Local property tax database will be used to target TV license fee evaders

REVENUE’s Local Property Tax (LPT) database could be used to target TV license fee evaders after the government rejected proposals to scrap the €160 tax.

Ministers instead asked officials to consider ways to develop a new, more comprehensive register “potentially leveraging existing national household databases”, including those run by Revenue, which operates the LPT, and GeoDirectory, operated by An Post and Ordnance Survey Ireland.

A new interdepartmental technical group, due to report to Media Minister Catherine Martin in November, will consider further enforcement measures.

It will establish whether the levy should apply to households that do not own a TV, increasing the possibility that people who watch RTÉ on phones and tablets will be charged the levy.

The Cabinet was informed yesterday that An Post’s license fee database is “based on archaic technology and is significantly outdated”.

The coalition has rejected proposals from the Future of Media Commission to replace licensing fees with funding “from general tax revenue” by 2024, fearing that future governments will cut funding for RTÉ if they do not like it. not his cover.

With an escape rate of just over 15%, RTÉ estimates that it loses 65 million euros each year because thousands of households do not pay the license fee.

However, ministers were told that even license fee reform might not generate the level of funding for public service broadcasting recommended by the commission.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it would be “dangerous for democracy” if funding depended on the government’s annual budget decisions.

He said some EU governments were “now directly influencing the media to an unhealthy degree”.

Replacing the fee with funds from the public purse could cost taxpayers €300 million and was “unrealistic” in the “current tax climate”, Mr Martin said.

The commission, chaired by Professor Brian MacCraith, made 50 recommendations, 49 of which were accepted by the government, including a new regulator, Coimisiún na Meán, to set industry standards.

Other measures include a “national strategy to combat disinformation” to build trust in the media; a reduced or zero VAT rate for newspapers and digital publications and a media fund to support local democracy reporting, court reporting and community media.

A cabinet memo highlighted the Taoiseach and Ms Martin’s view that reforms to the current funding model can reduce evasion rates through new ‘innovative collection mechanisms’ used to improve compliance, as well as ‘a public communication campaign and ‘additional enforcement measures to be made available to the designated debt collector’.

The group will consider whether the levy should extend beyond those who own a non-portable TV and the challenges of targeting those who use phones or tablets in the context of burden of proof, collection, application and public perception.

It will also examine barriers to access to the Revenue and GeoDirectory databases, and consult with the Data Protection Commissioner.

The note acknowledged that reforms may require legislative changes to support the sustainability of the new database, which ministers say could cost up to €5 million.

The group will also examine the limitations of current collection methods; current application options; what options could be used to combat evasion; and the speed with which reforms can be implemented.

The Cabinet has been told that Ireland is one of the few countries still operating a limited television ownership licensing model, and that evasion rates are higher than in many other European jurisdictions.

A member of the commission, Storyful founder and former RTÉ broadcaster Mark Little, criticized the government’s rejection of the funding recommendation, saying: “Trying to better enforce license fees is a recipe for resentment. of the public with regard to the public media.

Penny D. Jackson