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RTE gets €55m a year from welfare budget for licence

THE Government is giving RTE over €55m a year to pay for television licences for people on benefits.

The money from the social welfare budget makes up a quarter of RTE's annual licence fee revenue of about €200m.

The cost to the State of paying the TV licence fee of €160 has risen from just over €20m a decade ago to €55.7m last year, according to new figures seen by the Sunday Independent.

Most of the money is paid under the Household Benefits Package to people aged over 70, and to others, including those who are disabled or blind, as well as to individuals who are in receipt of carer's allowance.

As well as the €55m which now goes into the coffers of Montrose, the Government could save massive administrative costs if, in the forthcoming budget, they simply abolished the need for pensioners and other individuals in receipt of disability allowance and carer's allowance to have a TV licence.

RTE still has 2,000 staff and its new Director General to replace Cathal Goan is expected to be offered a seven-year contract worth €330,00 a year.

The station's 10 top earners, headed up by Pat Kenny, last year earned €5.4m.

RTE's competitors have complained bitterly that the station benefits from the licence fee while at the same time earns money from advertising and other commercial activities.

RTE expects to make a small surplus in 2010 after recording a loss after tax of €16.5m last year.

But if the station was not getting €55m from the social welfare pot the station would be facing a €55m loss this year

As well as a free TV licence, the Household Benefits Package includes free electricity up to 2,400 units a year orallowances on bottled or natural gas bills. Recipients also get their mobile or landline telephone bills paid.

Under the landline or mobile phone allowance, social welfare pays €26 a month off recipients' bills.

The most expensive element in the package was the electricity allowance, which cost €165m, followed by the telephone allowance of €120m. The figures also reveal that free travel scheme introduced by Charles Haughey cost the State €626m last year.

Last week, Social Protection Minster Eamon O Cuiv said no decisions had been made about his department's budget for 2011, but he added that lobby groups had to be realistic.

"I am determined, however, to ensure that the interests of people who have to rely on the back-up supports of social welfare will continue to be heard at the cabinet table," he said.

Sunday Independent