Thursday 14 December 2017

Most TV licence offenders out of jail in just hours

Gordon Deegan

ALMOST all of those jailed for not paying TV licence fines last year spent only a few hours in prison.

Last year, 242 people were jailed for not paying fines after failing to pay for their €160 TV licence.

Now, new figures provided by the Prison Service in response to a Freedom of Information request show that 97.5pc of those jailed walked free within hours irrespective of the sentence handed down in court.

The figures show that of the 242 jailed, 236 were jailed for less than one day with six prisoners staying in jail overnight before walking free.

CHARGE

Those who don't pay the TV licence can face fines of up to €1,000 or a term in prison if the fine is not paid.

Yesterday, Fianna Fail spokesman for Justice, Niall Collins, described the jailing of those not paying TV licence fines as "a terrible waste of state time and resources".

The average cost of a prison space in 2012 was €65,404.

The numbers being jailed for non-payment of TV licence has increased dramatically in recent years – the 242 jailed last year compared with 183 jailed in 2011 and represents almost a five-fold increase on the 49 jailed in 2008. A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service said yesterday: "All prisoners committed to custody on a fine sentence are considered on a case by case basis by the Prison Service.

"When making a determination of whether to hold the person in custody a number of factors are taken into account including the nature of the offence, the amount of the fine and the length of the sentence and the prisoner's previous offences.

"While each case is considered individually, it is the case that fine-sentence prisoners generally spend very little time in custody with the majority being released on the same day. On September 4, 2013 there were 11 prisoners in custody on a fine sentence."

The level of non-compliance relating to the non-payment of the €160 TV licences is at 15pc, representing an estimated €28.3m in lost revenues.

An Post has the responsibility for collecting TV licence fees and last year sold over one million licences, gathering €160m in revenue.

The proceeds from the €160 licence and commercial revenues are used to finance the salaries enjoyed by RTE's top stars and staff.

Figures released earlier this year show that 83 staff members at RTE are on pay more than €100,000 with the average pay at the station being €60,000, almost twice the national average.

Last year, the number of prosecutions initiated by An Post against those who failed to pay their TV licence on time was 11,500 – an increase of 10pc on the previous year.

The spokesman said: "On average 50pc of people are paying before the licence expires or within a couple of days expiring, 10.25pc of the sales are by way of Direct Debit instalments, while around 11.5pc of licences purchased use savings stamps to pay."

COMPLIANCE

A spokeswoman for RTE said yesterday: "Legislation and enforcement are matters for the Department of Justice, while collection is a matter for An Post.

"RTE welcomes the current public consultation regarding the Public Service Media Charge, which will include consideration on collection and compliance.

"RTE, as a recipient of funds (along with TG4 and BAI Sound and Vision) would naturally welcome any increase in compliance."

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte plans to introduce a broadcasting charge for all homes – whether they have a TV or not.

Irish Independent

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