The concept of a Television License is not completely foreign to someone moving to Germany from many countries, but the idea of a radio license probably is for many. In fact it is probably one of the many pitfalls for students moving here who do not bring a television with them but maybe a radio alarmclock.
The current system used to be quite simple. If you had just a radio, then you paid for a radio license. If you had a television, then you paid for a television license and this included your radio. Families only needed one license, regardless of how many radios and televisions they owned, as long as any offspring did not have their own income.
And you had to pay just for owning a set, even if you never even switched it on or just watched DVDs with it.
Businesses had to pay per set, so a radio license was required for each office with a radio it in and for each company car.
There were some special cases, but generally this is the way that the system worked until a few years ago.
Then the GEZ – the organisation charged by the public broadcasters to collect the license fee – discovered “neuartige Empfangsgeräte” or “modern receivers”. These are items like mobile phones and computers. Until then these items had only been of interest if they actually included a normal receiver, a computer with a TV card for example.
But all of a sudden it was possible to watch the evening news on-line, so on the grounds that if you had a computer you could watch a public service broadcaster, suddenly every computer could be required to be licensed.
This was going to be a nightmare for businesses, who theoretically had lots of potential “receivers”, even though these may not even have access to such websites.
And so a compromise was reached whereby private households only had to buy a license for the modern receivers if they did not own a “normal” radio or television set, and businesses only had to pay a nominal license for one computer location.
It was something that upset a lot of small business owners, who often only had a computer in the office to do their accounting with, unless an exception was granted, and had to submit tax returns on-line.
So while on the one had they were forced to have some form of computer that they had done without for years, they suddenly found themselves having to pay to watch public service television on it, although it was never used for that purpose.
Particularly hard hit were people who worked from home. These now had to pay a license for their personal radio or television, and a license for their business computer, even these may even be in the same room.
After several years of court cases and discussions about how to improve the system, a new way of calculating the license is being introduce at the beginning of 2013 and business owners are already being asked to fill out questionnaires to work out how much they will be charged in future.
One of the changes that will affect a lot of people will be the household charge which is independent of whether a household has a television, a radio, a computer or no receiver at all. Although there are some reductions available for the disabled and an exception for anyone who is both deaf and blind, not having any form of receiver at all will no longer be considered a reason not to pay the fee. It is being promoted as a “solidarity model”, so that everyone contributes towards the public service productions, and no longer as a “license”.
For businesses the new fee will no longer be based on the number of receivers, but instead on the number of employees that each location has. Company cars will still incur an additional fee, although one car is free per company location. Small business with up to 8 employees and only one car in particular should see a saving this way, as they will only be paying about the same as they had previously for the car alone, with any radios incurring additional license fees.
And for people working at home there is some very good news. If the household fee is already being pay for a flat then the business computer in that flat will no longer mean a separate license for the business – a potential saving of around €72 per year.
Unless, of course, the business has a company car. In this case the car is not included in the exempted business and will cost €5.99 per month, meaning that the total amount for the household and business will stay about the same as they were before.
After all the discussions over the past few years, reading through all of the changes and how they will affect me, I am in that exact situation that, at the end of the day, not much will change.
Larger businesses with lots of radios or television sets on their premises may see a reduction, but it’s the households who until now only had a radio or just a computer to watch programmes on-line who will see the larger increase and be required to pay €17.98 per month and no longer €5.76.