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

According to data from the House of Commons Library, 20,560 households with someone aged 75 or over in Cheshire West – including Northwich and Winsford – will cease to qualify for a free licence under the new means-tested scheme.

Meanwhile in Cheshire East – including Knutsford, Wilmslow and Middlewich – a further 25,120 households will cease to qualify for a free licence, which is worth £157.50.

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.

Jan Shortt, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said: “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.

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

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.

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'.

A BBC spokesman 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.”

A Department for Culture Media and Sport spokesman added: "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."