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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. 

A remittance slip for German broadcasting fees
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.

Member comments

  1. This was super helpful! I recently moved to Germany and I was about to take the letter in to work to ask a German co-worker if this was something I needed to worry about. Your timing is impeccable :). Thank you for all of the high-quality and relevant articles! They are always much appreciated.

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Germany reaches agreement on Bürgergeld – with a couple of catches

Members of Germany’s traffic light coalition government and the opposition Christian Democratic Union party have reached an agreement in the dispute over plans for a new citizens‘ income. There will be tougher sanctions against benefit recipients and fewer discretionary assets.

Germany reaches agreement on Bürgergeld - with a couple of catches

Last week, the German government’s plans to reform unemployment benefits with its new “Bürgergeld”, or citizens’ income, proposals were blocked in the Bundesrat.

The legislation was held up mostly by members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU) which had been strongly opposed to the proposals for a six-month Vertrauenszeit (trust period) in which benefits claimants would not incur sanctions, as well as to the amount of assets recipients would be able to hold on to.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Will Germany’s controversial Bürgergeld still come into force?

On Tuesday, politicians from the traffic light coalition parties and the CDU/CSU reached a compromise on the proposed reforms which means that some of the key measures will be scrapped.

No trust period

The CDU/CSU was able to push through its demand for more sanctions for recipients and the six-month trust period will now be scrapped completely.

Instead, it will be possible to enforce benefit sanctions from the first day of an unemployment benefits claim if recipients don’t apply for a job, or fail to turn up for appointments at the job centre, for example.

The CDU and CSU also demanded that unemployment benefits recipients be allowed to keep less of their own assets when they receive state benefits. The original plan had been for assets worth up to €60,000 to be protected for the first two years, but the compromise reached has knocked this down to €40,000 for one year – during which time benefits recipients will not have to use up their savings.

Following the announcement of the agreement, Green Party later Britta Haßelmann said “I regret it very much”. According to Haßelmann, the trust period was the core of the reform designed to stop people from having to take up “just any job”.

READ ALSO: Bürgergeld: What to know about Germany’s unemployment benefits shake-up

Other traffic light colleagues were more optimistic, however. Katja Mast from the SDP spoke of a “workable compromise in the spirit of the matter,” while FDP Parliamentary Secretary Johannes Vogel said that it had succeeded in “making a good law even better”.

CDU/CSU leader Friedrich Merz, meanwhile, sees the compromise as a great success for his party, though he also praised the willingness of the parties in the government to reach an agreement.

“The coalition was very quick and – to my surprise – very largely willing to make compromises here,” Merz said. 

What happens next?

Tomorrow, the Mediation Committee of the Bundestag and Bundesrat will meet to discuss the proposals. If the agreement is confirmed, the welfare reform could clear the final hurdle when it is voted on Bundesrat again at the end of the week. According to the federal government’s plans, if it’s approved, Bürgergeld will come into force in January and replace the current Hartz IV system.