December 2021: 9 changes affecting expats in Germany
From new train timetables to compulsory vaccines for measles, there’s a lot of change happening in the last month of 2021. Here are 9 changes in December that expats in Germany should know about.
1. Deutsche Bahn brings in new prices and timetable
As usual for this time of year, Deutsche Bahn will switch to its new timetable in December. The winter timetable will be in place from December 12, 2021, to June 11, 2022.
The transport company is planning to use more ICE Sprinter trains for faster connections between Germany’s big cities, as well as a number of new direct connections. There will also be more services heading abroad, including night trains.
We can’t guarantee that all (if any) of these trains will be on time, but we do know that they’re getting more expensive. Deutsche Bahn’s new fare structure will also come into effect on December 12. On long-distance trains, fares will increase by an average of 1,9 percent.
Sparpreis and Super-Sparpreis tickets will still be available at 21,50 euros and 17,90 euros respectively, but the Flexpreis ticket and route season tickets will get around 2,9 percent more expensive. The price of Bahncards is also increasing by 2,9 percent. On local trains, prices will rise by an average of 1,7 percent, while monthly and season fares will increase by 1,9 percent.
2. Auto-renewed internet and mobile phone contracts easier to cancel
December will also see the arrival of an amendment to the Telecommunications Act. Among other things, this should strengthen the rights of consumers when it comes to auto-renewals of contracts for fixed phone lines, internet and mobile phones.
Long contracts of 24 months will still be permitted after December 1 - but companies will no longer be allowed to automatically renew these contracts for another fixed period. If you as the customer have not agreed to an extension, you will in future be able to terminate the contract with just a one-month notice period. The regulation applies to both new and existing contracts.
Companies will also be obliged to give essential details in written form, prior to the contract being concluded. This is to prevent customers from unwittingly consenting to (sometimes expensive) services over the phone. Companies will also have to write to their customers once a year to inform them about the optimal tariff for them.
3. Compensation for slow internet
Another innovation brought about by the amendment to the Telecommunications Act is a legally-secured right to fast internet for consumers. From December, customers will be able to claim compensation if their internet speeds are consistently below what was promised in their contract. To do this, you will need to measure your internet speed using an official tool, at least 10 times over two days.
4. Higher Hartz IV rate paid out
Hartz IV (unemployment benefit II) will be increased in January 2022, but the first higher payments should hit recipients’ bank accounts at the end of December. For a single adult, the rate is rising to 449 euros per month, an increase of 3 euros. The standard rate for young people aged 14 and over will also increase by 3 euros to 376 euros per month. For children, the rate will increase by 2 euros.
The adjustment has been criticised by a number of politicians, businesses and associations as insufficient compared to the rapidly rising cost of living.
5. Prescription drugs more expensive
From December 15, a new law will come into effect, making prescriptions in Germany more expensive. The price for most prescribed medications will rise by 20 cents. The money will be used to support night and emergency pharmacies in Germany, which are a major support line in the case of medical emergencies.
6. Deadline for getting children vaccinated against measles
In 2019, the federal government passed a law making it mandatory for children to be vaccinated against measles to attend childcare or school in Germany. When the law came into effect in March 2020, parents were granted a transitional period to get their child’s vaccinations up-to-date.
This grace period ends on December 31, 2021. Any child who was enrolled in a childcare or school facility before March 2020 must have proof of a measles vaccination before this date. The deadline was originally set for July 31, 2021, but was extended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Parents who do not have their children vaccinated can expect a fine of up to 2.500 euros, and children who have not been vaccinated can also be excluded from kindergartens.
Staff at these facilities will also have to get themselves vaccinated, with exceptions for people who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons or who were born before 1970.
7. Calls to 0180 numbers cheaper
Plenty of companies in Germany offer customer service over the phone via 0180 numbers - but the costs for consumers can be astronomical, with some calls costing as much as 42 cents per minute.
The Federal Network Agency has therefore stepped in, and from December 1 the prices to 0180 calls will be regulated. The exact cost depends on the subsequent numbers, as follows:
- 0180-1: 3,9 cents per call
- 0180-2: 6 cents per call
- 0180-3: 9 cents per minute
- 0180-4: 20 cents per call
- 0190-5: 14 cents per minute
- 0180-6: 20 cents per call
- 0180-7: 30 cents free of charge, then 14 cents per minute
8. Possible new COVID rules and recommendations
Changes to coronavirus regulations and recommendations are also likely to come thick and fast in December, as Germany reacts to rising case numbers and the emergence of the new Omicron COVID variant.
The European Medicines Agency has approved the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine for use on children aged five and over, but the European Commission has yet to make a final decision. Germany’s Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) wants to give its verdict by the end of December, or a little earlier, depending on vaccine deliveries. It is therefore conceivable that children aged between five and 12 start receiving their jabs in December.
As well as possible new travel restrictions to help combat the spread of the Omicron variant, Germany might opt for new contact restrictions to help ease the burden on the healthcare system. A number of politicians have been calling for the rules to be tightened.
9. End of the year - but no holidays this time
So far, 2021 hasn’t been a good year for holidays, and, unfortunately, it’s going to end as it began. Both Christmas Day and Boxing Day fall on the weekend in 2021 - and thanks to Germany’s policy of not transferring holidays to weekdays when they fall on the weekend - we won’t be getting a holiday for Christmas this year.
December 24 is not an official holiday day, but some companies do give their staff the day off as a gesture of yuletide goodwill.
New Year’s Eve is on a Friday this year, so most of us will be working, and New Year’s Day is a Saturday - no such luck.