Beitragsservice von ARD, ZDF und Deutschlandradio
|Founded||1976 (as GEZ)|
|Stefan Wolf (CEO)|
|Revenue||€168 million (2016)|
|Owners||ARD, ZDF, Deutschlandradio|
Number of employees
The Beitragsservice von ARD, ZDF und Deutschlandradio (English: Contribution service of ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio), commonly referred to simply as Beitragsservice, with headquarters in Cologne is an unincorporated joint organisation of Germany's public broadcasting institutions ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio as well as their public-law affiliates. The Beitragsservice center is responsible for collecting television and radio licence fees (German: Rundfunkbeitrag) from private individuals, companies and institutions in Germany. Mandatory licence fees are set in the Rundfunkfinanzierungsstaatsvertrag (English: State Treaty on the Financing of Broadcasting). Since 2013, every private household in Germany has been required to pay these fees, regardless of whether the household actually has the capability to receive the broadcasts themselves. Exceptions can be made for individuals with low income or health issues. Until 2013, the organisation was known as GEZ, short for Gebühreneinzugszentrale der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (English: Fee Collection Center of the Public Broadcasting Companies in the Federal Republic of Germany). The organisation collaborates with German civil registration offices to enforce the collection of the fees.
The Beitragsservice is an association of administrations subject to public law and has no legal capacity. It operates as a joint data center of the ARD state broadcasting institutions, the ZDF and Deutschlandradio, and administers the collection of licence fees. It was created by an administrative agreement.
The Beitragsservice is therefore not a legal entity of its own, but a part of the public broadcasting institutions. However, the Beitragsservice is a public authority in the material sense according to the Administrative Procedures Act of the Federal Republic of Germany (VwVfG), because it conducts public administration tasks. It conducts these tasks on behalf of the state broadcasting institutions.
Since January 1, 1976, the Beitragsservice (known as GEZ until 2013) has collected Rundfunkgebühren (broadcast licence fees) as set in the Rundfunkfinanzierungsstaatsvertrag . This had previously been the responsibility of Deutsche Bundespost, the West German federal post office. The GEZ's tasks in detail were:
- Collection of licence fees (obtaining licence fees in arrears, handling of payments)
- Remission of licence fees
- Planning of licence fees
- Customer care
On December 31, 1976, 18.5 million TV sets and 20.4 million radios were registered in the Federal Republic of Germany.
Planning of licence fees
The Beitragsservice has overall control over the planning of licence fee revenues from the supply of public-legal broadcasting in the Federal Republic of Germany. Based on preliminary work by the Beitragsservice, licence fees are planned for a period of five years in advance or the current fee period by the Arbeitsgruppe Gebührenplanung (license fee planning work group), which is a subgroup of the Finanzkommission der Rundfunkanstalten (Financial Commission of Broadcasting Institutions). The managing director of the Beitragsservice is the chairperson of the Arbeitsgruppe Gebührenplanung.
Charging of licence fees
The licence fee for Radio, TV and new media amounted to €17.98 per month, from 1 January 2009 onwards. For radio reception alone, the monthly fee was €5.76.
On June 9, 2010, state governors decided that Heidelberg University Professor Paul Kirchhof's model of a flat-rate household licence fee would be introduced in 2013. The model set out the collection of licence fees as a lump sum per household, regardless of the number of broadcast reception devices present, or even, if any devices are present at all. This required that the 'GEZ' be reorganised, and that broadcast licence fee commissioners are no longer be employed by state broadcasting institutions. The monthly fee per household is now €17.98, the amount previously payable for television reception. Fee payers who previously only registered a radio or a "novel broadcast reception device" but no TV set, will see their licence fee increase by 212% (from €5.76 to €17.98), however households which previously had to pay multiple licence fees will have to pay less.
Since 1 January 2013, the exemption for people with disabilities was replaced by a one-third fee. Under the previous regulations, the deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers who were legally deaf had been exempt. However, they started to contribute in 2013 in spite of relatively few hours of TV programming with closed-captioning. Sign Dialog, the working group of German Association of the Deaf, has nominated that they are more willing to pay the full rate once the milestone of 100% closed-captioning programming has been reached.
