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File photo. An Post processed payments in excess of €166 million on TV licences last year. Sasko Lazarov/
An Post

'Our network is under attack': Postmasters warn post offices could close over new TV licence plans

An Post has said TV licence payments represent an “essential income stream” for postmasters.

POSTMASTERS HAVE SAID they are concerned over the government’s plans to tender the contract for TV licence renewal, warning that hundreds of post offices could be placed at risk of closing if the contract is lost.

The government today announced plans to expand the TV licence to make paying the annual fee a requirement if you watch content on the RTÉ Player or stream RTÉ Radio online

It also said it will be looking for bidders to tender for a five-year contract for collection of TV licences – currently €160 a year – later this year. 

An Post currently handles payments of TV licences for customers from its branches around the country. 

Last year, An Post sold €166 million worth of TV licences on behalf of the Department of Communications, through the sale of 1,038,986 TV licences. The evasion rate in 2018 was 12.83%, and An Post said many of the conditions it has to contend with are outside its control. 

The Irish Postmasters’ Union (IPU) said its members fear being cut out of the process and losing revenue as a result if An Post doesn’t win the contract – which is worth €3 million to the network annually.

Its general secretary Ned O’Hara said: “Postmasters understand the revenue challenges faced by RTE and difficulties for An Post in collecting the fee. However, for many customers the current service is working perfectly well as it is and Postmasters greatly value this business.

If a major utility were to win the contract it is likely that it would push for a deduct at source approach, thereby removing the need for use of the post office.

The IPU added that there are wider challenges facing post offices than the TV licence uncertainty, and that the government must follow through on commitments regarding public services that can be provided through local post offices.

Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae, meanwhile, told Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ Radio One’s Today Show that this latest move from the government was a “further attack” on the post office network. 

“Already we have lost 159 post offices from the post office network,” he said. “Right now 230 post offices around under imminent threat of closure. And in my considered opinion, I would be sure that is potentially another 600 post offices that will be in danger over the next 24 months.

Now that might seem like a very bleak future. But it is factual… Our network is under attack. This is a further attack on the network. 

Healy-Rae – a postmaster himself – also disagreed that the evasion rate is the fault of individual postmasters, and added they do a fine job in their communities.

Reacting to the news, An Post said that the processing of TV licences is an “essential income stream” for postmasters and the national post office network.

“An Post has long argued that the contract needs to be longer term than the current annual renewal to allow for investment into databases and IT to facilitate more efficient collection,” it said.

It added that it awaits the detail of the planned tender due later this year. 

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