BBC bosses have been urged to be “brave” and tell the Government to take back responsibility for giving the over-75s free television licences.

The Government-funded scheme which provides free TV licences to the elderly ends in June 2020.

The BBC has to decide whether to continue the benefit but has said that shouldering the cost would “fundamentally change” the broadcaster.

Prime Minister Theresa May last week pressed the BBC to fund the scheme, amid calls for the Government to retake responsibility.

BBC chairman Sir David Clementi BBC chairman Sir David Clementi (Jeff Overs/BBC)

Now charity Age UK, campaigning organisation the National Pensioners Convention and the National Union of Journalists have written a joint letter to Sir David Clementi, chair of the BBC board, on the issue.

They said the BBC must tell the Government to take back responsibility for the benefit, which is expected to cost £1 billion a year in a decade’s time.

The letter says that a third of over-75s are living in poverty or just above the poverty line and that the TV is “vital companionship and entertainment”.

It states: “The public never voted to make the BBC the arbiter of welfare benefits.

Theresa May said the BBC should shoulder the cost Theresa May said the BBC should shoulder the cost (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“It is not our public service broadcaster’s function to decide whether one pensioner receives a free licence, and another does not…

“It is government who should make such policy decisions and it is government who must fund this vital social policy.”

The corporation is taking over the cost from the Government as part of its charter renewal negotiations.

The letter states: “The BBC leadership must be brave.

“It needs to forget about making the best out of implementing the deal done in 2015.

“It must say that ending free licences for the over-75s is wrong-headed and divisive, acknowledge that funding this welfare benefit would trigger an end to our public service broadcaster as we know it, and say it must now be down to government to take back responsibility for this benefit.”

The BBC launched a consultation on the issue, which has now closed.

A BBC spokesman said: “The views of these groups are well known and, as we’ve said before, free TV licences for people over 75 are expected to cost £745 million a year by 2021/22, and Government funding for the scheme ends in June 2020.

“We set out a range of options in our consultation – each with merits and consequences, and implications for the future of the BBC and for everyone, including older people.

“We invited a range of views to help the BBC make the best and fairest decision and the consultation is now closed.

“We will carefully consider all the responses and the BBC expects to make a decision by June this year.”