License fee revenues and administrative costs
In 2010, the GEZ collected €7.65 billion in licence fees for state broadcasting institutions. Collection costs amounted to €160.5 million, which is about 2.13% of total revenue or €3.83 per participant. Additional costs are generated in the state broadcasting institutions by the so-called Beauftragtendienste (commissioner services), those expenditures for licence fee collection amounted to €184.97 million in 2007, according to the ARD 2008 yearbook.
According to its 2010 annual report, the GEZ employed 1148 people.
In 2016 the total sum of licence fees collected amounted to €7,978,041,425.77 thereof a revenue for Beitragsservice itself of €167,954,892.36.
Elicitation and storage of data
The state broadcasting institutions, and the GEZ respectively, are allowed to store and administer all the fee payer data which is necessary to perform their tasks. The Federal Statistical Office of Germany counts 39 million private households, while the GEZ in 2004 held 41.2 million data sets of fee payers. These include 2.2 million data sets of fee payers who de-registered ownership of devices which can receive radio/television. GEZ had one of the most comprehensive databases on the population of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Another source of data are resident registration offices which forward new registrations and changes of registration to the Beitragsservice. In 2002, German registration authorities transferred over 12 million data sets to the GEZ.
To identify non-payers, the GEZ adjusted their database with data sets purchased from commercial address vendors. This is allowed under the terms of Rundfunkstaatsvertrag, however, it is reminiscent of a dragnet investigation.
Investigation and observation
The GEZ does not have its own field service. It acquires new participants exclusively through voluntary registration of the users, comparison of addresses, writing notices and gathering data from other sources.
If there is no reply to the first written notice, the following two letters are drafted in an increasingly harsh tone, often evoking connotations of official measures being taken shortly afterwards. Because these letters are potentially received by all residents of the address, even people who have no legal obligation to give information may be prompted to do so.
In addition to this, the GEZ — to supplement data sets gathered from the resident registration offices — works with the broadcast licence fee commissioners of the state broadcasting institutions to gather new data. These commissioners are often self-employed field service workers working on commission, or employees working for the state broadcasting institutions. They have no official powers, and must identify themselves with their ID card issued by the state broadcasting agency.
Bread and Circuses
The concept is not universally accepted by the people of Germany. According to the 2015 annual report the number of payment notifications (Mahnmaßnahmen) rose to 20.21 million and the number of enforcement acts (Vollstreckungsersuche) to 890,212. With an estimated percentage of 3.41% non paying households.
The reason for that number is unclear, but one reason might be that the biggest cut of the budget is invested on football broadcasting rights  which does not directly mirror the stated objectives of the organism e.g. independent information service, national culture contents. 
There are cases of some regional courts of law ruling against the legality of the foreclosures (Zwangsvollstreckung, forced seizure of property, e.g. directly from bank account registered with the tax office or from the pay check directly with the employing entity) to cover for the amount of due contribution (not tax), on the ground of the seizing organism being private and not part of the State. 
There has been one case of a citizen being jailed for not having property that could be seized. She was later released on the account of the charges being dropped by the offended organism after criticism from both public and private media. 
Although all informative and sometimes threatening mail is written in German, there are many support groups around the country and lots of content in English . Those may help people that don't understand German (and therefore don't consume media contents in German) on how to deal with the situation. One example is how to set up a Pfändungsschutzkonto  to avoid the complete seizure of money from a bank account.
Another way, that was impossible in the past but now feasible due to the implementation of the mandatory use of IBAN for bank transfers, is to not have a German account at all, but an account in another Eurozone country. It is supposed that if such accounts are not registered on German statutory databases (e.g. risk management, tax office) the Beitragsservice has no way to seize funds. Nonetheless, it would still be possible for owed funds to be seized legally through an employer, for example as a deduction from one's overall income.
- "Jahresbericht 2016" [Annual Report 2016] (PDF). rundfunkbeitrag.de (in German). Retrieved 2018-04-26.
- "What is the GEZ/Rundfunkbeitrag, and why should I pay it?". AllAboutBerlin.com. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
- Jahresbericht 2015. https://www.rundfunkbeitrag.de/e175/e4730/Jahresbericht_2015.pdf: Rundfunkbeitrag. 2015.
- "Für ARD und ZDF: Millionen Haushalte zahlen Rundfunkbeitrag nicht". Bild (in German). Retrieved 2017-02-03.
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