RTE and TG4 get €160m in licence fees from Welfare
The Department of Social Welfare has forked out more than €160m from its budget over three years for licence-fee payments that fund RTE and TG4.
Every year the department pays almost one-third of the total licence fee revenue received by the national broadcaster due to the free scheme for over-70s, the Herald can reveal.
Everyone over that age is entitled to claim the free licence, regardless of their income or their ability to pay the €160 fee.
RTE has said that licence fee evasion levels in Ireland are more than three times higher than those in the UK and Germany and collection costs are more than double that of European counterparts.
The payment from the social welfare budget is ultimately funded through general taxation.
The free licence fee payment falls under the Household Benefits Scheme and took €57.2m from the welfare budget in 2013 and €52.2m in both 2014 and 2015.
This equated to 326,156 licences.
In 2014, the total amount received by RTE from licence fee payments was €178.6m.
The payment is collected from the general public by An Post, and the Department of Communications is the government agency with responsibility for distributing these funds.
Around 7pc of the total yearly revenue goes to the broadcasting fund, while An Post is also paid a collection fee.
Irish language broadcaster TG4 receives €9.25m from the licence fee pot, while the remainder goes to RTE.
While the Department of Welfare suffered a number of cuts during the crisis, the free licence scheme for over 70s remained untouched.
A statement from RTE said that licence fee income received by it through public funding has declined by around €22m, or 11pc, since 2009.
It comes as controversy is brewing in Britain about a similar scheme there.
The BBC has begun a campaign of looking for big-name stars to convince over-75s - the age of eligibility for the scheme in Britain - to give up their free TV licences.
It has also begun consulting with independent experts on how to attract voluntary contributions from that age group.
Last year plans for a blanket €160 household broadcast charge, to be administered by An Post, were announced in a bid to force people avoiding the fee to pay up.
Then-minister Alex White said legislation would be brought forward which would enable more information on the habits of multi-channel subscribers to be made available to An Post.
It included viewers who are availing of services from providers such as UPC and Sky
However, the plans were dropped just before the General Election.