FATHER Christmas has been warned by Government scrooges to get a TV licence for his seasonal grotto – or face a hefty fine.
Christmas markets, festive ice rinks, and typical shopping centre grottos who relay festive TV programmes and the latest music videos are on a list of potential licence evaders, the Herald has learned.
Department of Communications chiefs are anxious that cash-starved Government coffers get an end-of-year boost by rigidly applying the TV licence rules.
All sorts of ad hoc Christmas businesses will be required to pay up if they use TV programmes in a bid to lure customers.
The licence fee currently costs €160.
Fines for an unlicensed television set can be up to €1,000 for a first offence or a term in prison if the fine is not paid.
Last year, 242 people were jailed because they refused to pay fines for not having a TV licence.
In 236 cases the time spent in prison was less than a day – but six people were kept in custody overnight.
The ease with which wireless smart TVs and portable tablets can relay services such as the RTE Player makes it simple for temporary business owners to use this material as free entertainment.
The authorities have warned all outlets relaying television programmes in this way that they must meet the official licensing requirements, that exist for the rest of the year.
"We realise it's quite a controversial issue, but if the business has a TV the rule is that it must have a licence," a department spokesman said.
"I have sympathy for those who may be open for only four or six weeks at Christmas, but the law is quite clear.''
In the UK, temporary businesses needing a TV licence over the Christmas period can claim a £100 (€119) refund in the New Year, providing it was required only on a temporary basis.
However a Department spokesman confirmed that "no rebate or similar system exists in Ireland."
"The current regulations provide only for an annual licence and do not allow for the issuing of licences of a shorter duration."
An Post is responsible for collecting TV licence fees – last year it sold over one million licenses, generating over €160m in revenue.