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EXPLAINED: The €300 energy relief payment scams to watch out for in Germany

Workers in Germany will receive a €300 taxable payment this month to help with rising energy costs. But residents have been warned to look out for scammers trying to trick people to 'apply' for the money - even though they don't need to.

A person holds a mobile phone in Germany.
A person holds a mobile phone in Germany. Consumer advice centres are warning against scammers. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

In response to the energy crisis, the German government is giving a €300 payment, subject to tax, to people in employment. It’s known as the Energiepreispauschale or EEP.

It will be paid out alongside wages into employees’ bank accounts starting this month. Self-employed people can deduct it from their advance tax payments or when they submit their tax return next year.

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Now a German consumer advice centre has warned that scammers are trying to trick people by getting them to apply for the payment, even though that’s not how it works. 

The NRW Verbraucherzentrale (consumer advice centre) says an e-mail has been circulating claiming to be from a savings bank. Through this email, scammers are trying to trick recipients into opening a fraudulent website and entering personal data.

Fraudsters are also trying to obtain personal data via SMS. In both cases, the scammers claim this is the only way to receive the government’s energy relief payment. 

A woman holds cash in her hand.

A woman holds cash in her hand. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

What do the fraudulent messages say?

The phishing e-mail explains who will receive the energy payout from the German government’s relief package. What is interesting – and may catch people out – is that the fraudulent message has almost no spelling mistakes and is written in good grammar.

In order to get recipients of the scam to click on the link to a fake Sparkasse website, the email states: “In order to be able to establish your identity as well as your entitlement to a payout, we require confirmation of the data you have already provided when creating your checking account at one of our branches.”

People are told that it’s only by doing this that they are guaranteed to get the payment “in the next four weeks.”

Similar claims exist with the logos of other banks including Volksbanken and Raiffeisenbanken.

Criminals have also been using phone messages to try to lure unsuspecting people to dubious websites and grab data. 

In one scam, people receive a message from the Finance Ministry that says: “You have yet to receive an amount of €254.33. Verify yourself and receive the amount.” They are then asked to click on a link. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s €300 energy relief payment

What should you do if you receive a scam like this?

The consumer advice centre has urged people to remain on guard. 

“Do not fall for this trick,” they said in a statement. “No bank or savings bank has to check data for the payment. The payment is made through wages or salary.”

“If you receive a message asking you to provide your data for the payment of the energy flat rate, do not follow any link contained in it,” they added.

Anyone who gets a message like this should mark the email as spam. 

“If you receive a similar request through a text message on your phone, ignore it and block the sender number,” said the consumer advice centre. 

Experts said by entering data on a linked website, scammers can try and carry out crimes such as identity theft or make criminal transactions with people’s details. If this happens, you should report it.

“As a precaution, you should file a report with the police – especially if you notice unusual money debits or receive bills for goods and services you did not order,” said the advice centre.

How do I actually get the payment?

The energy relief payment is for all workers who pay tax and social insurance contributions in 2022. 

For employees, the allowance should be paid out in addition to your salary through the employer’s payroll. The employer has to pay the money to all staff who were employed by them on September 1st, 2022. 

So some employees will receive it in September with their monthly salary, however a few people may not receive it until October. This is because some employers only have to submit the corresponding income tax return quarterly (instead of monthly).

If you have any questions or concerns, you should check with your boss. 

People who are self-employed can deduct the lump sum from their advance tax payments in September. There is also the option of claiming it back with a tax declaration next year.

Those in this position should check with their accountant or the tax office if they have any questions. 

Vocabulary

Relief packet – (das) Entlastungspaket

Fraudsters/scammers – (die) Betrügerinnen

Fraud attempt – (der) Betrugsversuch

Similar/comparable – vergleichbare 

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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Wohngeld: How people in Germany can get help with rising living costs

Many households in Germany could be eligible for increased financial support with their rents and bills from next year. We break down who should apply and how much help they could receive.

Wohngeld: How people in Germany can get help with rising living costs

The cost of living is rising across the board, and nowhere is this being felt more than in the home. For over a year, gas and electricity bills have been soaring and people on low incomes have been left wondering how to make ends meet.

