BBC warning over free TV licences
The BBC Trust has warned the Government it would fight any move to force it to meet the cost of free television licences for the over-75s.
Switching the £550 million-plus burden from the Department for Work and Pensions onto the Corporation is believed to be under investigation as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly said he still hopes to meet a general election promise to protect pensioners' benefits despite the squeeze.
BBC2's Newsnight said the proposal was for the bill - which is rising rapidly as the population ages - to be transferred from the time of the next licence fee settlement, due in 2012.
Increases in the licence fee were unlikely to cover the cost, it said, which were the equivalent of a 26% real-terms cut in the BBC's present budget.
Chancellor George Osborne will reveal where the axe will fall on Wednesday when he sets out the results of his review to MPs.
A BBC Trust spokesman said: "Anything at this stage is speculation as we have yet to see the detail of the Comprehensive Spending Review.
"That said it would be unacceptable for licence fee payers to pick up the bill for what is a DWP universal benefit."
A DWP spokesman said: "This is pure speculation, we need to wait for the comprehensive spending review due this week."
Support for the Government's deficit-reduction strategy was boosted yesterday by a letter to the Daily Telegraph signed by 35 corporate bosses backing his bid to eliminate the £109 billion structural deficit in four years.