Change in gez fees: no one rings the bell anymore

The fee is giving way to the contribution. And the GEZ? Now collects the money as a contribution service – but only by phone and by mail.

In the future, the GEZ will be called "Beitragsservice. People with televisions will also have to pay. Picture: dpa

The much-hated administrative machine has taken up residence on the WDR television site, outside in Cologne-Bocklemund in a functional building from the seventies. 15.4 million "first letters and reminders" were sent out by the staff of the GEZ (Gebuhreneinzugszentrale) in 2011, the most recent year for which a balance sheet was drawn up. In addition, there were 3.6 million calls, most of which were outsourced to call centers.

In the future, too, there will be a lot of work to do here, because if there is no longer a fee for ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio, there will literally be no need for a fee collection center – but there will be an apparatus that collects the fees, which are now referred to as contributions. As of January, the GEZ will be called the "Contribution Service. An old institution raises a new flag.

The administrative director of the WDR, Hans W. Farber, speaks of a "considerable additional effort" – the new data basis must first be entered into the system. He is in charge of the current GEZ for the broadcasters and explains that they will hire about 250 new employees in the next three years, limited until the end of 2015. After that, however, there will even be significantly fewer than in the past.

All week long, the taz shows how the financing of ARD and ZDF is changing and what that means for us. In the next article, we’ll explain what data the Contribution Service uses to track down black viewers.

Less bureaucracy

"The new ‘one apartment – one contribution’ model is much simpler to handle than the previous one, for which it depended on the type and number of devices," says Farber. "We therefore expect to be able to reduce our fee or contribution collection effort by at least 20 percent by the end of 2016." The former 1,070 GEZ offices are to become 930 for the contribution service.

The service will also have to collect money in the future. Whenever a household is not exempt, but still does not pay a contribution. By way of comparison: last year, the GEZ activated bailiffs 714,000 times to seize property or to wrest affidavits from those affected that they were broke. Incidentally, in the GEZ’s annual report, which is highly readable anyway, this figure is listed under "Product: Obtaining arrears".

Another product is the "acquisition of new subscribers". This is where the biggest changes are now to be made, for example in the controversial home visits, which in the past were intended to track down "black viewers". Most recently, 1,100 fee commissioners, activated by the ARD broadcasters and paid in part on a commission basis, obtained "334,000 receipts with registrations and additions of broadcasting devices." During their forays through residential complexes, they discovered hundreds of thousands of devices that had not previously been registered.

Better image desired

Now, however, it no longer matters if you have a television set. WDR man Farber promises: "There will be no more visits to the apartment door." The future contribution service will contact citizens "exclusively by telephone and by mail." The stations hope this will improve their image. Meanwhile, they find out who lives where from the residents’ registration offices.

However, there is likely to be a need for clarification in the future: The GEZ learns who lives under which house number, but not who lives with whom. However, the slogan is "one apartment – one fee" and not "one house – one fee. So will the stations really be able to do without their field service, for which ARD is responsible, altogether?

Legally, the matter is simple: Reading doorbell boards would be just as possible as making inquiries with landlords; the law offers this leeway. "We are counting on the honesty of our citizens," says Farber. And a plan B? No, they don’t have one.