While there is support available for people in this situation, it seems that many households in Germany aren’t aware that they could be eligible to apply for Wohngeld, or housing allowance, to help them with their expenses. What’s more, the amount of money people can get is set to rise at the start of next year.

Here’s what you need to know.

What exactly is Wohngeld?

Wohngeld, or housing allowance, is a form of financial aid for low-income households in Germany. It’s intended to help with the general costs associated with housing, such as monthly rents and utility bills.

Even people who own their own homes are able to get support with their mortgage repayments and building management costs (known as Hausgeld). However, they do have to fulfil certain criteria, like earning under a certain amount per month.

Unlike long-term unemployment benefit, which also includes a stipend for rent and bills, Wohngeld is intended for people who don’t rely on any other form of state support. That could include single parents or people with minimum wage jobs who spend a large proportion of their income on rent.

It means that people on jobseekers’ allowance and students with state loans and grants aren’t able to apply for Wohngeld. 

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How much money can people receive?

That depends on a range of factors such as where you live, how high your rent is and how much money you earn this month. However, one thing that’s clear is that Wohngeld is likely to rise significantly at the start of next year.

On Wednesday, cabinet ministers voted through proposals from Housing Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) to hike the monthly allowance by around €190 on average. That means that instead of receiving €177 per month, the average household on Wohngeld will receive around €370 per month starting in January. 

It’s worth noting that Geywitz’s reforms still need to clear a vote in the Bundestag, but with the governing coalition of the SPD, Greens and FDP behind the move, it’s likely that they will. 

The Housing Ministry has also put together an online tool that can calculate the amount of Wohngeld each household is entitled to. At the moment, this still calculates the allowance based on the current rates – but it will be updated if the reforms are passed by parliament. 

Who’s eligible for Wohngeld?

That depends on a complex calculation based on factors such as income, the number of people in a household, the size and location of the property and how high monthly housing expenses are. There’s no straightforward income threshold that people can refer to, which could explain why thousands of households who could potentially get Wohngeld never apply for it.

The best way to check if you’re currently eligible is to use the government’s Wohngeld calculator tool. But as we mentioned above, this is still based on the current criteria and monthly rates. 

As well as hiking the monthly allowance, Geywitz also wants to expand the criteria so more households are eligible for Wohngeld.

At the moment, around 600,000 households in Germany receive Wohngeld. This could increase by 1.4 million to two million under Geywitz’s plans. From next year, people earning minimum wage and people on low pensions are set to be among those who are able to apply. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: When should I turn on my heating in Germany this year?

Sound good – where do I sign up?

In general, the states and municipalities are responsible for handling Wohngeld applications. That means you should apply at the local Wohngeldamt (housing allowance office), Wohnungsamt (housing office) or Bürgeramt (citizens’ office) in your district or city. 

If you’re unsure where to go, searching for ‘Wohngeld beantragen’ (apply for housing allowance) and the name of your city or area should pull up some search results that can guide you further. 

Apartment blocks in Berlin Marzahn.

Apartment blocks in Berlin Marzahn. Photo: picture alliance / Matthias Balk/dpa | Matthias Balk

Alongside an application form, you’ll likely have to submit a tenancy agreement, ID, information on your residence rights and proof of any income or state support you already receive. Other members of your household may also have to submit similar financial information. 

You should also be registered at the address you’re applying for Wohngeld for. 

READ ALSO: Germany to spend €200 billion to cap soaring energy costs

Are there any other changes to Wohngeld I should know about?

Anyone already on Wohngeld, or who receives it between September and December this year, is also entitled to a special heating allowance to help with winter energy costs. This is also set to be given to students and trainees receiving a BAföG loan or grant.

For students and trainees, the heating allowance is set at €345 per person. Meanwhile, the amount given to Wohngeld recipients will vary on the size of the household.

Single-person households will receive €415, two-person households will get €540 and there will be an additional €100 per person for larger households. 

This is likely to paid out in January. 

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