted online at or by calling 0800 232 1382 to request a free postal questionnaire.

To sign Mr McCluskey's petition, visit