South Africans are required by law to pay for a TV licence if they wish to use devices which can function as a television.
This includes second-hand TVs, as they are still capable of receiving a broadcast television signal, which is the definition of a television set in section 27 of the Broadcasting Act 4 of 1999.
However, many South Africans use any tricks they can to avoid paying their TV licence, as they feel it is an unnecessary money grab – especially if they do not watch SABC channels.
MyBroadband spoke with Rosalind Lake, Director at Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa, about the possible repercussions of not paying your TV licence.
Prison time is possible
“The Broadcasting Act states that no person may use a television set unless they are in possession of a TV licence or have been exempted from the requirement,” said Lake.
Only public schools currently qualify as exempt from this requirement.
By not paying their TV licence, users are potentially liable for the following (in addition to having a criminal record):
- The outstanding licence fees (the annual fee is currently R265)
- A fine which is equal to double the prescribed fee (i.e. R530)
- Up to six months in prison
“In practice, users are rarely if ever prosecuted as this would have to be done by the National Prosecuting Authority – which has a fair bit on its plate already and is unlikely to want to spend public funds on the criminal prosecution of individual TV licence defaulters,” said Lake.
“What happens in practice is that the SABC engages debt collectors to attempt to recover outstanding amounts. Users are also charged penalties or interest on outstanding amounts.”
“Failure to pay is not in practice recorded by credit bureaus until there is a judgment against a user. However, if the SABC issues summons against a user and there is a subsequent judgment against them, the judgment will appear on their credit report for five years.”
Lake said that there have been numerous reports of South Africans being blacklisted due to being in arrears in terms of TV licence payments.
“The debt collectors also apparently use strong-arm tactics, including threatening consumers with blacklisting,” Lake said.
“This has ended up with many absurd consequences, including people continuing to pay for TV licences when they have not owned a TV in many years rather than trying to make sense of the SABC processes.”
Lake added that it is just as difficult to reverse an unlawful blacklisting as it is to cancel a TV licence.
“The complicated processes of the SABC (including providing the details of new owners of TVs, affidavits regarding a TV that no longer works or which has been stolen) practically makes it very difficult for consumers to cancel TV licences,” Lake said.
“It seems to me that we are due a revision of the laws regarding TV licences given how users now obtain and consume TV content (which is less and less frequently ‘broadcast’).”