Why do I have to pay GEZ (tv-radio tax) in Germany?

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Planning your move to Germany is very exciting. You probably have a list of things you’re checking off before you arrive there. You must of stumbled across the Rundfunkbeitrag and wondered what in the world could this mean! Rundfunkbeitrag is the German TV and radio tax. So, why are you paying for it? 

The Rundfunk German TV tax- what now?

Rundfunkbeitrag is the licensing fee for public service broadcasting. The fee everyone has to pay covers the funds for producing radio and TV programs in Germany. Rundfunkbeitrag is also known as GEZ, which was its previous name in 2013. However, most people use Rundfunkbeitrag and GEZ interchangeably. 

Within a few weeks of your arrival, the German government will mail you a letter asking you to register so they can receive your monthly payments. They’ll know who you are and where you’re staying because they have access to the citizen registration offices (Anmeldungen.) 

I know what it means, but how does it work? 

Luckily, the fee you’re charged is per household, not per person. So if you’re a student with multiple roommates, you’ll be able to split the cost between all of you! This fee is paid in quarterly instalments meaning you pay €52.50 per quarter which is €17.50 per month. 

Regardless of whether or not you’re consuming TV or radio media, every household in Germany is required to pay this fee. This fee also covers online media consumption, streaming services, smartphones and in-car radio.

Why am I paying for this German TV tax? 

Most people in Germany and expats typically question why they’re being charged for something they don’t use. It’s a logical question, but there’s a good answer for it. Take school districts, public libraries and public transportation. All three of these are funded through your taxes. Even if you don’t use the public library or public transportation, someone does. These services are funded for the good of the public right? Well in Germany, so are TV, radio and streaming services. So, in reality, you’re funding another service that is for the public good. 

The argument of the quality of German TV and radio is valid. Generally speaking, saying a product is good or bad is subjective. However, most people in Germany will tell you that German public TV and radio is bad quality. Even though the commercial breaks might be shorter, there really shouldn’t be any if they’re being funded by tax payers!

BBC VS German Public TV 

You’ve probably heard of the BBC whether or not you’re from the UK. The BBC is a respected public broadcaster seen all around the world. Compared to what Germany has to offer, the BBC knocks it out of the park. 

Similar to the German TV tax, the BBC is funded by the general public. However, they are required to pay an annual fee vs a quarterly fee like Germany. The annual licensing fee is around €164. As usual, any household that owns a TV is required to pay this licensing fee. 

When pinned up next to each other, the quality and price is jarring. BBC has higher quality programs and a lower annual fee. On top of that, people who don’t own a TV, computer or smartphone are not required to pay for the licensing fee! 

Though it’s rare for someone to not own one of those in this age, it’s still nice to see they aren’t forcing a fee that doesn’t apply to them. For those over the age of 75, the licensing fee is waived. On top of this, the BBC doesn’t run any commercials! It makes sense not to broadcast commercials when the general public is paying for the service (right Germany…?). 

So it’s really just another tax? 

Yes and no. In 2013, reformers took it to the Bundesverfassungsgericht (Constitutional Court) to protest that the German TV tax was unconstitutional because everyone is forced to pay it even if they’re not consuming the media. 

Unfortunately, this is where they went wrong. Technically, the German TV tax is not a tax because it’s collected separately from your income tax. They do this so that the public broadcasting companies can be seen as independent. 

The theory is, if a household can technically receive the service, then they can technically consume it, thus losing the argument that they shouldn’t have to pay the tax because they have the option to consume it. 

I’m not going to pay it 

After reading all of the above, I don’t blame you for refuting the service and putting your foot down. Unfortunately, there are consequences if you ignore the registration papers upon your arrival: 

  1. You’ll receive multiple reminders to register 
  2. They’ll register you automatically and assign you a case number 
  3. More reminders demanding payments with added late fees will arrive
  4. If you continue to ignore them, your case will be transferred to a collection agency 
  5. Collection agencies will use all legal channels available to them to reach you 
  6. If you STILL refuse, your case will receive a bailiff (officer who will come by your home to demand payment)
  7. If you refuse the bailiff, they will freeze your bank accounts and take out what you owe them

Even if you want to stick it to the man and not pay this tax, you’ll end up losing. It’s not worth the hassle and you’re better off paying for it. 

A final piece of advice is to remember to deregister if you do decide to leave Germany. The last thing you want to see when returning to Germany is a year long bill for all the payments you “missed” while you were out of the country. 

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