South Africans are not paying their TV licences – but new laws could change that

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) expects to face continued issues around TV licences collections for the near future, as South Africans refuse to pay their fees.

In a presentation this week, the national broadcaster said that the TV Licence cash revenue collected during Q4 20/21 was R200.7 million against a budget of R293.7 million – resulting in a R92.9 million (32%) shortfall against budget.

The SABC’s Q4 results cover the period between 1 January and 31 March 2021.

“In comparison to Q3 (R278.3 million), there was a decrease of R77.6 million (27.9%) in Q4,” it said.

“There was, however, a year-on-year increase of R40.8 million (25.5%) in TV Licence revenue, a commendable improvement considering the economic constraints.”

The financial data shows that the SABC failed to meet almost all of its licence targets across the board:

  • Renewals’ revenue stream for the quarter was below budget by R65.8 million (YTD: R14 million);
  • New licences were below budget by R13.7 million (YTD: R1.3 million);
  • Debt collection was R13.4 million below the budget (YTD: above budget by R4.2 million).

The SABC said that the Covid-19 pandemic and stretched finances were partially responsible for the continued non-payment of licences.

“Lockdown restrictions, as well as the general effects of the Covid-19 pandemic characterised by loss of income by licence holders, continue to impact non-compliance by license holders, resulting in decreased cash revenue.

“As subsequent waves take hold, and the government’s vaccination programme faces delays, performance can be expected to remain subdued going into the new fiscal (year).”

Harsher punishments? 

While TV licence collections have remained a sticking point for several years, the communications department is expected to strengthen regulations through the South African Broadcasting Corporation Bill, which is currently open for public comment.

The bill proposes keeping the current TV licensing scheme and improving compliance through harsher penalties rather than introducing additional taxes and levies.

It also proposes allowing the SABC to appoint inspectors who are empowered to approach households to check the validity of TV licences.

The SABC has previously mooted an annual household levy of R265 on the eight million households currently in its TV licence billing system.

It has also considered making TV licences a requirement for smartphones, tablets and other devices under a revised definition of ‘televisions’.

While the bill favours the TV licence over the household levy, it does not prescribe how the broadcaster will collect the TV licence.

Instead, it states that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa will be responsible for making regulations that govern TV licences in consultation with the SABC and the communications minister.

It may make regulations on the following:

  • The television licence fee, payable for any television licence issued, includes payment and collection, penalties, and ancillary costs.
  • The period of validity of a television licence.
  • The manner of determining fees of a television licence.
  • The purpose for which and the place where you may use a television set.
  • Different categories of television licences which any user of a television set may be required to possess.
  • The duty to keep, maintain and furnish records and information, including a duty to supply the SABC with such records and information as may be prescribed.
  • Exemptions from the obligation to have a TV licence.
  • The transferability of a television licence.

Anyone found guilty of not paying their dues can be liable for the following penalties:

  • In addition to their regular TV licence fee, a penalty equal to double the amount of the applicable prescribed licence fee
  • If you can prove that you have used your television set for less than a year, the penalty is 10% of the TV licence fee for every month you did not pay.

Read: Disney+ streaming service to launch in South Africa

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South Africans are not paying their TV licences – but new laws could change that