When to start worrying about not paying your TV licence

Non-paying TV licence holders should not be too bothered about possible legal action being taken against them for continuing to ignore debt collectors’ messages to pay up their outstanding bills.

That is the view of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) in the wake of increasingly threatening and shady messages from the SABC to trick or scare people into paying their TV licence.

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies recently revealed that 9.2 million TV licence holders owe the SABC R44.2 billion in outstanding licence fees and penalties.

That works out to an average of R4,804 per defaulter. 5.6 million of these accounts have been handed over to debt collection agencies.

If the debt collectors fail to convince people to pay, then the SABC can try and take non-payers to court to force them to do so.

However, using the courts to try and recoup the debts would be a difficult and costly affair.

According to the Broadcasting Act, the maximum penalty a court could impose on a person found guilty of failing to comply with TV licence laws is a R500 fine or up to six months in prison.

The legal costs associated with pursuing that person would run into several thousands of rand.

Outa also told MyBroadband it does not know of any case in which a defaulter was prosecuted for non-payment.

“It is just too small an amount to enter into legal challenges that may even backfire on them,” Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage told MyBroadband.

“Threats of prosecution are merely threats that I believe the public is aware that the SABC and the debt collectors will not be able carry out.”

Wayne Duvenage, Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse CEO

Duvenage said this is why the payment rates were dropping.

“Just like e-tolls — when the cost to collect is too high, and consequences of non-payment is almost zero — collection rates will most certainly decline,” Duvenage said.

Duvenage believes just like the radio and dog licences of old, the TV Licence has now also run its course and should be scrapped.

He said the SABC’s refusal to give up is likely because it cannot miss out on a single cent of revenue because its advertising business has also declined.

“They hang on for dear life and rely on their ‘panel’ of debt collectors to increase this source of revenue for them,” Duvenage said.

Duvenage said what would be important to find out is what percentage of the recovered TV Licence debt actually ends up in the SABC’s pockets, and what goes to the debt collection agencies.

“Around seven years ago, a Gupta-linked company called Lornavision was given the full rights to collect TV Licence revenue on behalf of the SABC,” Duvenage said.

“It was a money-making racket that lasted a couple of years, before a new board came in after Zuma’s exit and the dubious Lornavision contract was cancelled.”

Debt collectors using vague and joking SMSes

MyBroadband sent Duvenage some of the debt collection SMSes sent to our readers, including some from Revco.

One recent vague SMS advised a defaulting TV licence holder with over R900 outstanding to pay R100 to activate “it” — without further explanation.

MyBroadband asked the SABC what this SMS meant, and the broadcaster explained that “it” referred to activating a payment arrangement with the debt collection agency.

“This is the terminology used in the debt collection environment,” the broadcaster said.

However, the definition of “it” would not have been clear without the SABC’s response to MyBroadband.

Duvenage said the public needed to know what the R100 “activation fee” was for and what percentage of the fees collected by Revco goes to the SABC.

“The SABC needs to be transparent about their debt collection panel and explain to the public how these have been structured,” Duvenage said.

Duvenage also slammed some of the language and approaches the debt collection agencies used to convince people to pay.

Among the SMS messages MyBroadband saw was one where it supposedly offered a “Mother’s Day” on their licence.

The amount the defaulter was instructed to pay was exactly what they owed.

Another told non-paying registered TV licence holders that their “options were running out,” and it was “the final request to pay”.

Duvenage said the debt collectors did not appear to be professional or convincing at all, which would push people away rather than attract or convince them to pay.

The SABC said a matter being handled by a debt collector was severe as it meant a customer was in breach of a legal obligation.

Therefore, any communication from a debt collector should be considered serious, the broadcaster argued.

“The SABC allows its debt collectors to be creative in soliciting payment of licence fees,” the SABC said.

“Our debt collectors are reputable and registered businesses in their industry and would not put the SABC or their own businesses at a disadvantage nor act outside legal prescripts or debt collection rules.”

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When to start worrying about not paying your TV licence