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Reader question: Do I have to pay Germany’s Rundfunkbeitrag?

Germany's monthly TV licence fee of €18.36 can be a burdensome expense, especially in the current climate. But there are some circumstances in which you don’t have to pay. 

Reader question: Do I have to pay Germany's Rundfunkbeitrag?
 A remittance slip for German broadcasting fees. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Nicolas Armer

Many people who first move to Germany and see the letter from the German broadcasting service assume it doesn’t apply to them if they don’t have a TV or radio in their home. 

However, in Germany, every household is obliged to pay broadcasting fees, regardless of whether there is a radio, television, or computer in the home or not. 

The fee amounts to €18.36 per month and can be paid by direct debit or by quarterly invoice. But watch out if you pay by quarterly invoice: recent changes mean that you will only receive one letter per year reminding you when the payments are to be made (February 15th, May 15th, August 15th, and November 15th) and late payments are met with an initial €8 fine.

READ ALSO: People in Germany face higher TV tax payments

The number of people living in the household is also irrelevant and a flat fee is charged per home, meaning those who live alone can be hit particularly hard by the monthly bill. 

However, if you’re running a business, the monthly charge depends on how many employees are working in a particular office, starting at €6,12 per month for 0-8 employees. The full scale can be found in this document.

The fee is justified on the basis that the government wants to provide “a diversity of high-quality programmes on television, on the radio, online and in media libraries” without having to rely on commercial networks and advertising. 

But what if I can’t afford to pay?

With high inflation and the cost of living on the rise in Germany at the moment, it’s understandable that many people will be wondering if they can avoid having to pay over €200 a year for a service they may not use.

The good news is that there are certain cases where you can be exempted from the obligation or be entitled to a reduction.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to pay Germany’s TV tax, or (legally) avoid it

Recipients of government welfare benefits – including unemployment benefits, disability benefits or old age pensions – are exempted from the payment. 

For married couples and registered partnerships, the following applies: if one of the partners is exempt from the broadcasting fee, the other does not have to pay either.

Those who are vision or hearing impaired can apply to the Beitraggservice to have the fee reduced or removed completely. 

In most cases, students and people completing apprenticeships (Ausbildung or Lehrzeit) will not have to pay, provided they receive student support funding from the state (known as the BAföG). 

If a resident in a shared apartment is exempt from the fee because he or she receives BAfög, however, another non-exempt roommate will have to pay the broadcasting fee.

If you are entitled to an exemption from the obligation to pay the broadcasting fee or a reduction of the broadcasting fee, you can fill out this form on the website of the contribution service.

However, if none of these categories applies to you, don’t simply not pay because you can’t afford it.  This will just lead to a piling up of debt and in the absolute worst case, could even result in jail time. 

Useful vocabulary:

Broadcasting service = (das) Rundfunk

Contribution = (der) Beitrag

Fee = (die) Gebühr

Warning = (die) Mahnung

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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Germany’s Scholz pledges more relief for lowest earners

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has (SPD) promised to support low and medium-income households as he warned of a difficult autumn and winter amid the energy crisis.

Germany's Scholz pledges more relief for lowest earners

With the cost of living spiralling, the government is working on a new package of energy relief measures that will include tax breaks for low- and middle-income earners, Scholz said during the summer press conference in Berlin on Thursday.

“The government is determined to do this,” he added. “We will do everything to help citizens get through these difficult times.”

Asked whether his focus was primarily on lower or higher earners, Scholz said he was focussed on the people “who have very little”, citing the six million workers on minimum wage in Germany, and middle-income households who have been squeezed in the current crisis.

The measures will target multiple sections of the population “so that no one is left alone, no one is faced with unsolvable problems and no one has to shoulder the challenges associated with the increased prices alone,” Scholz said.

The news comes after Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) unveiled a series of tax relief proposals designed to help households cope with the high cost of the living.

Lindner’s plans include measures to ensure that people who get an inflation-linked pay rise don’t see their wage increase eaten up by higher tax – a phenomenon known as “cold progression”. He has also proposed a hike in child benefit and the tax-free allowance for lower earners.

READ ALSO: Who benefits most under Germany’s tax relief plans?

But the plans have been criticised for disproportionately benefiting higher earners: according to experts, people earning €60,000 per annum will gain €471 a year under the new plans, while those on €20,000 a year will get just €115. 

Batting away criticism, Scholz described the Finance Minister’s tax relief plans as a “good proposal”, adding: “I find that very, very helpful, because we have to put together an overall package that includes all population groups.”

Additional measures are yet to be announced but will likely include adjusting housing benefit in line with the current energy prices. 

The Chancellor also revealed that discussions about imposing an oil price cap to limit Russia’s revenues and relieve consumers were still ongoing.

“We’re discussing the possibility of an oil price cap,” he said. “Due to the high technical complexity, it takes a lot of time, but it’s something we’re working on intensively.”

Limiting the price of oil products is “not something you can do unilaterally”, Scholz said. “It has to be done in close cooperation with partners.”

‘Big failures’

Throughout the press conference, Scholz fielded questions on Germany’s prior energy policy, which saw the country develop an ever greater dependence on Russian gas. 

In February, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Germany was still importing 55 percent of its gas from Moscow – though this has since been slashed to around 35 percent.

For me it’s very clear that we should have reached the decision earlier than we did to change our energy policies and diversify,” Scholz said. “If we’d done that sooner, we’d only have the problem of high prices but we wouldn’t have the problem of energy security.”

The SPD politician, who was Finance Minister under Angela Merkel in the former conservative-led coalition, said there had been “big failures” in energy policy in the past. He said there had been joint decisions in the past on phasing out coal-fired power generation and nuclear energy, but no decisions that had sped up the pace of modernisation in Germany. 

READ ALSO: Energy crisis to labour shortage: Five challenges facing Germany right now

Chancellor Olaf Scholz

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) admits “failures” in Germany’s Russian energy policy at a press conference in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

This now needs to be corrected, he said.

However, he defended the EU’s decision to avoid sanctions on Kremlin-linked energy giants, citing the heavy dependence on Russian gas in eastern European countries, as well as in Germany.

Germany is in the process of trying to replenish its gas reserves for the cooler months amid fears that Russia will cut off the energy supply in retaliation for Europe’s support of Ukraine.

The scarcity of gas, which is currently flowing through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline from Russia at just 20 percent of its full capacity, has led to soaring prices on the energy market. 

Asked whether he thought there could be riots due to rising energy prices, Scholz replied: “No, I don’t think there will be unrest in this country in the form outlined. And that is because Germany is a welfare state.”