THE Northern Echo’s fight for a fairer deal for ALL those affected by the fire at the Bilsdale transmitter is gathering pace, after it won the backing of a number of political heavyweights across the region.

And the politicians were also joined by the chief executive of Age UK in North Yorkshire and Darlington, further increasing pressure on the BBC.

The Northern Echo:

Last week the BBC bowed to pressure for the Northern Echo after initially refusing to make special arrangements to refund anyone affected when screens went blank for around one million people.

But the corporation only agreed to pay licence fees back to those who were without signal for at least a month.

This week the Echo went back to the BBC to ask for payments for everyone affected but a spokesperson insisted: “Our position on this is the same as last week.”

It contrasts sharply with the situation in Wales at the moment where there’s a Sky broadband outage, and the regulator Ofcom’s rule is that if the service is not fixed after two working days, customers should receive automatic compensation.

Last week we carried interviews with a number of elderly people who, despite losing their lifeline service, were out of pocket.

The Northern Echo:

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen is among those supporting the Echo and said that payments should go out to every household affected.

He said: "Although it is great to see the BBC recognise the impact of the Bilsdale mast fire by offering to give out some refunds, there are thousands of people across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool who have been affected by this and won't get a penny under their policy.

"The people hardest hit by the fire are those who rely on TV and radio to know what is happening in their communities and they have felt cut off from the world by going and days or even weeks without signal.

"Their services may have been restored now, but the BBC should still offer a small token gesture that won't cause them a great deal of strain but will mean the world to those who have been without their TV and radio. You wouldn't expect to pay a phone or broadband bill if you had been cut off for weeks so why should this be any different?

"I applaud the work The Northern Echo has done to highlight this issue and fight for the people of Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool. I back their campaign and I strongly urge the BBC to do the right thing and extend their refund policy."

He was joined by Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald, who threw his weight behind the fight,  explaining that “television has been a lifeline for many” throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: “I fully support the Northern Echo’s campaign. The consequences of the fire at Bilsdale mast are still being felt by many people across the region.  

The Northern Echo:

“Television has been a lifeline for many throughout the past 18 months, particularly for those who are vulnerable and shielding. It seems only fair that those still without television reception receive a TV licence rebate.” 

Helen Hunter, CEO of Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington said: “The loss of TV reception has caused much anxiety and confusion amongst older people in our area. 

“We have received increased calls to our helpline asking for information on what can be done to get TVs working again. 

“Older people, who tend to spend more time in their homes, use TV as a window to the world, as company and it can often give routine to their day. 

“Many older people do not have access to broad band so can’t access the online streaming services that many younger people are using as an alternative. 

“Older people are feeling more isolated and lonely without their TVs, which is made even harder coming after Covid shielding, lockdowns, etc. 

“Age UK National campaigned vigorously to save the free TV licence for over 75’s but the grace period for pensioners ended in July. 

“This feels even harsher when the TV isn’t available and we are delighted that the BBC are now considering a refund process. 

“We hope this process will be straightforward and easily accessible but as ever our Information and Advice team will be available to support anyone that needs help with this. 

 “We wholeheartedly support Northern Echo’s campaign to get full refunds.”

The Northern Echo:

MP for Stockton South, Alex Cunningham, suggested some of the responsibility to refund those affected should fall on site operators Arqiva.

Mr Cunningham said: “Most constituents who have been in touch with my office about this issue want to see full services resumed promptly.

“The onus is on Arqiva as the service operator to resolve this and, while the BBC’s announcement is welcome, it is Arqiva who are responsible for the maintenance of the mast and the company should not be let off the hook. Perhaps they should meet the costs of the refund as goodwill gesture.

"This issue is causing frustration for many people. For many older people who rely on the TV and radio for companionship, the lack of services is having a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.

“I hope Arqiva and the landowner are engaging constructively to ensure this issue is resolved as soon as possible.”

Jacob Young, Conservative MP for Redcar, said: “As a result of the ongoing transmission problems that have followed the fire at the Bilsdale TV mast on 10 August, I think it is right and proper that those most affected have been offered refunds on their TV Licence - and I want to thank the Northern Echo for their campaign on this.

"Thanks to them, customers who have been unable to receive TV coverage for over a month, and who are unable to view BBC programming through BBC iPlayer and on cable and satellite platforms, will be eligible for a refund or be offered a free extension to their TV Licence.

"I would like to praise the work that is underway to reinstate full coverage including the establishment of a temporary mast and the use of Eston's transmitter to restore coverage. Hopefully the situation will be fully resolved in the near future.”

Speaking with Lydia Jordan, daughter of Harry Jordan, one of the case studies we used during our original campaign, she declared her support for The Northern Echo's campaign.

She said: "I back the campaign 100 per cent, its absolutely shocking that BBC think its appropriate only to compensate only those affected for a month.

"Everyone regardless of how long affected should be compensate without a doubt."

Donna Watkins, granddaughter to Marjorie Watkins -another case study- said: "I feel that this is not enough.

"I believe everyone effected should be compensated. The BBC need to do more. They have not provided the service to which we all pay for.

"Not to mention still no actual date of when the work on this mast will be completed."

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