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Germany to raise Hartz IV unemployment benefit by just three euros

People who receive Hartz IV benefits in Germany will receive an increase in the monthly benefit - but for most people it will be just €3 more per month.

Germany to raise Hartz IV unemployment benefit by just three euros
Fruit and veg on sale at a supermarket in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

The Hartz IV rates will go up slightly from January 22nd, the federal cabinet decided on Wednesday. 

The standard rate for single adults who are Hartz IV welfare recipients will go up by €3 to €449, while the rate for young people aged 14 to 17 will also rise by €3 to €376. Adults under 25 without their own household will receive €360 – also an increase of €3 per month.

The rate for children up to five years-old in a Hartz IV household will be €285 euros per month in the new year instead of the previous €283. For six to 13-year-olds, the rate will also increase by €2 to €311. 

Hartz IV – or Unemployment benefit II – is a controversial type of long-term welfare assistance, which requires recipients to fulfil a specific set of conditions, like active job hunting or attending education classes – in order to receive a monthly payment and housing assistance. 

EXPLAINED: Why are Hartz IV benefits so controversial in Germany?

Why is the increase so low?

The adjustment of the Hartz IV standard rates is based on the wage and price development of the past year.

That means the benefits are based on 2020 – when wages fell overall by 4.7 percent in the second quarter alone due to the Covid crisis. 

Millions of people were on Kurzarbeit (reduced working hours), and many lost their job. At the same time, the German government cut the value-added tax (VAT) to 16 percent for the second half of 2020. This means that prices effectively fell during this period.

READ ALSO: 10 golden rules to know if you lose your job in Germany

From January 1st this year, single adults received a €14 increase in Hartz IV payments, while the rate for young people aged between 14 and 17 went up by €45. For children up to the age of five living in a Hartz IV household, the benefit increased by €33. 

What’s the reaction?

The move by the SPD-led social affairs ministry has been slammed by opposition parties, who say the increases do not reflect the rising cost of living in Germany. 

“Raising the standard rates by a measly €3 a month is little more than a pittance,” said Left Party parliamentary group vice chairwoman Susanne Ferschl.

“Rising consumer prices are causing the money to evaporate faster than it’s in the account.”

Ferschl said the Hartz IV standard rate should be increased to €658 as an “immediate measure”.

Green Party faction leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt criticized the size of the increase as “irresponsible”. Green Party social policy expert Sven Lehmann called for an increase in rates of at least €50 “as a first step.”

The German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB) and the social association VdK also criticised the new Hartz IV rates, which will come into force from January next year. 

“The planned increase of only €3 is significantly below the price trend,” said DGB board member Anja Piel to the newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe.

VdK President Verena Bentele said the government was once again cutting back on those “who are least able to defend themselves.”

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WORKING IN GERMANY

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

Taking the decision to go it alone and freelance in Germany can be a daunting prospect. But, if you do it right, it can be an exciting and liberating path. Here are some of our top tips on how to survive.

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

1. Get a tax advisor

The German tax system is complicated, even for Germans. All the associated paperwork uses the Amtsprache (authority language) which is more like legalese than ‘normal’ German, and mistakes when filling out tax forms can cause you, at best, a massive headache and, at worst, a costly fine. So it’s best that you employ someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out.

That person is called a Steuerberater (tax advisor) in Germany. They will help you register with the tax office, correspond with them and submit your tax declarations.

Be aware that, in Germany, different deadlines apply for tax returns depending on whether you employ an official tax advisor or not. If you are doing the tax return on your own, the deadline for submitting your annual tax return is earlier than if you use a tax advisor’s services. 

READ ALSO: What NOT to do when you’re freelancing in Germany

When looking for a tax advisor, a top tip is to use your network to get recommendations. Ideally, you want someone who will do more than just fill in the forms for you, but who will actually advise you on how best to manage your business finances so that you can make tax savings.

2. Keep your accounting in order

The better you keep your own accounts in order, the easier it will be for your tax advisor to compile your tax declarations and therefore the cheaper their services will be.

As a freelancer, there are a lot of costs you can deduct from your taxes – from train tickets, working materials, to meals out – so it’s best to keep hold of all your receipts and to keep them in good order.

