The 22-year-old man and his 21-year-old pregnant girlfriend from Schönebeck in Saxony-Anhalt, were sceptical when they first got notice from the government telling them they were going to be getting €42,748 in July – rather than the €364 each of them normally received, according to the Magdeburger Volksstimme newspaper.
But not only was the money paid into her bank account – the mistake was repeated the following month, leaving them with more money than they knew what to do with.
“We read in the internet that one did not have to pay back this kind of thing as long as it was not been the result of deliberate fraud, threats or bribery,” the man told the paper.
“We used the money to buy items for the baby, as my girlfriend was pregnant at the time, and a part of it to fit out our new flat.”
Of course, it was not free money – and as soon as the mistake was registered at the job centre, moves were made to claw it back. But the couple’s lawyer Markus Baudisch said the authorities acted wrongly when they instructed the woman’s bank to freeze her account.
“There were no legal grounds for this,” he told the paper, and in fact he managed to get it opened again a day later.
By that time, her bank had transferred the remaining €49,769 from her account back to the job centre.
Baudisch said this move was also illegal. He said the most that could have been seized was the €41,614 that had been paid to the woman – not the rest which had been destined for her boyfriend.
“No money can be taken from her account which the job centre was demanding from her partner,” said Baudisch – he has launched a legal claim against staff at the bank for fraud.
“Neither the freeze of the account nor the transfer of money after it was unfrozen had a legal basis,” he said. “An enforcement process should have been carried out first.”
Edith Völksch, head of the Salzlandkreis job centre told the Magdeburger Volksstimme that the payment was a mistake that the couple should have recognised as such.
“The payment was so exorbitantly high that just on the basis of their long experience of claiming benefits, they must have realised that they had no right to monthly payments of more than €40,000,” she said.
The couple had moved house without permission from the job centre, meaning that initial letters about the money had been returned, and that efforts to contact them had failed. The couple still owes the job centre around €16,000 each, she said.
The case is set to be examined by the state prosecutor and possibly the district court, the Magdeburger Volksstimme said on Friday.