Tuesday 28 April 2015

New TV fee delayed to avoid water bill clash

Published 06/08/2014 | 02:30

Alex White. Photo: Collins
Alex White. Photo: Collins

Homeowners are to be given a reprieve in the new year as the Government is to delay the introduction of the household broadcasting charge, the Irish Independent can reveal.

To avoid a clash with the arrival of the first water bills at the same time, the charge will not be introduced in January 2015.

"Yes, there is a political consideration to when the charge will come in," said one senior government source.

The controversial charge is to replace the TV licence, which one in five people fail to pay. The charge, which will not initially exceed the €160 licence fee, will hit all households, irrespective of whether there is a TV present or not.

This is because more and more people are watching TV through their laptops, tablet computers or on mobile phones.

It has also emerged that the Revenue Commissioners are being considered as potential collection agents for the new charge when it is finally introduced, given their success in collecting the Property Tax.

Former communications minister Pat Rabbitte, who originally announced the charge, said: "Revenue is a possibility in terms of collection. The efficacy of collection was central to consideration, no doubt about it."

Acknowledging the timing issues over the introduction of the charge, Mr Rabbitte said: "The last thing the citizenry of Ireland want is another charge. And you are wasting your breathe to try to explain this is not a new charge, and it would not exceed the charge of the TV licence. It hasn't prevented the usual outcry."

New Communications Minister Alex White has confirmed the charge will not come into effect as planned on January 1.

"The Public Service Broadcasting Charge will be considered by Mr White over the summer months, and it is unlikely that a final decision on the charge will be completed in time for introduction in January 2015. Short-term measures, such as the proposed legislation on TV licence evaders, are being introduced in the interim," a department spokeswoman said.

Both the generality and specifics of a Public Service Broadcasting Charge were now a matter for Mr White's consideration, she said.

The new universal charge will be collected in a way that tackles the very high evasion rates of the TV licence fee.

Nobody will be able to refuse to pay the charge because it will apply regardless of whether you have a television, computer or any other device that can pick up public information.

Nearly one in five households does not pay the TV licence fee and this is costing the Government €30m a year in lost revenue.

The change has huge implications for the funding of RTE.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, TV3 chief executive David McRedmond said the broadcasting charge made sense if it was a more efficient way of collecting the licence fee. What was essential for TV3 in the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland proposal was a rebalancing whereby RTE should get more money from the charge, but also lose its share of the commercial advertising marking, he said.

Mr McRedmond said RTE had been allowed to abuse its licence fee revenue to unfairly subsidise its loss-making television sector.

RTE said that in spite of the significant drop in commercial income, it has to date protected all services and endeavoured to meet the evolving needs of audiences by making its content available on digital platforms. Last year, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland decided there should be no immediate increase in licence fee funding. However, an increase in public funding will be required for RTE over the next five-year period to ensure further investment in programme output.

Irish Independent

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