As we enter the New Year, many new laws and regulations take effect in Germany. Consumers will have to adjust to changes as the maternity protection law enters into force, credit card surcharges go, Hartz IV benefits rise and the 500-euro note disappears gradually etc. There may be changes in your electricity bill as well. The African Courier takes us through the changes that we should know.
Increase in Hartz IV benefits
The monthly benefit for single recipients of Hartz IV rises from the current 409 euros to 416 euros on 1 January 2018; the amount for couples increases from 368 euros to 374 euros per partner.
Children or dependants under the age of 25, will see their benefit rise from 327 to 332 euros while those between 14 and 18 years will see their’s rise from 311 to 316 euros. Benefit for children from the ages of 6 to 14 will rise from 291 to 296 euros while those 6 years of age and below will see their’s rise from 237 to 240 euros.
Receiving unemployment benefit at the supermarket checkout
The Federal Employment Agency will stop cash payouts at all Job Centres and Employment Agencies. Instead, unemployment benefits should be received in cash at the cash registers in certain supermarkets and chemists.
Set to kick off in the second quarter of 2018, the change will see machines at job centres previously used to distribute benefits removed as part of a government bid to cut costs with cash handouts distributed in supermarkets instead.
Cash Payment Solutions won the contract to implement the new system with their brand Barzahlen.de. The company has a nationwide network with 8,500 branches connected to their solution, including shops like Rewe, Penny, Real, DM and Rossmann, which will all take part in the scheme.
Contribution rate for statutory pension insurance drops
Beitragssatz für gesetzliche Rentenversicherung
Employees will get a slight reduction in pension contributions for the coming year. The contribution rate for the statutory pension insurance drops from 18.7 per cent to 18.6 per cent on 1 January. For example, workers with a monthly gross salary of 3000 euros will receive a relief of 1.50 euros.
Pension benefits increase
Retirement benefits are expected to increase by around three per cent on 1 July 2018. However, this requires that wages and salaries develop as currently predicted. The final decision will be made in the spring of 2018, according to the Deutsche Rentenversicherung.
Changes in banks’ terms and conditions
Due to the new EU Payment Services Directive, new regulations on payment transactions will be in force throughout Europe from 13 January 2018. Banks have to adjust their terms and conditions accordingly.
Among other things, bank customers are only liable up to a maximum of 50 euros for damages incurred as a result of the misuse of, for example, their bank or credit card or online banking access as long as the card or the online account had not been blocked.
Currently, the liability limit for damages incurred is 150 euros. However, in case of gross negligence or intent, customers continue to be fully liable. In order to prove negligent behaviour on the part of the customer, the payment service provider will have to provide additional evidence.
No more surcharges when paying by credit card
Retailers may no longer charge separate fees for credit card payments, such as for hotel bookings and purchases via the Internet, according to the new EU Payment Services Directive. Surcharges may also no longer be calculated for card payments even in retail shops. The EU directive generally prohibits additional fees for all transfers and direct debits in the SEPA system.
500-euro note disappears
The euro zone’s highest-denomination banknote will no longer be printed and will be withdrawn from circulation from the end of 2018. Outstanding notes will remain legal tender even beyond 2018. Such bills could always be exchanged at the national central banks in the euro area.
Deadline for filing tax returns extended
Abgabe der Steuererklärung
The deadline for tax returns for the year 2017 ends on 31 July 2018. Until now, 31 May of the following year was the deadline. Anyone who uses the services of a tax consultant will also get more time: they can take their time until 28 February 2019. Until now, the deadline was 31 December of the following year.
Electricity prices may rise
Although the green electricity (renewable energy) surcharge drops slightly, electricity price may increase in 2018, according to the consumer protection groups. Advocates recommend that consumers should check their contracts and compare the price they pay with those offered by other providers and, if necessary, switch providers.
Alcohol ban in regional trains
Deutsche Bahn introduces an alcohol ban on regional routes in northern Germany. First, there should be an introductory phase in which passengers are merely informed of the ban. Later, a fine would then be imposed for violations.
New regulations on maternity protection come into force
Even pupils and students can now take maternity leave. As usual, there is a six-week pre-labour protection period in which the expectant mother no longer has to work, as well as an eight-week work leave after childbirth.
In case of the birth of a disabled child, this period is extended from eight to twelve weeks. At the same time, there should also be exceptions, if the person wants it. Moreover, there should be no work prohibitions against the will of the pregnant women.
According to Germany’s highest court’s ruling of 8 November 2017, Germany must allow citizens to select a third gender category for people who do not identify as either male or female or are born with an ambiguous sexual anatomy.
A law has been in place since 2013 in Germany allowing parents to register newborn babies as neither male nor female if the child is born with characteristics of both genders. However, the new ruling goes further, ordering the German federal government to create a new gender category or remove gender entirely from all official documents latest by 31 December 2018.
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