The Court of Social Affairs in Dortmund ruled unemployed immigrants from the European Union could claim Hartz IV unemployment benefits, in a judgment which decided in favour of European Union law over German.
European law states citizens from other EU countries must be treated equally, which includes access to benefits.
But German law grants exemptions by classifying Hartz IV as a “social benefit” which can be denied to EU citizens rather than a “special benefit” which cannot be.
It means EU migrants who are in Germany but are not seeking work are excluded from claiming unemployment benefits.
It is the latest in a series of contentious benefit cases.
In January, the EU Commission stated jobless migrants should be able to claim German unemployment benefits in a case being heard at the European Court over a Romanian woman who was denied Hartz IV by a job centre in Leipzig.
The most recent case heard on Thursday involved a Spanish couple who have lived in North Rhine-Westphalia since July 2013 with their four children. They have survived off child benefits and minor jobs.
A job centre in Iserlohn denied them Hartz IV, but the Dortmund court granted the family €1,033 a month, adding that it had “serious doubts” about the compatibility of the German law, which allows people to be excluded from Hartz IV, with EU laws on freedom of movement.
The case comes amid a heated debate in Germany over immigrants’ access to the country’s generous welfare state.
Travel and work restrictions were lifted on Bulgarians and Romanians on January 1st this year allowing them to live and work in Germany like any other EU citizen. It prompted fears of a flood of claims for benefits from eastern Europeans.
Official figures on the numbers of Bulgarians and Romanians to arrive since January 1st have yet to be published.
But data released by the Federal Employment Office this week showed an increase of 48 percent in the number of Bulgarians and Romanians claiming unemployment benefit in September 2013, compared with the year before.