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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Reader question: Is it ever legally too hot to work from home in Germany?

Germany has regulations on working during a heatwave - but does that also apply to people who work remotely? We take a look.

Reader question: Is it ever legally too hot to work from home in Germany?

The number of people working from home shot up during the Covid pandemic, and though employees no longer have the right to work remotely by law, many have chosen to stick with more flexible arrangements and set up a home office at least part of the week.

This is great news for people who enjoy a lie-in more than a long commute, but there are some downsides. One major issue is that it’s not always clear how Germany’s strict employee protection rules actually apply in a home setting. The rules for working during a heatwave are a good example of this.

How does Germany regulate working in extreme heat? 

By law in Germany, employers are responsible for creating a safe environment for their workers. This means that they should try and keep the temperature below 26C at all times and are legally obliged to take action if the temperature goes above 30C. 

That could include putting blinds on the windows to prevent the glare of the sun, installing air conditioning systems or purchasing fans. In some cases – such as outdoor manual labour – it could also involve starting and finishing earlier in the day. 

And in really high temperatures, employers may simply decide to call the whole thing off and give their employees a ‘hitzefrei’ day – basically a heat-induced day off – to go and cool down in a lake. However, business owners are generally given free rein to decide how hot is too hot in this instance (except in the case of vulnerable workers). 

READ ALSO: Hitzefrei: Is it ever legally too hot to go to work or school in Germany?

Do the heat rules apply to ‘home office?’

Unfortunately not. In most cases in Germany, the company isn’t directly involved in setting up the workspace for an employee that works from home, aside from possibly providing a laptop or phone for remote use. 

“The occupational health and safety regulations regarding room temperature do not apply in this case,” labour law expert Meike Brecklinghaus told German business publication T3N. “This is because the employer does not have direct access to the employee’s workplace and in this respect cannot take remedial action.”

That means that on hot days, it’s the employee’s own responsibility to make sure the environment is suitable for working in. 

woman works from home in Germany

A woman works in her living room at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Naupold

One duty employers do have, however, is to instruct their workers about the best way to set up a healthy work environment at home, for example by giving guidance on how to regulate the temperature. 

“In the end, it is the employee’s responsibility to maintain his or her workplace in a condition in which he or she can perform his or her work without the threat of health impairments,” Brecklinghaus explained.

What can home office workers do in hot weather?

There are plenty of ways to keep flats cooler in the summer months, including purchasing your own fan, keeping curtains or blinds drawn and ventilating the rooms in the evening or early morning when the weather is cooler.

However, if heat is really becoming a problem, it’s a good idea to communicate this to your employer. This is especially important if you have a health condition that makes it more dangerous to work in hot weather. 

In some cases, you might be able to negotiate for the employer to pay for the purchase of a fan or mobile air conditioner as goodwill gesture. If possible, you could also arrange to travel to the office where the temperature should be better regulated.

Another option for early birds or night owls is to arrange more flexible working hours so you can avoid sweltering at your desk in the midday sun, although this of course depends on operational factors. 

READ ASO: Jobs in Germany: Should foreign workers join a union?