German TV tax – What to do about the Rundfunkbeitrag letter?

When you thought just had it all under control, the German administration has a way to remind you who is the boss. This reminder might take the form of an innocent ARD ZDF letter letting you know about the TV & radio broadcasting fees in Germany, otherwise known at the Rundfunkbeitrag.

This is no less than a German TV tax that each household ought to pay in order to finance the production and the broadcasting of content by public channels.

Rundfunkbeitrag letter german TV tax

Put your anti-bore suit on and learn here why it’s important to take care of this and fast.

Why and how did you receive this Rundfunkbeitrag letter at home?

This German TV tax has been issued by the government in 2013 to replace an older rule that stated that only owners of radio and TV sets should pay any kind of fees. This older rule was hard to apply since it was practically very difficult to check whether or not it was the case for any given individual. Many people lied and got away with it since agents were not legally allowed to come into your home.

Arguably, consumption of public content can now happen with tablets, computers and phones, which everybody has nowdays. As a result, this flat fee was decided and each household in Germany has to pay 17,50€ monthly (since 2015). The institution in charge of collecting TV & radio broadcasting fees in Germany is called “Beitragsservice von ARD, ZDF und Deutschlandradio”, or simply “Beitragsservice”. It replaces the older institution called GEZ (Gebühreneinzugszentrale), which is why you might see this name in forums sometimes.

The reason why you received this Rundfunkbeitrag letter is simple:

The Beitragsservice is a public institution with access to public resources. When registering yourself at the Bürgeramt with the Anmeldung, it was able to access your data and send you a letter.

Which courses of action can you take?

Pay up

The most obvious decision is submit to what is after all an institutionalized TV tax in Germany. A law has been passed and it applies to all citizens. You can register or submit your account details online on the official website.

Apply for exemptions or reductions

Of course, if your vision or your hearing is impaired, you can let the Beitraggservice know about it to reduce or avoid altogether the fee. Recipient of social welfare benefits (Arbeitslosengeld II, Sozialgeld or Grundsicherung im Alter) or grants (BAföG, Berufsausbildungsbeihilfe or Ausbildungsgeld) are also exempted. It makes sense: no need to pass public money around. If you are not German-speaking, i’m afraid this doesn’t count. You still have to pay.

If you are not German-speaking, i’m afraid this doesn’t count. You still have to pay.

Prove someone already pays it for you

This case is particularly relevant for people living in shared flats or other communities. The flat fee of 17,50€ apply to one household and not to each person living within it. This means that if your flat mate already pays for it, simply let them know about it and they will leave you alone.

Ignore the letters

Now there are very well documented cases of people simply staying put and hoping the Beitragsservice letters will go away after a while. After initial reminders, their response will gradually increase in severity. Although this can earn you some time to think about it, the Beitragsservice can use legal actions to obtain their money. Eventually, you will receive a letter from your Finanzamt asking you to pay this on their behalf. Even if this happens only after a year or two, you will have to pay hundreds of euros for all the time you didn’t reply. (17,50€ per month remember?). Additional fees will also occur for sending reminders and being late. More info about this in German here.

Take part to a boycott

There are a certain number of people who think it’s quite unfair to pay a TV tax in Germany when they are never watching any of the programs on public channels. This might seem even more absurd when they can’t speak the language. If you agree, you can take part to boycott movements at your own risks. It is by nature illegal. This website is a good place to start.

Beware, it is by nature illegal.

How to notify you are leaving the country and stop paying the German TV tax?

This is an issue that is all too often forgotten by foreigners moving back to their country. It won’t be enough to notify the Bürgeramt you are leaving the country. An additional notification to the Beitragsservice will be necessary so they remove you from their databases. It is recommended to do it a bit in advance via their website. If you don’t do that and come back to Germany; they will look for you, they will find you, they will make you pay.

Thankfully, Liam Neeson is not in charge of collection

Although it is quite frustrating to be obligated to pay this Rundfunkbeitrag, you might as well give public programs a shot. It’s good for your German skills after all. ARTE is my personal favorite.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

 

48 Comments

  • Reply Prashanth 14/11/2017 at 20:19

    Hello Bastien,

    I have been living in Germany for 3 months now. I had done my city registration, during beginning of September but I haven’t recieved any letter from ARD or Staadt Aachen to pay the radio tax, while my roomate has who by the way, had registered after I did (mid September). Should I contact them and ask for it? Or should I wait for the letter for few more days?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 15/11/2017 at 10:40

      Hi Prashanth, you can wait until it comes. Make sure to sort out with your roomate who is paying the tax.

