SCOTTISH Labour's deputy leader Jackie Baillie has been accused of misleading pensioners by pledging to give free TV licences to the over-75s.

A letter sent by Baillie and distributed to older people around her Dumbarton constituency said: "I am delighted that Scottish Labour has promised to restore free TV licences ... for everyone over 75 if we are elected.

"Your vote can help make this happen. This will add up to 6300 households right here in Dumbarton, the Vale of Leven and Helensburgh and Lomond saving each one £159 a year. This is great news."

But Toni Giugliano, Dumbarton’s SNP candidate, argued her claims were misleading as TV licences come under Westminster control. 

Scottish Labour deputy Jackie Baillie is hoping to retain her seat in Dumbarton

The SNP candidate for Dumbarton Toni Giugliano

The licences – which cost £159 a year – used to be free for over 75s until the benefit was withdrawn by the Conservative government under austerity measures last year. 

Last week, Scottish Labour pledged to mitigate the fee for this age group by using devolved powers. 

The Scottish Government took such an approach to the bedroom tax. As a devolved administration it couldn't scrap the tax but it allowed for an extension of discretionary housing payments (DHPs) to cover tenants who would lose money.

“This is both reprehensible and desperate. Scottish Labour cannot restore free TV licences because it’s reserved to Westminster," said Giugliano.

“Labour are once again making excuses for this Tory-run broken Westminster system that is inflicting these charges rather than tackling the root cause. Voters won't have the wool pulled over their eyes – this is a Tory policy and the longer Labour continues to excuse harmful Tory policies like this the more unpopular they will become.

"The Tory government's decision to stop funding the free TV licence for over 75s has been a disaster for many households who are already struggling to get by as a result of Covid and following a decade of Tory austerity, which has pushed millions of pensioners into poverty across the UK. Around a quarter of a million pensions in Scotland are losing out as a result of these Tory cuts."

He added: "This is the same MSP who lobbied the BBC against the First Minister’s daily briefings in the middle of a pandemic. Dumbarton is desperate for an MSP who puts their interests first – not one who repeatedly makes excuses for the Tories."

Dumbarton is a key battleground between the SNP and Labour at the election on May 6. Baillie has seen her huge majority of 4758 votes in the 1999 election slashed to just 109 in 2016.

Along with East Lothian and Edinburgh Southern, Dumbarton is one of just three first past the post seats currently held by Anas Sarwar's party in the Scottish Parliament.

Baillie today hit back at Giugliano.

She wrote on Twitter: "Surprised you are not aware of the power of the Scottish Parliament to create new benefits. We can create a fund to pay for TV licences for the over 75s or that can be used tor digital connections to keep in touch with loved ones. All about using the powers of the parliament."

Free TV licences for the over 75s were introduced under the last Labour government by then-chancellor Gordon Brown in 1999.

Launching his policy on the issue last week Sarwar said: “Labour would help every person aged 75 and over in Scotland with the cost of their TV licence or help with their broadband bills.

“Pensioner poverty in Scotland is a national scandal, and it’s not fair that hundreds of thousands of older people are facing a new bill for TV licences. The Tories have broken their promise to these Scots, but we can use Holyrood’s powers to protect a benefit Labour is proud to have introduced.

“For many older people, TV is a lifeline against loneliness and isolation."

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: "This is game playing by the SNP of the most pathetic kind. People want a politics focused on solutions that use the powers of the parliament – not the SNP pretending they can do nothing. Scotland deserves better than this."