Licence Fee for Public Broadcasting
Do I have to pay "Rundfunkbeitrag"?
Whenever you turn on the TV or radio, you can choose from a variety of channels. In Germany, the companies which operate these channels are divided into two main categories: private broadcasting and public broadcasting companies. Private broadcasters finance themselves through advertising, but the public broadcasting companies, e.g. ARD and ZDF, are primarily funded through licence fees paid by the public. Everyone who lives in Germany must pay such licence fees so that they can benefit from public broadcasting - whether they actually use the services or not. Public service broadcasting contributions are regulated by the Public broadcasting State Treaty ("Rundfunkbeitragsstaatsvertrag").
What Do I Need To Know?
The licence fee amounts to €18.36 per month (as of January 2023), which is booked every three months. That means you have to pay €55.08 every three months. You can also opt for a semi-annual or annual prepayment. Once you register, you can decide whether you want to transfer the funds manually or prefer it to be collected automatically (via SEPA direct debit).
In principle, every adult has to pay the fee. However, the contribution is to be made per household and not per capita, i.e. each flat/house needs to make a single contribution. If you and your family live in a flat, one adult person's contribution suffices for the whole household.
The same applies if you share a flat with flat mates. If you live alone, you have to pay €18.36 per month. If you live with several adults, altogether you pay a total of €18.36 which you can then split amongst yourselves. Then one of you should register with the Contributions’ Service ("Beitragsservice ") and make the payments.
The licence fee will not be automatically withdrawn from your account. You have to first register at rundfunkbeitrag.de- and if you are moving, you will need to provide your new address. You can change your address online at www.rundfunkbeitrag.de. In case you leave Germany and give up your flat, you have to unsubscribe on the same website (in “Abmelden” section).
Please note: The Contributions’ Service makes a so-called registration data reconciliation ("Meldedatenabgleich") and thus, obtains the registration data of all the adults registered in Germany from the residents' registration offices. As a result, they can easily determine who has not yet registered for their licence fees.
If you do not register within a month, you are committing an administrative offence, which can be punished by a fine of up to €1000. If you do not pay despite repeated warnings, your account may get impounded. In the worst case, you may face hefty fines or even imprisonment.
You have to register when you move in or out of a flat within a month. Otherwise, you will face a fine, which you must pay within four weeks from the due date. The way you pay the fee depends on your agreement with the Contributions' Service. If you use the SEPA procedure, the Contributions' Service will automatically deduct the fees from your bank account. If you prefer to transfer the money manually, make sure you transfer the funds on time. If you forget to pay, you will receive a so-called "Festsetzungsbescheid". You then have to pay your contributions plus a so-called "late payment fine" ("Säumniszuschlag"), which is a kind of penalty for the delayed payment.
Individuals who receive social benefits such as “Bürgergeld”, asylum seekers' benefits, basic old-age pension or social support may be exempted from contribution. Furthermore, those going through vocational training and students who receive vocational training allowance (BAB) or BAföG (and no longer live with their parents) can apply for an exemption.
To apply for an exemption, you must fill an application form at rundfunkbeitrag.de, print it out and send it to the contributions' service along with the form, you need to submit necessary certificates from the respective authority (i.e. Jobcentre, Bafög Office, etc.). You can find the address of the contribution service at rundfunkbeitrag.de.
Please note: If you share a flat with several people and not all are exempt from the licence fee, your household needs to pay licence fees.
Anyone who is being cared for in an elderly home or nursing home full-time can opt out at the "Abmelden" section and stop making contributions. Furthermore, blind, partially sighted, deaf and hearing-impaired individuals can apply for their licence fees to be reduced on the same website at section "Befreiung oder Ermäßigung beantragen".
Asylum seekers who live in shared accommodation or (only temporarily) in a flat do not have to pay licence fees. If you receive a letter from the Contributions' Service nonetheless, you can respond by sending a sample letter (from the Consumers' Center) which establishes your exemption. You can find the sample letter at verbraucherzentrale.de.
However, if you live in a flat and can earn a living– i.e. you no longer receive asylum seekers' benefits– you have to pay the licence fee. That means you can only get exempt from contribution if you do not earn money. Read more in the section "Can I get exempt from paying licence fees?".
You also have to pay a licence fee for your business premises. The amount of the fee depends on the number of your permanent establishments, employees and motor vehicles (cars, trucks, etc.). On rundfunkbeitrag.de, you can calculate the amount of your due contribution.
Please note: If your office is located in your home, you still have to register it as a business premise at the Broadcast Support Service. However, if your office does not have a separate entrance (and can only be accessed via the flat door), you do not have to make a separate contribution for your business.
For every business premise for which you pay a broadcasting fee, there can be one car (used privately and for work) for which you do not need to make any contributions. In other words, if you have a business premise and a car (which is used privately and for work), you do not have to make an extra contribution for the vehicle. However, for each additional vehicle that is used privately and for work, you have to pay a licence fee (monthly €5.83).
If you have problems with the service, you can contact a migration advice centre. You can find a counselling centre nearby at bamf.de and jugendmigrationsdienst.de. Their staff speak different languages. You can also seek advice (in German) from the consumer advice (Verbraucherzentrale). The staff there are specialised in providing help with these types of problems.
Some scammers send fake payment requests. Whenever you receive a payment request which seems to be from the Contributions' Service, first check your contribution number ("Beitragsnummer") and your address on the letter. Scammers, in principle, cannot know your actual contribution number. If in doubt, call the Contributions' Service and make sure the letter comes from them.