Life can take a funny turn sometimes and when it’s not playing fair, we all might need some extra support. This is especially true for us foreigners, who often don’t have a local support system to rely on. My guide on ALG1 unemployment benefits has proven to be immensely popular.

It was therefore only a question of time until I covered another tool in the set of social benefits Germany can offer. Here it goes.

ALG2 Bürgergeld benefits application guide

A little word of intro

Bürgergeld is still often sometimes called ALG2 or Hartz 4 because it finds it foundation in the so called Hartz Konzept, which defined modern day standards of unemployment benefits back in 2002. It’s also now also referred as part of the “Grundsicherung” since 2023.

Unlike for ALG1, your main office won’t be the Arbeitsagentur, but the Job Center of your area.

You can find where that is by googling “Job Center name of your city/Bezirk“.

Who can apply?

The basic following conditions needs to be met to qualify.

  • You are fit for work (for at least 3 hours a day) – erwerbsfähig 
  • You are in need of assistance. This means that you current income or savings cannot secure a basic livelihood and guarantee proper access to food, clothing, housing and medical care. It also means no relative or life partner in your household can financially assist you – hilfebedürftig
  • You are over 15 years old and have not yet reached retirement age.
  • You have the right to work in Germany.

However as a foreigner, you also need to fulfill at least either one of the following scenario:

  • you have been a registered resident in Germany for at least 5 years.
  • you were previously eligible and received ALG1, and your benefits ran out.
  • you worked a job in Germany for 3 of the last 6 months, but now are jobless and not entitled to ALG1.

Attention: freelancers, ALG1 recipients, & low income employees

Working as a freelancer, mini-jobber or low-income employee, it is also possible to apply for Bürgergeld benefits if your current income is not enough to meet your basic needs. It would then serve as a complement to reach the minimum threshold. Same if your ALG1 benefits is not enough to support you.

How much can I expect?

There is no simple answer to this at it depends on your situation. To start, let’s take an example for a single person with no kids and no income:

  • A lump sum of 563€/month to cover your livelihood (Lebensunterhalt), 506€ each for couples.
  • Your health insurance costs are covered.
  • Your current rent is paid for.
  • You can benefit from a discount on public Transportation passes (ex: BVG Abo for Berlin).
  • You can be exempted from the TV/Radio tax.
  • You can get additional support if you are taking vocational training (Weiterbildung) to improve your chances of finding work, or go on a new career path: 75€ to 150€ monthly.

Other situations may impact and increase the amount too:

  • If you have other adults in the same household with no income.
  • If you support of your own kid(s) under 15 an extra 357€ to 471€ depending on the age group:
  • If you or your partner is pregnant.
  • and more and more, all detailed in this wonderful PDF.

If you want a more precise estimate which takes into account all those parameters for your situation, you can use this simple online calculator.

How long does it last?

As a rule if your application is successful, you will have benefits for 12 months (or 6 months for freelancers). At the end of this period, if you still haven’t been able to improve your situation, you can consult with your Berater/in to extend this period beyond that, preferably at least one month before expiration date.

How to apply for ALG2 – Bürgergeld

The typical steps: the what

As usual in Germany, the actual application is not simple. But applying for ALG2 – Bürgergeld is just another level. There is a lot of resistance from the job center and it will often look like they are trying to kill any goodwill you have. Just keep at it. This is how the process looks like:

  1. Fill in the main application form (Hauptantrag). It contains your basic information and details about your current situation.
  2. Send this form in right away without any of the other ones (Anlage). This is important because it will mark the beginning of your application process. It will make your eligible from this day on, should you be successful.
  3. Wait for the Job Center to send you a confirmation that they have received your request. It will come together with a list of documents and forms to provide to support your case.
  4. Fill in the forms requested in the letter, send in the documents to prove your current situation is dire. Naturally a copy of your Meldebescheinigung, passport, rental contract will be needed as well.
  5. The Job Center might request even more stuff, multiple times.
  6. Play some more ping pong with them.
  7. Get a confirmation or a rejection letter.

Applying online: the how

Due to the massive influx of people risking to fall below the poverty line, the German authorities have setup a so called “simplified application” process, which requires less information that can be done all digitally. It’s a bit faster and more straight forward.

This is how you apply for Bürgeld:

  1. Create an account on the platform first. It will enable you to do everything online. Go here and switch to English to “register as a private person”. Fill in your details and a receive a code by post to activate your account. You can bypass that extra verification step if you have a electronic residence permit (Aufenthaltstitels) with the AusweisApp2 feature.
  2. Once you are authenticated on the platform, look for “ALG2 Antrag” via the search bar.
  3. Fill in the main form “Hauptantrag” directly in the PDF file or online, and save it/send it. No signature is required.
  4. Receive a confirmation that your request has been taken into account, together with the list of required additional forms (Anlage) and documents (Nachweise).
  5. Go back to the platform and find the required additional forms.
  6. Upload the additional documents. In section 4.1 add the completed forms, in section 4.2 add whatever proof they need. Send and confirm.

Please note: communication sent from the Job Center to you will be in paper form, but you can always reply to them online via the platform.

