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Poverty and fear of jailing TV owners among reasons SABC battles to collect licences fees

Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Sep 18, 2020


Johannesburg - The SABC has cited poverty and fears of jailing South Africans as some of the socio-economic and political factors preventing it from collecting millions of rand in TV licence revenue.

The public broadcaster believed if it were to enforce the provisions of the Broadcasting Act to collect fully the nearly R1 billion in TV licence revenue this would lead to more than 30% of South Africans being imprisoned.

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The legislation provides for the SABC to issue fines of up to R500 or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both to TV licence defaulters.

In 2018/19, the SABC expected to collect over R968 million in TV licence fees but warned that due to the high levels of fee payment evasion by holders, it assessed the probability of receiving the fees on an individual account basis.

According to the SABC, where the timing and amount of receipt cannot be reliably measured and receipt is not considered probable, the revenue is not recognised and that at each annual renewal date, a licence holder is billed their prescribed annual licence fee in terms of legislation.

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Acting SABC spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo told Independent Media that the entity is unable to implement the legislated recourse due to the socio-economic factors including low or no income households as well as households that depend on social grants which exceed 18 million in the country.

Seapolelo said the legal costs of imprisonment to the SABC and the licence holders would also not be feasible as this would mean that more than 30% of South Africans will need to be imprisoned.

In a July report, the SABC indicated that defaulting TV licence holders are referred to its debt collection agencies should they not pay 60 days after the renewal date.

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”This is the only recourse available to the SABC to pursue non-compliant licence holders,” reads the report.

It states that instead of fining or jailing defaulters, it uses debt collection agencies and attorneys to collect outstanding license fees as this is less harsh than utilising the legislated provisions.

The SABC is also planning to conduct its debt collection in-house but will require more than R217m for additional employees, direct collection and infrastructure and technology costs.

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Last month, the Sunday Independent reported that the SABC undertook to avoid a projected R330m shortfall in TV licence revenue after Treasury raised alarm about its appointment of five debt collection agencies which were clueless about its TV licence fees collection systems.

It admitted the five would only be able to collect R89.7m for 2020/21 when it had budgeted R419m resulting in a projected shortfall of R329.3m.

Political Bureau

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