Saturday 24 March 2018

Revealed: TV licence fee 'enforcers' to collect unpaid €40m for RTÉ

Clampdown on non-payers, but minister has already ruled out doubling of cost

RTÉ’s director general Dee Forbes
RTÉ’s director general Dee Forbes

Kevin Doyle and Jennifer O'Brien

Television licence 'enforcers' are to be recruited in a bid to recoup the €40m in unpaid fees every year, the Irish Independent has learned.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten is working on legislation which will allow him to take responsibility for TV licence inspections away from An Post.

Dee Forbes, Director General of RTE. Photo: David Conachy
Dee Forbes, Director General of RTE. Photo: David Conachy

If approved by Cabinet in the comings weeks, his department will be able to use a public tender to find a 'TV licence agent'.

However, there is no proposal to tack licence fees to electricity bills, a method that RTÉ director general Dee Forbes said had been a "huge success" abroad.

Mr Naughten is understood to have already told RTÉ that there will be no hike to the €160 charge in the immediate future.

A spokesperson said last night that there was "no chance" that the fee would be doubled. Ms Forbes later backtracked on this idea, saying such a rise was "not practical".

Almost 14pc of households don’t pay their licence fee, but there are just 46 inspectors for the entire country. (Stock picture)
Almost 14pc of households don’t pay their licence fee, but there are just 46 inspectors for the entire country. (Stock picture)

She told the Irish Independent: "What I was saying was that the licence fee here in Ireland is incredible value at 40 cent a day.

"The breadth of value and programming of everything that goes out from RTÉ every day for 40 cent a day is incredible.

"If it was doubled, would it be good value? Of course it would! But I'm not for one minute calling for a doubling of a licence fee, because it's not practical."

The Department of Communications favours a large-scale clampdown on evasion rather than any price increase.

Almost 14pc of households don't pay their licence fee, but there are just 46 inspectors for the entire country.

Sources said the evasion rate was "very high" by European standards and costs about €40m a year to public service broadcasting.

Ms Forbes cited the model in Italy where the licence fee was added to electricity bills, which she said was a "huge success".

However, this proposal is not being considered.

She also stressed that the responsibility for collecting the licence fees doesn't lie with RTÉ. That responsibility falls to An Post and the Government.

"We have €40m-€50m being lost every year and that's money that's not coming to us and not to the creative sector here in Ireland and that's a great shame," said Ms Forbes.

"What I'm saying we need to do is concentrate on reforming the licence fee collection.

Read more: 'It's not practical' - RTE's new director general moves to distance herself from 'double licence fee' comments

"The licence fee is collected by An Post on behalf of the department and it's up to the department to decide how they want that done.

"Certainly, the minister has outlined that he would like to tender the contract later this year around the collection and that is something he has indicated and that's something we are very grateful will be happening later in the year."

In a bid to collect more money, Mr Naughten will ask Cabinet colleagues to back the Broadcasting Amendment Bill 2017 within the next fortnight.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil is already working on a proposal that will see any increases going to local media rather than the national broadcaster.

The party's communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said his party would require "a lot more detail from RTÉ executive to justify a price rise".

Fianna Fáil favours the introduction of a broadcasting charge that would see every household contribute to public service broadcasting.

Sports Minister Patrick O'Donovan, who was critical of RTÉ in his previous role on the Oireachtas Communications Committee, told the Irish Independent the call for a price hike was "opportune".

Irish Independent

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