THOUSANDS of pensioner households in Barrow will soon be receiving a letter that ends their automatic right to a free TV licence.

Charities and campaigners have said the change will be devastating for many older people, especially as a second wave of Covid-19 could make access to television a “lifeline”.

A House of Commons Library analysis reveals 3,850 households with someone aged 75 or over in Barrow will cease to qualify for a free licence under the new means-tested scheme.

The new rules came into force on August 1 and mean only households with someone in the age bracket who receives Pension Credit will be eligible.

Previously, anyone aged 75 or over was exempt from the charge, which stands at £157.50 per year.

Around 3.2 million households across Great Britain could lose out on the benefit, according to the findings.

The BBC was given responsibility for funding free TV licences as part of a deal with the Government in 2015.

But the corporation says it would cost £745 million a year to foot the bill, which it could afford only by shutting down numerous channels and radio stations.

Jan Shortt, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said she would not stop campaigning to have the decision overturned.

She added: “This is devastating for all those people who will now have to find the extra money. We’re particularly concerned about those who are only just over the Pension Credit limit.

“They’re the ones who are already making difficult decisions about how they spend their money.

“For those people their TV is a lifeline, particularly when we might have a second wave of the coronavirus.”

She added: “We will continue to argue with the Government – it’s their responsibility.”

Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said it was “deplorable” that any older person should have to choose between cutting spending on essentials, giving up TV altogether, or watching without a licence and breaking the law.

She said she hoped the BBC and the Government could find a way to “keep TV free for the oldest in our society”.

Across the North West, an estimated 348,830 pensioner households will need to buy a licence.

The analysis compared figures on households with someone aged 75 or over receiving Winter Fuel Payments – a universal benefit – with Pension Credit claims in November last year in which the main claimant was in the age group.

The BBC said it is sending letters to people asking them to confirm their eligibility to continue to receive a free licence, or to pay from August 1.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “It was the Government who decided to stop funding free TV licence fees for the over-75s. The BBC isn't making any judgements about who is or isn’t poor, as the Government sets the criteria for Pension Credit eligibility.

“Our focus is now on making the transition as safe and easy as possible for all older people.

“No one needs to do anything until they have received a letter from TV Licensing – whether that’s paying or applying for a free licence – and no one needs to leave their home.”

She added that 800 call centre staff were working to support customers.

A Department for Culture Media and Sport spokeswoman said: "The BBC agreed to take responsibility for the over-75 concession in 2015 in return for a substantial boost to its income.

“It decided to restrict the concession to only those in receipt of Pension Credit, and must now look urgently at supporting those affected and using its substantial £4 billion licence fee income to deliver for audiences of all ages, including by making efficiencies."

Commenting on the impact the move has had on residents in the area, Hannah Kitching, Client Services Manager at Age UK South Lakeland, said: "Television is the main form of company for many older people within South Lakeland. It is a constant companion and often central to the lives of those who, for various reasons, do not have much human contact, especially during this period of increased isolation caused by the Lockdown.

"We are therefore bitterly disappointed that, despite widespread petitioning, it has been announced the free TV licence for over 75s is being removed.

"With nearly a third of over 75s living in poverty or just above the poverty line, paying an extra hefty bill would simply be impossible for them when they’re barely scraping by as it is.

"We are urging those who are worried about paying for their TV licence to check their entitlement to Pension Credit, or indeed any other allowances, to ensure they are not missing out on financial support available which would prevent unnecessary, and often unsafe sacrifices being made.”

The Barrow branch of Age UK was contacted for comment but had not responded at the time of publication.