Pensioners taking part in a protest outside Northern Ireland’s BBC headquarters have criticised the decision to axe the free TV licence for over-75s as “cheap and shabby”.
About 60 people gathered outside Broadcasting House in Belfast, where they held banners and placards demanding the corporation and government reverse its plans.
There was also a protest at BBC Radio Foyle’s headquarters.
Currently, all over-75s receive a free TV licence but from June next year only those households with a member who receives pension credit will be eligible.
The plans will impact around 3.7 million households across the UK.
Pensioners who are not eligible for a free licence will have to pay £154.50 a year for a colour television and £52 a year for a black and white television.
Eric Harvey, from Finaghy, hit out at the BBC for charging pensioners “to look at the television”.
The 90-year-old took part in Tuesday’s event organised by the National Pensioners Convention (NPC).
“The BBC should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.
“This is an abuse and I am dismayed at the government for agreeing to it.
“It’s a disgraceful way to treat the elderly and impose these extra charges. It’s cheap and shabby, and it doesn’t reflect well on the BBC. The government should not have allowed this to happen.”
Hugh Rafferty, 81, from Dunmurry, accused both the corporation and the government of having no compassion.
He said: “They are taking the TV away from the elderly and those that are confined to their home will be left worse off. They won’t know what’s going on in the world if they can’t watch TV.
“I want the BBC and the government to have some compassion for the people who have worked hard for many years and what are they getting in return? A slap in the face.
“It’s the wrong thing to do. People will have to make a decision whether to eat or heat because they have to now pay for a TV or else stare at the four walls.”
Peggy Hughes, from Lambeg in Co Antrim, said pensioners’ lives will be left dull.
The 79-year-old added: “I am here today because I can. Not everyone is able to come out and protest, the elderly can be confined to their homes and what happens to them if they take the television away from them?”
John Martin, regional secretary of the NPC’s Northern Ireland branch, said: “It’s not for the BBC to means-test the citizens of this country, it’s a dubious act and where is it going to end?”
However, the decision to scrap the free licences was welcomed in some quarters.
Campaign group the Taxpayers’ Alliance was widely quoted as saying when the news broke that the BBC should have “subscription fees replace part or all of the licence fee, so that only those who actually use the service pay for it”.
It added that the poorest pensioners still will be exempt from the fee, and “means testing will mean that those wealthy enough to cover the costs themselves can now do so”.