It’s one of the most controversial topics in everyday German life. It affects pretty much every expat who moves here. And we’re going to explain why, unfortunately, you have little chance of avoiding it…
What is the Rundfunkbeitrag? Explaining Germany’s controversial public service media tax
The Rundfunkbeitrag is a licence fee for public service broadcasting.
It funds the production of radio, TV, and other services from the broadcasters ARD (Das Erste), ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen) and Deutschlandradio.
This also includes the regional TV and radio broadcasters such as SWR, HR, BR, RBB, NDR, MDR, WDR etc, which are also publicly funded bodies.
In some circles you may hear the Rundfunkbeitrag referred to as GEZ. This was the previous name for this fee, prior to 2013, when some changes to the law determined why you have to pay the Rundfunkbeitrag.
Be aware that searching online for “what is the GEZ” rather than “what is the Rundfunkbeitrag” will throw up outdated information.
When should I register for the Rundfunkbeitrag?
Within a few weeks of your arrival in Germany, you’ll typically receive a letter from the authorities asking you to register for the Rundfunkbeitrag. They’ll know who you are and where you live because they have access to information from municipal citizen registration offices (Anmeldungen or Einwohnermeldungen).
After you’ve done your Anmeldung, fumbled through getting some health insurance, opened a bank account, got a German SIM card and got some personal liability insurance, – (deep breath) – this will most likely be the next bureaucratic hassle that will occupy your time.
How does the Rundfunkbeitrag work?
The fee is payable in quarterly instalments. Since 1st April 2015, this fee has been set at €17.50 per month. It is levied per household, and not per person, which is one of the few saving graces of the system.
It’s probably best to let the Rundfunkbeitragsservice explain it though.
Their downloadable guide in English is actually a very good overview of how it works. It explains in simple language what the Rundfunkbeitrag is, and how it’s administered.
Any household in Germany is legally obliged to pay this quarterly fee, regardless of whether or not you watch the TV channels or listen to the radio stations covered by it. The Rundfunkbeitrag also covers online media consumption via on-demand services such as media players, podcasts and streaming services.
Shared households (Wohngemeinschaften) are only required to pay this once per household, so 4 students living together for example would only be liable for paying the fee once. My tip here would be: Don’t be the chump who ends up being the bill payer!
What happens if I don’t pay it?
If you choose to ignore the correspondence from the Rundfunkbeitragsservice, usually the process is as follows:
You will receive numerous reminders to register, which will ultimately result in them forcibly registering you and assigning a number to your case. You will then receive demands for payment, which will have late fees added to them if you don’t pay. If you ignore these, your case will be referred to a collection agency who will then pursue the payment through the legal channels available to them.
Ultimately, they will give your case to a bailiff. If you continue to refuse to pay, or do not allow the bailiff access to your apartment, then they may freeze your bank account and take what is owed plus any administration fees they have incurred for collecting the money.
Can I get away with not paying it?
There’s a very long thread over on the Toytown Germany forum which I used to summarise the above information. It’s a fantastic reference, although it is over 40 pages worth of posts. The thread also extensively charts some of the personal experiences of expats in Germany who have fought the system and refused to pay the Rundfunkbeitrag.<