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RTÉ to take €5m hit as Dept of Social Protection cuts free TV licences payment

Current recipients of free licences will not be affected, TheJournal.ie has learned – instead, the State broadcaster will take brunt of the cut.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/file

THE DEPARTMENT OF Social Protection is to reduce by €5 million the amount it pays out each year on behalf of recipients of free TV licences.

The reduction in the subsidy to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources – from €59m this year to €54m in 2014 – is to be unveiled at the Budget 2014 announcement later today.

TheJournal.ie has learned, however, that the cut will not be shouldered by current recipients of free licences – but by State broadcaster RTÉ.

A Government source told TheJournal.ie yesterday evening that Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and her advisors looked across the department for savings and “it was fair to see that there could be savings that could be made in this area”.

Social Protection told to cut €440m from budget

With Budget 2014 measures to address a deficit of upwards of €2.5bn, the €5m cut to the TV licence subsidy is likely to be the least of the rationalisations to come from the Department of Social Protection today. The troika recommendations are that a total of €440 million will have to be cut from the department’s budget and last month, Minister Burton said that she would have to examine “every line of the Social Protection budget”.

The department currently compensates Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte’s department for the free TV licences distributed to around 412,000 recipients.

It pays for those licences upfront – for 2013, the figure handed over was €59m. It will be announced today as part of Budget 2014 that it will only hand over €54m, no matter what number of recipients.

The source added that RTÉ would be hit by the brunt of the cut and that it would not affect recipients of free TV licences.

Minister Rabbitte announced this summer that a new public service broadcasting charge will come into effect on 1 January 2015. While it will not cost more than the current TV licence – which it proposes to replace and which currently costs €160 – there is still no full confirmation on how the charge will be applied, who will have to pay it, or how revenues from it will be distributed.

A report from consultants Crowe Horwath, commissioned by the Department of Communications, recommended that there should be no increase in the level of public funding to RTÉ and TG4 either from an increase in the current TV licence or from the universal broadcast charge.

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