A clear picture: the truth and myths about the TV licence
What do new viewing habits mean when it comes to TV licences? There are a lot of myths surrounding the licence and the collection of fees
If you have a television, you must have a television licence – even if you don’t actually watch what is termed ‘television’ on it. Photograph: Thinkstock
Irish people will spend more time in front of their televisions this month than at any other as that heady mix of dire weather and festivities will see the nation almost entirely housebound with nothing to do but watch Christmas specials and year-in-review programmes or fight with relatives.
While the Christmas schedules are as predictable as ever, how rather than what we watch has changed substantially. Not long ago Friday nights meant either The Late Late Show, Jonathan Ross or a DVD but today – with players, downloads and streaming – the choices are endless.
But what does this change in our viewing habits mean when it comes to television licences? If we’re not watching the State broadcaster do we really have to pay for it? And how much does it cost to collect that licence fee anyway?
According to a report published in the UK this year, about 400,000 people do not need a TV licence because they are watching television programmes exclusively on catch-up services such as BBC’s iPlayer and Channel 4’s 4OD. And if they only watched DVDs on their television or used it for their Xbox they would also find themselves outside of the licence net.
However, before you get excited that this might apply to you, it doesn’t. Not even remotely. According to An Post, which is charged with collecting the fee, if you have a television, you must have a television licence – even if you don’t actually watch what is termed “television” on it. So it doesn’t matter whether you sit down every day to watch the Six O’Clock News or only watch DVDs or Netflix or pre-recorded material on it – you must have a licence.
But if you forgo your television, and instead opt to get your entertainment fix on a laptop or desktop computer, or even your iPad, using any of the aforementioned methods then you may find yourself complying with the law if you don’t have a licence. At least for now. However Pat Rabbitte, as the Minister for Communications, is hell-bent on making everyone pay.
So, how much does An Post pay to make us pay? In 2012, RTÉ received €180.9 million in television licence revenue but more than €220 million was actually collected that year. So where did the rest go?
Well, with a typical licence costing €160, €127.13 goes to RTÉ; €23.08 goes to a broadcasting fund and TG4, and €9.79 of each and every licence goes to An Post to cover the costs of collecting the fee.
Refuses to disclose
While An Post disclosed that it sold some 1,412,000 licences last year (down from 1,426,000 in 2011), some of this comes from free licences granted by the Department of Social Protection, so it’s hard to get an exact take on it as it refuses to disclose either how much it earns from the collection of licences – or how much it spends collecting the funds – as this is “commercially-sensitive information”.
However, a figure of about €12 million has been put on An Post’s collection costs by the Department of Communications, which is a hefty chunk of money to spend on just collecting a tax. This money goes on paying inspectors to call to properties, advertising on television and radio, and bringing people to court. In 2012, some 11,500 people were taken to court, while 272 of those ended up in jail.