Friday 23 March 2018

Broadcast charge to be less than TV licence 'if more people pay up'

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Pat Rabbitte has said the new broadcasting charge could end up being less than the current €160 TV licence.

He has received a value-for-money report that outlines how to implement the new broadcasting charge, which will apply to every household regardless of whether they have a television or not.

Mr Rabbitte has raised the prospect of people paying less than the €160 TV licence fee – if the new broadcasting charge does away with the current 16pc evasion rate.

His spokesman said his position was that better collection of the new charge would bring in more revenue for public service broadcasting.

"If it achieves a level of increased revenue through an increased level of payments, there might be scope for a reduction in the fee," he said.

Mr Rabbitte has estimated licence-fee evasion is currently costing around €30m a year in lost revenue. Many households are now watching RTE and TG4 programmes on their tablet computers and smartphones – but around 99pc of households still have a TV.

Legislation will be required for the new broadcasting charge, which is expected to be introduced late next year.

One of the Government's ways of ensuring that every eligible family in the country pays the charge will be to get their details from the new property tax database.

There is going to be an increased focus on inspections in the meantime, because overall income from TV licences dropped from €222m in 2010 to €215m last year. An Post has signed an agreement with its TV licence inspectors to work more hours late and at weekends – with the aim of catching people outside working hours.

The new broadcasting charge will apply to around 1.2 million households – because Mr Rabbitte has confirmed that the 409,000 people getting free TV licences will also be entitled to an exemption from the broadcasting charge.

Around three-quarters of this group – 326,000 people – are pensioners, while there are also around 30,000 carers and 39,000 people on disability allowance getting free TV licences. The Department of Social Protection is paying almost €58m per year to cover the cost of this.

RTE gets the largest chunk of the licence fee, at around €180m a year. TG4 also gets funding and 7pc of the licence fee goes towards independent broadcast productions.

But RTE's latest annual report shows it had a deficit of €65m last year – mainly due to the cost of financing a redundancy package for 270 employees. It also has a deficit of €55.4m in its staff pension scheme.

Mr Rabbitte has ruled out any increase in the TV licence to provide extra revenue for the station – and has directed RTE to break even this year.

Irish Independent

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