December 2020: 7 changes affecting expats in Germany
It’s the last month of 2020, and what a topsy-turvy year it’s been! But there’s still plenty to come in the way of changes this December. Here’s an overview of everything expats in Germany should know about.
1. Lockdown extended and new contact rules in December
You can’t have failed to notice that Germany has opted to extend its partial coronavirus lockdown until at least December 20. It is possible that the shutdown will even be extended into January.
In the meantime, however, there are a few new rules for December:
- From December 1 onwards: Only five adults from a maximum of two households are allowed to meet up, excluding children under the age of 14.
- Between December 23 and January 1: Meetings of up to 10 people allowed, regardless of how many households, again not including children under the age of 14. (Note that this relaxation will not apply in Berlin).
2. Deutsche Bahn releases new timetables and prices
December means one thing for train travel in Germany: the arrival of Deutsche Bahn’s new timetable. From December 13, 2020, the winter timetable 2020 / 2021 will come into force across the rail network. It will remain in place until June 12, 2021.
With the new timetable, Deutsche Bahn is looking to increase capacity and the number of connections on popular routes like Hamburg - Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia - Berlin and Munich - Zurich. For the first time, trains between Berlin and Hamburg will run every half hour. Note, however, that during December fewer seats will be available to book on long-distance trains, to comply with social distancing regulations.
All these improvements do come at a cost: long-distance ticket prices will increase by an average of 1 percent from December 13. However, they will still be below 2019 levels, thanks to this year’s VAT reduction, which saw Deutsche Bahn drop the prices of tickets by around 10 percent. The price of the BahnCard 100 will go up by 1,9 percent, but saver tickets and the BahnCards 25 and 50 will remain at the same price.
3. More Hartz IV for singles, couples and children
The standard benefits paid out to recipients of Hartz IV (unemployment benefit II) will increase in 2021; but the new, adjusted benefits will be paid out as early as December 30 and 31.
From 2021, the basic standard rate for a single-person household will rise by 14 euros to 446 euros per month. For young people aged 14 and over, the rate will rise to 373 euros per month (an increase of 45 euros).
Partners and married couples will receive 401 euros, and adults under the age of 25 without their own household will receive 357 euros. For children up to the age of five, the standard rate increases by 33 euros to 283 euros per month. For six to 13-year-olds, the rate increases by just one euro to 309 euros per month.
4. New law strengthens property owners’ rights
On December 1, 2020, a completely revised Apartment Modernisation Act (WEMoG) will come into force. “The current residential property law of 1951 is no longer up to date,” according to the federal government.
The updated law means that construction and modernisation projects - for instance for energy-efficient renovations, burglary protection, e-mobility or faster internet connections - should in future be a lot easier for anyone who owns an apartment in Germany. Owners will also have the right to inspect administrative documents.
5. House buyers partially relieved of broker fees
December also spells changes for anyone buying a house in Germany. Until now, property buyers have usually been forced to pay the real estate agent’s fee in full - a maximum of 7 percent of the purchase price.
This will change from December 23, 2020, after which sellers will also have to contribute towards the cost of fees charged by real estate agents. In future, the seller (who generally hires the broker) will have to pay at least half of the commission themselves.
6. Brexit transition period ends
2020 has been a bit of a slow year when it comes to Brexit developments - we’re not much further forward than we were on January 1, 2020 - but, nonetheless, the Brexit transition period will end this month, bringing with it a lot of changes.
Germany has already passed a law to ensure that any Britons living in the country after December 31 can secure their residence status. If you are a Brit living in Germany, you need to make sure you are registered with your local citizens’ office and that you have reported your residence to the foreigners’ office (Ausländerbehörde) by June 30, 2021. Some offices have already asked Brits to register, while others will begin the process in the coming year.
7. Stricter rules for DAX
More than three decades after its launch, the German blue chip stock market index (DAX) is being comprehensively reformed. From September 2021, it will comprise of 40 major German companies instead of 30. And as early as this year, stricter rules will come into force, designed to ensure greater quality.
From December 2020 onwards, corporations will have to provide proof of earnings before interest, taxes and other financial expenses in their last two financial reports before they can be included in the stock market barometer. From March 2021, companies in the DAX will also be required to publish annual and quarterly reports - and anyone who violates this rule faces exclusion.