South Africans have stopped paying their TV licences – this is what the SABC is doing about it

 ·7 Sep 2020

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) says TV licence cash collections were severely impacted during the coronavirus lockdown as its usual collection methods were closed.

In a presentation to parliament last week, the national broadcaster said that under the level 4 and 5 national lockdowns its collections were impacted in the following ways:

  • Bulk printing and mailing of correspondence to licence holders ceased, this service was not seen as an essential service;
  • Payments at retail pay points reduced owing to the Covid-19 Regulations which restricted the movement of people;
  • Regulations that prohibited the continuation of Call Centre operations;
  • Absence of debt collection;
  • New Licences cash declined as a result of the inability of retailers to sell television sets.

The SABC said that Debt Collection Agencies (DCAs) commenced collections in the last week of May 2020 and considerable improvement was recorded in June and July 2020 compared to prior months.

“TV Licences’ cash for all the revenue streams started to improve slightly in the month of June, the period where many restrictions were eased and suppliers were able to operate,” it said.

“However, owing to the economic climate which has had an effect on licence holders’ disposal of cash, compliance levels have not improved and are expected to steadily decline for the remainder of 2020.”

Cash collections year to date (1 April – 31 July 2020) amount to R228.05 million with a shortfall of R166.99 million (42.3%). Year on year, cash revenue is R17.97 million (7.3%) less than the previous fiscal year.

New campaigns 

The SABC said that TV licence fees collections are pursued on a monthly basis despite all the challenges faced. It added that there are plans underway to minimise the shortfall in cash collections.

These include new marketing campaigns, developments in technology requirements, campaigns to increase debit orders, and settlements of licence fees in arrears.

The broadcaster said that its collection process is executed internally prior to handover to DCAs. These processes are repeated throughout the month depending on the client’s payment patterns. Thereafter unpaid accounts are handed over for debt collection after 60 days, it said.

A TV Licence is valid for twelve months and renewed at the end of the licensing period.

“Licence holders who have not made payment during the renewal phase will be referred to debt collectors 60 days after the renewal date. This is the only recourse available to the SABC to pursue payments from non-compliant licence holders.”

The SABC said that Section 27 (5) of the Broadcasting Act allows it to pursue much stricter punishments for people who fail to pay up their licence.

Specifically, a person who fails to comply with any lawful demand made by an inspector, is guilty of an offence in relation to each television set in respect of which the offence is committed and is liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding R500 in relation to each such offence or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both such fine and such imprisonment.

However, the SABC said it would be difficult and impractical to implement due to socio-economic and political factors.

“Instead the SABC utilises the services of Debt Collection Agencies and attorneys to collect licence fees in arrears. This process is less harsh than the legislated provision. Lack of compliance with legislation remains the biggest impediment in successfully driving growth in the collection of televisions licence fees.”

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