  • Reply Podrick 10/11/2017 at 13:55

    Hey Bastien

    Just a simple question.
    I don’t have work currently I don’t speak German and haven’t watched tv for 10 years –
    The relevant point being I am currently not working. I have a small income of about 130 euros a month.
    I do not claim German welfare assistance. And I don’t intend to. I have a small amount of savings, 3000 euros approx
    which I expect to run out in 6 months.
    Obviously my intention would be – that when I find work I would notify the radio/ tv authorities and begin paying the requested 17 euros.
    Is this information I’ve set out above a valid reason for seeking an exemption.. I’m guessing the German authorities will allow only a person in receipt
    Of German welfare money to claim financial hardship as. Reason for not paying the tax.
    I see the fee for calling the ARD is 60 cents and for some reason I just couldn’t get through to their reception desk.
    I thought I would ask the question here as it seemed a reasonable question.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 12/11/2017 at 14:54

      Hi Patrick. You need a good reason to be exempt and you are right, one of them is to be on ALG 2. Being on unemployment benefits is proof for them that you have small means to survive leading to an exemption. Anything else that’s more free form would be sufficient. You can check here for yourself.

  • Reply Vishal 10/11/2017 at 08:25

    Hi Bastien,
    I am in a very weird situation. I live in a student dorm where I share a common entrance with one other person. When I first moved in I received the letter and since my neighbour (a German citizen) was already paying I simply filled up a form online which said that he is paying for the both of us. I did not receive any letter after that. My neighbour disappeared under mysterious circumstances last year and I have no way of contacting him. Another person came in his place and he has not received the letter asking him to pay. Now I am leaving Germany and returning back to my country and I do not want any trouble later on. I do not have the Beitragsnummer anymore. Do you have any idea how I can avoid any trouble?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 10/11/2017 at 10:18

      Hi Vishal, as far as the Rundfunkbeitrag is concerned, it’s your dorm neighbor that still has to pay the tax, you are cleared off any duties it seems.

  • Reply Sienna 26/10/2017 at 18:41

    Hi there! I was just sent this letter, do you know if I will have to pay based on the move-in date I gave the burgeramt, or whether it is just from when I register online?
    Thanks!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 28/10/2017 at 15:46

      Hi Sienna. It’s from registration most likely.

  • Reply abe 02/10/2017 at 18:31

    It is a good idea to actively refuse to pay them for as long as you can. It is totally unfair to people who don’t own a TV don’t watch their channels, or especially don’t even speak German. It is absolute BS that they are independent media because they are backed up by the state enforced by the state. Their employees receive huge salaries and !PENSIONS! you can only dream of, they pay salaries to all their redundant staff in every city including orchestras and thousands upon thousands bureaucrats. The organisation is absolutely corrupt, I have a first hand experience on how they “consume” and manage the money, worked in an ad-agency who was commissioned to make an children’s app from one of their child program character, the app was made by our company absolutely below any acceptable level, unusable with bugs and outright ugly (our boss had limited budget and time for this app) but on the ZDF side nobody even cared they payed hundreds of thousands for developing that app.

  • Reply Emma 16/09/2017 at 19:54

    Hi,

    I ended up reading your article because I left germany in August after spending a year there and paying this TV tax and did the unregiistration from it via their website (during which i also attached my abmeldung paper). I thought it was all ok but today i open my account and see that i am missing 17,5€ from my account. The transfer was made by ARD radio tv tax. I don’t get it, I ended everything and seriously i am going nuts. Is there any other way to end the payments? What can you do against them taking your money even though you ended the contract with a proof via their official process and are now leaving abroad?

    Thank you

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 18/09/2017 at 09:26

      Hi Emma. Sorry to hear about this. There is no magic solution, you need to get in touch with them and tell them what the situation is. Attach the abmeldung paper again if needed. Another way to do that is to block ARD to take money from your account through your bank directly.

