SABC threatens non-paying TV Licence holders with frightening SMS

The ambiguous wording of a South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) TV licence debt collection SMS could lead people to believe that the SABC is implementing High Court proceedings against them.

A MyBroadband reader received an SMS stating that “HC requires immediate attention to the full settlement of RXXX…”, leading them to believe that the SABC had implemented High Court legal action against them.

It should be noted that the SABC uses the debt collection agency Hanh Collections, to which the “HC” acronym could be referring.

This raises the question of what the text message refers to and why it doesn’t state High Court or Hanh Collections to avoid confusion.

MyBroadband asked the SABC for clarification, but it had not responded by the time of publication.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) told MyBroadband that the High Court would never send an SMS or text to an alleged debtor for payment of any fees.

“Outa is aware that many South Africans are receiving threatening SMSs with misleading information about what can (and will) be done to them if they don’t pay,” it said.

“Often these SMSs contain incorrect information and incorrect amounts.”

“If an order or judgment was obtained against an alleged debtor, that order or judgment must personally be brought to the debtors’ attention — normally through personal service by a Sheriff of the court,” Outa added.

The civil action organisation stated that the SABC’s lawyers and debt collectors have two methods of enforcement against the non-payment of TV licences.

“Note that paying your SABC TV licence is prescribed by the Broadcasting Act 4 of 1999,” Outa said.

Outa’s head of legal affairs, Stefanie Fick

“An overdue account incurs a penalty of 10% per month and 100% per anum. Furthermore, there are two methods of enforcement, criminal and civil enforcement.”

According to Outa, civil enforcement is pursued by the debt collecting process to recover the outstanding debt. In contrast, criminal enforcement can be applied by the SABC for contravention of the Broadcasting Act.

It added that South Africans who fail to pay their TV licence are committing an offence and, upon conviction in a criminal court, could be liable to a fine of up to R500 and jail time of up to six months.

However, Outa also said it is unaware of any person being criminally convicted of an offence for non-payment of their TV licence.

In March 2022, a MyBroadband forum user posted a text message they had received from Revco — a debt collector acting on behalf of the SABC — regarding their unpaid TV licence fees.

The SMS read, “STOP a Trace Alert being activated on your ID at the Credit Bureau. Pay TV Licence NOW”, followed by the amount owed and the user’s account details.

This left the user worried about being blacklisted and how their credit rating would be impacted.

However, Outa legal affairs head Stefanie Fick explained that trace alerts have no bearing on your credit record.

“The only way anything can have a bearing on your credit, in this instance, is if the SABC go to court and get an order,” she said.

Fick said the SABC’s approach to non-paying customers is not always in line with regulations.

“Subliminally, they want to send the message ‘you know what, if you’re not going to pay, we’re going to take action against you,’ and in certain instances, that may actually be in contravention of the rules because they can’t threaten people,” she said.

Now read: What the law says about DStv’s R200,000 fine for airing BBC bandit documentary

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SABC threatens non-paying TV Licence holders with frightening SMS