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Recent studies have suggested that a substantial minority of older people—up to 15 percent—report that they often feel lonely. The proportion of older people regularly experiencing loneliness has remained relatively constant over recent years, but the total number is projected to increase as the population ages unless action is taken to tackle loneliness. Loneliness is increasingly seen as a public policy issue, with the Government publishing its first strategy to address this issue in October 2018.

Currently, people over state pension age in England are entitled to apply for a free bus pass and people over the age of 75 in the UK are entitled to apply for a free TV licence. Age UK, a charity that represents older people, argues that both these entitlements are important in helping tackle loneliness among this age group. In 2018, the Government introduced secondary legislation which it said would ensure that older people could continue to benefit from free off-peak bus travel “for the foreseeable future”. However, the Local Government Association and the House of Commons Transport Committee have argued that local authorities do not receive enough funding from central government to support the concessionary bus travel scheme. The Government fully funded free TV licences for the over-75s until 2017/18. However, as part of a wider funding deal agreed with the BBC in 2015, the Government is now only partially reimbursing the BBC for the cost of providing free licences. Responsibility for age-related licence fee concessions will pass to the BBC from June 2020. The BBC is considering whether to retain, abolish or reform the current system of free TV licences for the over-75s and is expected to announce its decision this month.

This briefing examines the provision of free bus passes and TV licences for older people, the costs and benefits of doing so, and recent proposals for reform. It concludes with suggestions for further reading on the broader subject of public service provision for the elderly, including the question of funding social care.

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