2 euros and 50 cents lie on a receipt in a beer garden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

In Germany, you’re obliged to keep hold of receipts for two years, in case of a tax inspection, so it’s a good idea to photocopy the type of machine-printed receipts you get from restaurants so that they stay legible for a long time.

There are also a few things to be aware of when writing your own invoices. Firstly, make sure that you include your tax number. This isn’t the 11-digit Steueridentifikationsnummer that everyone gets when registering in Germany, but the 10-digit Steuernummer you get from the Finanzamt after registering yourself as a freelancer. 

Most companies won’t pay you if you don’t have this on your invoices so make sure you include it.

You should also make sure that you number your invoices properly – ideally in ascending order so that you can easily keep track of them. You are not allowed to issue two invoices with the same number and if you do so and the finance office notices, you could face an inspection of your whole accounting system.

There are numerous great accounting software programmes you can use to help you, such as Lexoffice and Sevdesk and, even if you have to pay for them, the costs will be tax deductible!

3. Find out if you’re eligible for financial support

In Germany, there are several opportunities for freelancers to gain financial support and to cut their outgoings, and its worth finding out if you’re eligible for them.

If you’re claiming unemployment benefits under ALG 1 and are thinking about becoming a freelancer, the employment office offers a special type of financial support to help you to get your freelance business off the ground.

Called the Grundungszuschuss (“foundation grant”) the payment is a six-month grant equalling your monthly entitlement under ALG 1 plus €300 towards your insurance costs can be applied for those in receipt of this unemployment benefit.

READ ALSO: Will freelancers benefit from Germany’s €300 energy allowance?

If you are engaged in some form of artistic profession in Germany – which can include journalism to pottery – you may be entitled to membership to the Kunstlersozialkasse (artists’ social insurance).

Being a member of the KSK means you only have to pay half of your health insurance and pension contributions, and the KSK will pay the rest.

4. Work out how much you think you will earn

As with starting any business, you need to have some idea of your expected earnings from the outset.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or have some freelance gigs on the side of an employment position, then it might be worth considering registering yourself as a Kleinunternehmer (“small business”).

As a Kleinunternehmer, you can currently earn up to €22.000 per year without having to charge VAT and having to submit only yearly tax declarations. 

An income tax declaration form lies on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hans-Jürgen Wiedl

Be aware that if you are registered as this kind of freelancer, you must include the following sentence in your invoices: ‘Gemäß § 19 UStG wird keine Umsatzsteuer berechnet’ which means ‘In accordance with Paragrah19 of the German VAT law, no VAT has been added to this invoice.’

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about your German tax return in 2022

If you think you will earn more than €22.000 per year, you will need to pay Umsatzsteuer (VAT) and will have to submit tax declarations in advance and more often. Depending on how much you earn, this could be every month or every quarter. 

5. Get your insurance in order

In Germany, it’s a legal requirement to have health insurance.

If you’ve just made the move from employment to being a freelancer and want to keep the same health insurer, you should get in contact with your health insurance provider straight away to tell them about your change of circumstances. They will ask you to re-register and to tell them your projected freelance earnings for the year, so they can amend your monthly fees.

If you don’t keep your health insurer provider updated, you could continue to be charged the higher rate that you had from your previous salary.

The insurance cards of the health insurance companies DAK, AOK, Barmer and Techniker-Krankenkasse TK lie with euro notes under a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

It’s not just health insurance you need to think about as a freelancer. It’s also wise to think about protecting yourself from any sort of claims that could arise as a result of any working mishaps. 

If, for example, you lose your laptop which contains confidential client information, you need to be protected against claims.

That’s why it’s good to have both Betriebshaftversicherung (business liability insurance) and Rechtschutzversicherung (legal protection insurance).

6. Plan your time wisely

All of these bureaucratic obligations take time. So it’s really important that you take account of that when planning your time. For example, planning half a day a week to deal with your invoices, filing, emails to clients, and conversations with authorities can be really beneficial when scheduling your working time. 

7. Grow your network

As a freelancer, networking is absolutely crucial to success. 

Keep an up-to-date profile on websites like LinkedIn and German equivalent XING and keep in contact with anyone you’ve ever worked with, no matter how brief the contact was. 

Having a network is not only about getting more clients, but also about building a support network in your field to exchange advice, tips and generally for your own enrichment. 

Participating in workshops related to your field, going to seminars, and meet-ups, can be great ways of broadening your network. 

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