Successful bidder for collection of TV licence fee will hold five-year concession
Multimillion euro investment in database of premises required to improve collection rate
Minister for Communications Richard Bruton announcing details of a reform of the TV licence fee at the Department of Communications in Dublin on Friday. Photograph: Michelle Devane/PA Wire
The successful bidder for the collection of the TV licence fee will have to make a multimillion euro investment in a State-wide database of premises in order to drive a higher collection rate.
The investment, estimated by industry sources to be at least €2 million, is needed as the current database used for collecting the TV licence has suffered from years of underinvestment. This, sources said, is due to the fact that successive governments have resisted granting a concession to operate the collections for a period longer than a year.
It is hoped that the successful bidder, who will hold a five-year concession, will be able to bring the database – which is more than 30 years old, and is not Eircode compatible – up to industry standard.
It is understood that the database does not allow for modern data analysis techniques. Industry sources also believe that the Government will have to significantly strengthen the legislative basis for enforcement if the winner of the tender process is to achieve higher levels of collection than the 87 per cent achieved by An Post last year.
For example, there is an extremely high burden of proof for a lapsed licence, which requires an inspector to prove that a person is still the occupier of a premises before a summons can be issued. Alleged evaders must be physically delivered a summons as well, with some individuals believed to be adept at evading such attempts.
The successful bidder, if it is not An Post, will also have to take responsibility for the more than 90 staff who currently look after the TV licence fee collection function in An Post. Under Transfer of Undertakings rules, which govern the conditions for workers when a business is being transferred from one employer to another, employees must transfer with their existing terms and conditions as well as their accrued benefits.
The Government announced on Friday a series of reforms to the regime governing the collection of the licence fee. Most immediately, the tender for collection of the licence is set to be publicly advertised for a five-year period. Postmasters have indicated their concerns over the plan.
While the contract is understood to be worth a relatively small amount to An Post on a corporate level, the fees for processing the payments amount to some €3 million annually for postmasters, many of whom operate in remote rural locations and have seen revenues depleted in recent years.
Minister for Communications Richard Bruton also announced reforms to funding for local journalism, which was welcomed by the news publishing industry. However, lobby group NewsBrands Ireland said the Government should appoint a minister for media. It should also encourage a wider debate “that extends beyond the provision of bursaries for local radio journalists and addresses some of the key challenges facing Irish media, including the chilling effect our libel laws have on the media’s role as the public’s watchdog and its ability to reveal matters of important public interest”.