Storm over new catch-all tax in TV licence plan
A NEW household broadcasting charge was today branded as "just another stealth tax".
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte revealed every home would be hit with the proposed levy, regardless of whether or not it has a TV.
He has signalled his intention to proceed with the charge -- to replace the existing television licence fee.
If implemented, households and businesses using only PCs or laptops to watch programmes would have to pay up.
Controversially, even people who do not watch TV on any format would be hit.
The planned levy was today described as "just another stealth tax" by lobby group Ireland Offline.
Mark Fielding, of the business group ISME, also said the measure would be another tax.
"It's an example of the Government saying 'we are jobs friendly' and with the other hand putting increased charges (on business)," Mr Fielding said.
He added that companies who did not have TVs should not be subject to the new levy.
But Mr Rabbitte said the changes in the technological environment means "more and more people" are accessing public service content in a non-traditional way.
In addition, "there is and continues to be significant evasion".
Between 14-18pc of people evade paying the TV licence fee, amounting to in excess of €25m in lost revenue.
Mr Rabbitte said the Government needed to ensure there was a "sound financial framework" for funding public service broadcasting.
He added that those who currently paid the fee "need not have anything to fear from this", adding that the collection model had to be worked out.
The new levy would not be more, and could even be less, than the existing TV licence fee of €160 a year.
He said there was no point having a charge that was less effective than the one now.
The minister admitted it would be extremely difficult to separate people who do not access public service TV content at all from those who are simply evading the charge.
"When we settle on the model and I'm ready to come to Government with it, I'm going to have to run that past the Attorney General," he said.
Work is progressing on the secT Pond "household charge", the first having been introduced by Environment Minister Phil Hogan at €100 per home.
It emerged today a postcode system being devised could help in the collection of the charge. "The current funding model is not sustainable in the long run,'' he said. "There are two issues: the phenomenon of technical convergence and evasion -- despite the best efforts of An Post."
Mr Rabbitte also referred to what he described as a "digital divide" with people watching TV on devices other than television sets.
The new charge was signalled in the Programme for Government which pledged to "transform the TV licence into a household-based public broadcasting charge applied to all households and applicable businesses, regardless of the device they use to access content".