Even the South African government doesn’t pay its TV licence

South African government entities owe the SABC R56 million in TV licence fees, according to the public broadcaster’s results for the 2022/2023 financial year.

The SABC tabled its latest annual results in Parliament last week, announcing a staggering R1.13-billion loss in a subsequent statement.

While an advertising and sponsorship revenue slump had the most significant impact on the beleaguered broadcaster’s financials, it also saw TV Licence revenue decline by R73.84 million.

Where it collected R815.06 million from TV licence fees in the 2022 financial year, it only brought in R741.22 million in 2023.

That works out to just 15.93% of the total amount billed for TV licences during the year — R4.65 billion.

“At the end of the fiscal, 2.1 million (19.4%) accounts were paid, of which 79% were household licences, 20% concessionary (subsidised) licences and 1% business licences,” the SABC said.

The province with the highest compliance rate was Gauteng, followed by the Western Cape.

On the flip side, Limpopo, North West, and the Northern Cape were the least compliant provinces.

The table below summarises the SABC’s income statement for the 2022/2023 financial year.

The SABC has 10.8 million TV licence holders on its database. Therefore, 8.7 million had defaulted on their payments.

Among the delinquent parties was the SABC’s sole shareholder — the government — which benefits greatly from the broadcaster’s public service mandate.

“As at 31 March 2023, government entities owed R56 million,” the SABC said.

This is almost double the amount government entities owed in licence fees by December 2020.

Government entities include national and provincial departments, municipalities, and state-owned companies.

When factoring in all licence types — including those for business and government entities — the SABC calculated the TV licence fee evasion rate had climbed to 85.8% from 81.75% in 2022.

“Although there was minor improvement in the number of payments compared to the previous fiscal, the compliance levels remain low notwithstanding our persistent communications and marketing campaigns,” the SABC said.

Debt collectors are inefficient — but the only option

The SABC said around 62% of its collected TV licence fee revenue came from renewals, while the debt collection revenue stream dedicated to all accounts older than 60 days faced challenges, with only a 27% contribution.

That means of the R741.22 million collected, roughly R200 million was due to debt collection efforts.

Considering the R67 million cost of debt collection, the net gain was only about R133 million.

Nevertheless, the broadcaster said that apart from debt collection agencies, there were no compelling alternatives to enforce compliance.

The broadcaster said that SMS campaigns continued to be the most effective method of communication and collection, with 108.1 million SMSs distributed during the financial year.

It had sent 154.3 million internal and external communication items to collect licence fees.

The SABC said the high levels of non-compliance were due to adverse effects on the economic climate, which made paying licence fees a low priority.

“The corporation made options available for licence holders in arrears to make monthly payment arrangements, pay by debit orders or avail themselves to make once-off settlements wherein the accumulated penalties are written off,” the SABC said.

“However, there was low uptake as licence holders opted not to comply.”

The SABC bemoaned the absence of enforceable compliance measures, while it was expected to uphold its mandate of universal access and investment in compelling locally focused content.

“This dichotomy makes legislative amendments to the funding model even more vital.”

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Even the South African government doesn’t pay its TV licence