The Cabinet is to consider a proposal from Communications Minister Denis Naughten that the contract for collecting the annual, €160 fee be taken from An Post and given to either Revenue or a private contractor.
Mr Naughten has said the 14.6% evasion level is unacceptable. It represents an annual loss of €40m to public service broadcasting. People who pay their licence fee pay €39 to cover the cost of those who refuse to do so.
The Oireachtas Communications Committee has recommended that the TV licence be collected by Revenue, but Sinn Féin has voiced bitter opposition to the proposal, with TD Brian Stanley saying: “It is not appropriate for that arm of the State to be used to collect a TV licence fee, for what is a utility.”
The committee said this would reduce evasion and could bring in between €35m and €50m extra to fund public service broadcasting.
A report by the committee also recommended that RTÉ should have the capacity to negotiate retransmission fees with cable operators such as Sky or Virgin.
However, Sinn Féin wants the collection contract to be retained by An Post, with a modernised system put in place to to limit evasion.
The Government has been under renewed pressure from RTÉ to make the collection system more effective, since station director general Dee Forbes told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee in May the current regime was “fundamentally unfit for purpose.”
She told TDs and senators that evasion levels are twice what they are in Britain and collection costs are more than double other European counterparts.
“Why is it acceptable the TV licence system in this country is so inefficient that over €60m goes uncollected every year?” she asked.
“RTÉ is not asking for additional money from households. We are simply asking that the money the State itself believes is appropriate as a TV licence should be collected.”
According to the The Sunday Business Post, the minister intends to set up a working group of senior civil servants to determine whether it would be more effective for Revenue to collect the licence fee, or if it should be given to an outside private contractor.
In Britain, the TV licence fee collection contract is outsourced to private firm Capita and has an evasion rate of just over 7%, less than half the level here.