Berlin - Change is one of Germany's biggest fears but that doesn't mean everything stays the same forever (Gott sei Dank). Here are the little adjustments the country will be making for you this year. In addition to acquiring more vaccine, of course.
WORK-FROM-HOME BONUS: Anyone who had to work from home (Homeoffice, auf Deutsch) can receive a €5 tax deduction per day of work at home up to €600. Since it's a tax benefit coupled to income, only people who deduct home office costs above €1,000 will benefit. Thanks for nothing.
CO2 PRICE: The country has introduced a carbon tax to make fossil fuels more expensive and promote climate-friendly alternatives. Fossil fuel retailers for things such as heating and transport will now have to pay €25 per tonne of CO2 produced by their products. The cost will of course be handed on to the consumer, boosting petrol by a government-estimated 7 cents per litre and 7.9 cents for diesel and heating oil. Natural gas will likely increase 0.6 cents per kilowatt hour. As a show of good faith, the government will use tax revenue to cut a special levy on electricity that subsidises renewable resources.
LOW INCOME CO2 BONUS: To offset the effect of the carbon tax on lower income households, housing allowances will include a CO2 bonus. The amount of the supplement depends on the size of the household and its income.
SOLIDARITY CHARGE ABOLISHED: The solidarity surcharge, levied on income tax to help cover the costs of reunification, will be abolished for everyone except the top 10 per cent of earners.
UPSKIRTING BAN: Secretly filming or photographing under someone's skirt (upskirting) or in cleavage can now be punished with up to two years in prison. The same applies to disseminating the images. One wonders how certain things weren't already illegal.
VAT: The old VAT rates are back in force after the government lowered them for the past six months to help keep the economy chugging (once again 19 per cent for most items and 7 per cent for sustenance and art).
BASIC GOVERNMENT SUPPORT: Recipients of the Hartz IV welfare benefit now receive €446/ month, €14 more than before, and people aged between 14 and 17 now receive €373 or €45 more. Children up to five years of age now get €283, €33 more per month, and children between 6 and 13 years get just €1 more at €309.
MINIMUM WAGE: The legal minimum wage is now €9.50/hour, up from €9.35/hour.
CHILD BENEFIT: Families with children will now receive €219/month per child from the government for the first two children, up from €204, and €225 for the third, rather than €210. A fourth child will bring in €250/month now. The deduction for children on income tax will also increase to €8,388, €500 more than previously. The Finanzamt calculates which is more beneficial for a family, the deduction or the benefit. The amount low-income families receive to help with child rearing also was increased to €205 from €185 per month.
GUARANTEED GOVERNMENT PENSION: About 1.3 million people who receive minimal pensions will get a bonus. Anyone who can prove they paid into the scheme for at least 33 years while employed or spent the equivalent amount of time raising children or doing care work is eligible. Previously they would have had to top up their pension with social welfare payments but to now honour their life's work, the recipients will receive a €75/month bonus to save them the trip to the benefits office. This being Germany, however, bureaucracy associated with the change has delayed its implementation. The benefit will begin 1 January but will be paid out retroactively later.
VEHICLE TAX: Owners of new cars with high fuel consumption will have to pay higher vehicle tax - an estimated €15.80 per year - but the change only applies to cars that haven't already been registered.
BAN ON SINGLE-USE PLASTICS: Starting 3 July it will be illegal to sell single-use plastics such as cutlery, plates, drinking straws, cotton swabs, balloon holders, stirrers for coffee, Styrofoam cups and containers for takeaway food.
INCOME TAX: The basic deducation on income tax will rise to €9,744 from €9,408 and the threshold at which the top 42 per cent tax bracket kicks in rose slightly to annual income of €57,919. Single parents are also now allowed to deduct higher maintenance payments from their taxes.
TAX RELIEF FOR THE DISABLED: People with disabilities can now submit higher lump sums when filing tax returns. In many cases, items like travel expenses don't have to be supported individually. For example, a lump sum of €1,140 can now be submitted for disabilities of 50 per cent and €2,840 for 100 per cent.
DIGITAL PATIENT FILES: Patients must now be offered the use of digital medical histories. The files can store, for example, x-rays, medication plans and diagnoses. To please data privacy officials, the files will be minimal at first and patients can specify which data is included and who can see it.
REAL ESTATE COSTS: Real estate agent costs are now split between buyer and seller - in the past buyers were generally responsible for the entire cost.
ID CARDS: German identity cards will cost €37 rather than €28.80 for citizens at least 24 years old who only require a new card every 10 years. Younger applicants, whose ID card is only valid for six years, will pay €22.80.
LIFE INSURANCE: Insurance companies now have to state "effective costs" according to set criteria, making it easier for customers to compare life insurance policies.
PUBLIC INSURANCE LIMITS: Employees with monthly salaries up to €7,100 in the former West Germany must contribute to state pension and unemployment insurance schemes, up from €6,900 previously and, in the former East Germany, €6,700 (previously €6,450). The income threshold for statutory health and long-term care insurance has risen to €4,837.50 per month. Above that level employees don't have to contribute (they can switch to private health insurance) but also have no right to benefits.
MEAT INDUSTRY: Contractor jobs in slaughterhouses are now prohibited. Temporary work is also to be banned in slaughtering and cutting.
ULTRASOUND SCANS: Medically unnecessary "baby movies" or "baby TV," i.e. ultrasound of unborn babies in the womb, are now illegal to protect babies from unnecessary stressors.
NEW ENERGY LABELS FOR ELECTRIC APPLIANCES: From 1 March, new EU energy efficiency labels will apply to some electrical appliances. Classifications such as "A++" or "A+++" will again be replaced by more easily distinguishable classifications from A to G for dishwashers, washing machines, refrigerators and freezers, televisions and monitors. At the same time, the requirements for appliances are getting stricter.
SWITCHING HEALTH INSURANCE: When selecting a new statutory health insurance provider (Krankenkasse), you will no longer be required to cancel your previous insurance. Registering with the new insurance company is sufficient unless you're switching to private insurance or moving abroad.
CREDIT CARD PAYMENTS: Using a credit card online will become both more safe and more complicated. Just providing the special three-digit number from the back of the card will no longer suffice. Starting 15 January, two factors must be used to approve purchases of €250 or more. The threshold will drop to €150 on 15 February and then to all purchases in mid-March. Paypal is certainly pleased.