Plan to use Sky, UPC data to collect licence to be rejected

Coalition set to refuse proposal which would have given An Post access to TV firm records

A proposal to use the customer databases of cable and satellite providers Sky and UPC to track down television licence fee evaders has been rejected.

A proposal to use the customer databases of cable and satellite providers Sky and UPC to track down television licence fee evaders has been rejected.

 

The Government is set to reject a proposal to use the customer databases of cable and satellite providers Sky and UPC to track down television licence fee evaders in a move that would have boosted RTÉ’s revenue from the licensing system.

Sources said the proposal to allow An Post, which is responsible for administering the licence fee, to have access to Sky and UPC records has fallen out of favour at senior levels of Government.

Earlier this year, Minister for Communications Alex White announced he intended to draft legislation allowing for such a measure to allow for improved collection of the licence fee. He said the legislation would help tackle evasion of the €160 fee, which costs €25 million a year in lost revenue. Evasion is estimated to exceed 15 per cent of households with television sets. It is also estimated about 73 per cent of people have a subscription service such as Sky or UPC.

Cost savings

Earlier this year, Government sources let it be known the move depended on RTÉ finding further cost savings. The warnings were given at a time of tension between the Government and the broadcaster, mostly over the coverage of the water charges protests.

Sources also said chasing people for unpaid licence fees would not be wise so close to a general election.

While Mr White’s spokesman last night said the Minister still intended to bring proposals to Cabinet in the coming weeks, other sources said an informal decision not to proceed had been made in recent weeks.

Vetoed

One source said the legislation had been “vetoed” by Fine Gael a number of weeks ago, effectively meaning it would be shelved for the moment.

When the proposals were announced, UPC and Sky indicated they took their responsibilities to protect their customers’ information very seriously but indicated they would comply with legal obligations.

A spokeswoman for the Data Protection Commissioner said legislation “to require private companies to hand over subscriber data to An Post for the purposes of enforcing the TV licence fee would have to be examined in detail”.

“In enacting such legislation, the Oireachtas would need to conduct a careful balancing test to ensure the right to data protection in this case must cede – in a proportionate way – to the legitimate interests of the State and the public interest in ensuring the TV licence is paid for by each user.

Meanwhile, Renua Ireland has called for the abolition of the TV licence fee and the movement of RTÉ to a model funded directly by commercial revenue. Lucinda Creighton’s party argued the current €54 million fund for public- service broadcasting should be retained but access to it should be on a competitive basis between broadcasters.