  • Reply Pietro 15/09/2017 at 16:14

    Hello, I couldn’t find the info about how to inform them that I’m living in an apartment that the tax was already paid. Is there any mail model we can use do this or we need to create a letter and send to them with the proof that it was already paid?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 18/09/2017 at 09:21

      Hi Pietro. No template per say. Just send them a letter with your adress, your name and the person paying for the Beitrag at this adress, with some proof like a bank statement or a confirmation letter from them directly.

  • Reply Tathila 07/09/2017 at 22:31

    Hi, I have been in Germany for almost 9 months now and received the letters twice. I didn’t know what they were so I threw them away. However, now that I’m aware of it, I want to pay. But I haven’t received them anymore, so I have no idea how to proceed. I also sent them an e-mail asking about it, but never got a reply. :/ What the hell am I supposed to do?!

    I’m also leaving soon for what my school calls quarter away (Sep.22nd) but I will have to come back next year (around end of June) to finish my classes, so I don’t wanna have issues when crossing the immigration at the airport…

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/09/2017 at 10:57

      Hi Tathila, you can also call them directly if you have questions on how to proceed.

  • Reply Mujadid 06/09/2017 at 21:03

    Hi,
    Where i have received my letter and where is Beitragsnummer on it?
    please help,

    thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 07/09/2017 at 10:59

      Hi Mujadid, I don’t understand the question. Please rephrase.

      • Reply Mujadid 11/09/2017 at 10:34

        Hi,
        If i go to the online official site to pay TV tax, the form ask me for Beitragsnummer. I don’t know what to enter there. The TV Tax letter does not have this number on it. Can you please specify what to enter there?

        thanks

        • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 11/09/2017 at 19:23

          It’s on every letter your received from them. Like here.

          • Hafiz Mujadid Khalid 15/09/2017 at 21:28

            hi,
            I don’t have this entry on the letter but i have aktenzeichen 562 361 217 2. is it the number?

          • Bastien - Settle in Berlin 18/09/2017 at 09:57

            No, that your current file’s reference number for customer service.

  • Reply Yatharth Vora 26/08/2017 at 14:28

    Hi Bestien. As many have said, Thank you very much for the information. I received a letter from the Stadtkasse mentioning that they have been informed by “Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln” that I have not paid the outstanding amount. They asked me to pay 197 euros in 10 days and I received the letter on 11th of August. The letter was unfortunately lost in the stupid advertisement newspapers and I accidently found it today, 26.08.2017. I immediately paid the amount and sent stadtkasse an email apologizing for the delay. I am worried if there will be any problems because I was late.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 27/08/2017 at 13:27

      Hi Yatharth. I think you should be fine.

  • Reply Ann 24/08/2017 at 15:36

    Hey
    I have lived in germany for 5 months (erasmus) and i have been told to ignore the letters for paying the tax, so I did.
    Now I am back home in my country, do you think I will receive a big fee for not paying the tax while I was there? I am not registered in Germany anymore as a resident, but still, can they write to me to pay while I am home?
    Thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 25/08/2017 at 08:02

      Hi Ann. Hard to say but i have not heard of people being tracked-down all the way home that way before. However, this might become a problem if you return to Germany, as it will show up on your SCHUFA score.

    • Reply Silvia 18/10/2017 at 16:49

      Hi Ann, if you did Anmeldung they can find you basically. But students don not pay that amount. Since i am staying 2 students and 1 adult now i am splitting it half-half with that guy. So Students can not be paid. https://www.rundfunkbeitrag.de/welcome/index_ger.html check that official page and you can see different language. They mention Erasmus students.
      Bests.

  • Reply Lassi 23/08/2017 at 13:30

    Hey,

    I have been living in Germany since May. I just received this letter dated when I had just moved out from my old apartment (end of July) with my old apartment information. Should I ask my old roommate about if he paid for it to sort that out of the way or should I wait for the new letter to my new address?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 23/08/2017 at 14:51

      Hi Lassi. Both options are possible but in the latter one, you need to make sure they have your updated adress too.

