'Enforcers' set to be hired to collect unpaid TV Licence fees

Naughten believes the priority should be forcing licence-fee dodgers to pay up
Naughten believes the priority should be forcing licence-fee dodgers to pay up

A major clampdown on TV licence evasion is set to get under way with the hiring of 'enforcers' who will be incentivised to collect the €40m in outstanding fees.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten will today seek Cabinet approval to recruit a commercial company to chase householders who don't pay the €160 charge.

RTÉ, which is the main benefactor of the fee, wants an increase to the charge but Mr Naughten believes the priority should be forcing licence-fee dodgers to pay up.

He will also brief colleagues on potential changes to the definition of a 'television set' as part of plans to take account of devices such as iPads.

The Irish Independent previously revealed that the Department of Communications is looking at extending the licence fee to households that use laptops or large iPads.

The move could bring around 30,000 households into the licence fee net, ensuring an extra €5m would be collected. Each household would only have to pay for one licence, regardless of the number of devices.

That proposal will be passed to the Oireachtas Communications Committee for debate, but Mr Naughten will ask colleagues for permission to immediately push ahead with a clampdown on evasion.

It comes against a difficult financial backdrop for RTÉ. Last month, the national broadcaster put more than eight acres of its campus in Dublin 4 on the market with a price tag of €75m.

Officials estimate that almost 14pc of households don't pay their TV licence, which amounts to a €40m loss each year.

The evasion rate in the UK fell from 13pc in 1991 to the current 7pc after the BBC engaged commercial companies through public procurement competitions.

However, Mr Naughten has received legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General that suggests such a move will not be possible here without changes to existing legislation.

If he gets the green light today, the minister will proceed to appoint a TV licence agent by way of a public tender.

An Post will still be the main payment point for householders paying for their licence.

Mr Naughten will also inform the Cabinet of proposed changes to the Broadcasting Act that will introduce a new funding scheme to offer bursaries to journalists working in local or community radio stations.

This proposed scheme, which will be funded as part of the Broadcasting Fund, will recognise quality journalism produced at local level.

It is understood the minister will tell colleagues he wants more focus put on the contribution made by commercial and community radio stations.

He has previously said that he would like to reduce the levies paid by broadcasters to the BAI. "I want to provide more flexibility for the authority in how it applies the levy to particular classes of broadcasters including community and hospital radio stations. All community radio stations will be exempt altogether from paying the levy," he said.