You can read an FAQ page here dedicated to the special conditions applying to your application and how it’s processed during Corona times.

This is the confirmation letter we got when applying for my wife. It confirms our initial application and goes on to request additional forms and documents from us. As you can see, it’s a lot! Note the “jobcenter.digital” on the side, when none of it is digitized!

Typical additional forms that might be requested by the Job Center

  • Einkommen EK : this details your current sources of income. Self-employed people should instead use Einkommen Selbstständiger EKS.
  • Sozialversicherung SV: this details your health insurance costs.
  • Kosten der Unterkunft KDU : this details costs related to your rent. Please be aware that you need to be able to prove that your registered there, with your name on the contract.
  • Vermögen VM: this is disclosing any assets you might possess as well. You know, all those yachts parked in St-Tropez…
  • Kinder KI: about your children under 15 living in your household.

Typical additional documentation that might be requested

You thought filling pages and pages of forms was enough? Think again, the Job Center might ask you:

  • Bank statements from the last several months.
  • Details about income of your partner, if relevant.
  • Birth certificates of your children, if relevant.
  • Social insurance certificates
  • Marriage certificate, if relevant.
  • Copy of your passports or ID cards.
  • If you are freelancer: loss/profit statement, listing of your clients, Tax ID, latest invoices, registration certificate.
  • & moaaar. It’s never ending and that’s why you need a lot of perseverance.

A few tips

  1. Keep a copy of everything you send in. Digital or otherwise.
  2. Do not send anything in original.
  3. Keep all communications between you and the job center in written form.
  4. Stay at it. It gets hard.
  5. Get sure to hand over all documents yourself and make sure to get a receipt for those.
It may feel like that sometimes

This is what expected of you when receiving Bürgergeld benefits

If you successfully applied to Bürgergeld, you made use of your right to receive those benefits. With this right come some duties, as highlighted in this info PDF, page 18. You agree to them when receiving the benefits. Those are:

  • You should actively seek to improve your situation: this is basically means you try to find a job and don’t expect this kind of support to last forever. This is done by applying for jobs or trying to setup a business.
  • You should be reachable & present: you have to be able to meet with your local Job Center when they request to see you. It also means that leaving the city to take time off should be notified to them.
  • You are obligated to cooperate: At a basic level, this means that you have to fill-in all requested forms or submit documents they require. If you have been given undue money, you also have to give it back for example. And lastly, it means you have to keep them in the loop every time your situation changes.

If you fail to respect those duties, you can be punished for that, with a reduction (up to 30%) of your benefits.

Where to get help with your application

Lots of documents, lots of German: it can get overwhelming. You can get support through the process:

  • Bürgertelefon: an official hotline to answer your questions about Bürgergeld and other topics. Limited English support.
  • Together in Germany forum: The community, our team and the experts from Handbook Germany is available to answer questions for free, anonymously online.
  • Non-profit organizations across Germany: A lot of associations are helping people go through that process for free & with English support. Here is a list for Berlin for example. For any other city try to google “Bürgergeld hilfe [city name]”.

ALG2 Bürgergeld application guide – FAQ:

What income/asset is taken into account when calculating the amount of support money?

The rule is fairly simple: you must first make us of your own money/savings before resorting to support money. Any and all sources of income/assets are taken into account, those include for example:

– Rental income
– Any sort of other public support: ALG1, Kindergeld, grants, BAFöG, Stiftungen, Krankengeld, Elterngeld.
– Interest on stocks or other investments.
– Inheritances, property sale
– Life insurances.
– Jewelry or antiques.

However a complex calculation is made to remove any due taxes or obligations on those sources of income, and an allowance/exemption for some of it too. This calculation takes different thresholds for different income types into account, and it is almost unique to each case. Talk to your Berater/in for more info.

Does the income or the assets of my partner matter in the application?

If you are living together at the same address, their income and assets will be taken into account, even though they don’t apply for ALG2 themselves. This means for example, that if your partner earns enough to support the whole household, you will not be eligible to ALG2.

I want to travel to visit family/friends or simply take some time off, is it possible?

The job center allows up to 21 days away from your city while receiving ALG2 benefits. However, your trip must be approved before hand with your Berater/in. You need to make an appointment and personally go to your Job Center for that. Please be aware that weekends and holidays do count.
If you are travelling for business or to try to get a job, this of course another story, but it still needs to be discussed.

I work as a freelancer and struggle to make ends meet. Can i still apply for ALG2?

Yes, you can still be eligible for ALG2. What you currently earn will be taken into account to calculate your benefits but other things like health insurance costs or rent can still be paid for.

I am not satisfied with the outcome of my case, what should i do now?

In case your were rejected, don’t worry. It should not be interpreted as a definitive failure. The best thing in this case is to simply ask more details about why it was not accepted. Then, you can probably approach a help office to help you put together a so called Widerspruch, an objection, in order to reverse the decision.

The same applies if your case was accepted but the benefits you received are below what you were expecting. Try googling “hartz 4 widerspruch hilfe name of your city” or even “hartz 4 widerspruch hilfe name of your city Englisch” to find help in your area. You can also check this website out.

I hope this post helped you to get an overview of the process. Feel free to ask your questions in the comments.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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