  • Reply mahdi 23/08/2017 at 11:01

    Hello,
    Do you know a contact number where we can speak english with the ZDF (0180699955510, they speak only german with this) . How am I supposed to pay, if when I call them and speak english they hang the phone on me. This is totally unprofessional we live in the 21 century.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 23/08/2017 at 14:44

      No i’m sorry Mahdi. 🙁

  • Reply Arya Lekshmi 15/08/2017 at 11:39

    Hello!
    I have a query. I was living in an apartment until April, 2017 and I paid 17.50 euros per month until then. They also assigned me a beitrgasnummer. I shifted to a dorm in April and here a person is already paying for all of us and we share the amount. Recently I got a letter asking to pay for 3 months from May-July. Apparently, we need to write the beitragsnummer of the person paying for us in the additional document with the post informing them the same. But, since I am assigned a beitragsnummer already, I don’t see that option in my letter. How can I notify them that I am living in a student dorm and that someone is paying for all of us already. Or should I pay everything all by myself which I don’t really want?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 15/08/2017 at 18:30

      Hi Arya, you can update your profile and your details on their website directly.

  • Reply Veronika 09/07/2017 at 11:24

    Hi, I’m in Germany for Erasmus and I do not have a german account here because I don’t need it. Can I pay a tax without having it? I got the letters but my german it’s not so good, I’m still confused from how it works.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 10/07/2017 at 11:10

      Hi Veronika. You only need a German account if you want to authorize them to take money directly from your account. However, you can decide to simply transfer money to them (every trimester for example). In this letter, you should have their banking details. Don’t forget to include your 9 number “Beitragsnummer” as reason for payment.

  • Reply Atnici 29/06/2017 at 14:54

    I had two Rundfunkbeitrag letter, from ARD and from oberbuergermeister. To which one, should I transfer my tv / radio tax bill?
    Vielen dank fuer Ihre Hilfe.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/06/2017 at 09:35

      To the ARD.

  • Reply Colin Costello 05/06/2017 at 17:26

    I am leaving Berlin for a few months. But then I am coming back. To a new address. Whar should I do about the tv tax?
    Thanks
    Colin

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 05/06/2017 at 22:11

      Hi Colin, you can let them know about that directly on their website or give them a call then.

  • Reply Renee 30/05/2017 at 14:32

    Hello Bastien,
    I filled out the letter to pay the fee and sent it through the post office over a week ago. How long does it take for it to go through. It still has not been withdrawn from my bank account. Also its it allowed to pay for multiple people? I work for a US company and non of the Americans here have german bank accounts. I sent in about 10 letters all with my bank info and it has not gone through.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/05/2017 at 18:18

      Hi Renee, it should only takes a few weeks.

  • Reply Harun 02/04/2017 at 14:26

    Hi Bestien, thank you for the info about rundfunkbeitrag.. I’m not a German citizen… I have a residence permission for a limited time.. does this rundfunkbeitrag still include me even I’m not a citizen…

    Thank you for your interest..

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 03/04/2017 at 15:42

      Hello Harun. The Beitrag has nothing to do with being a German citizen or not. If you are staying temporalily in Germany, you also have to pay it.

  • Reply Tugba 29/03/2017 at 13:31

    Thank you for the text . We have moved recently and we received the famous letter. But we DO NOT have a TV and not intending to get one. What happens in this case?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/03/2017 at 15:19

      Hi Tugba. It doesn’t matter if you have a TV or not. They consider you can consume content with your laptop, phone, radio or tablet as well. You will have to pay that tax either way.

  • Reply Ruben 23/02/2017 at 17:00

    Hello Bastien, first of all thanks so much for all the info provided, its been really useful.

    I just received this letter in my temporary flat and I intend to pay it but Im wondering if later this summer when I move to another apartment if I will have to pay another tax, or it will be enough showing that I will be already paying it or they will know it checking my info.

    Best regards.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 23/02/2017 at 20:44

      Hello Ruben, when you move flats, simply update your adress directly on their website to let know you are moving. There shouldn’t be any problem then.

  • Reply Sasmita 22/02/2017 at 13:54

    For the point—Prove someone already pays it for you.How can we do that ?I mean to say drop them a email or call them is it?Will it work?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/02/2017 at 14:11

      Hi Sasmita. Yes, just get in touch with them to let them know the name of the person that pays it and his/her Beitragssnummer (contract ID). It’s usually enough.

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