Karlsruhe (dpa) – Refugees who live in shared accommodation again get just as much money to live on as other single asylum seekers.
Their social benefits were cut by a flat rate of ten percent in 2019 because they can allegedly save on expenses by shopping and cooking together – but that violates the Basic Law. “The existential needs of those affected are currently not covered,” said the Federal Constitutional Court.
The “special needs level” for single people in refugee homes was introduced on September 1, 2019 by the then federal government made up of CDU/CSU and SPD. The shortened rate is the same as for people who are married or living with a partner.
According to the current standard rates, this makes a difference of 45 euros for people who have been legally resident in Germany for at least 18 months. Single asylum seekers in this group are currently entitled to 449 euros. If you live in a collective accommodation, it is only 404 euros. This amount is usually reduced by deductions for benefits in kind such as electricity or furniture. Single people who have not been in the country that long receive 367 euros per month and 330 euros in collective accommodation.
This was justified with possible savings through the joint management of the residents. Such effects exist, for example, when eating, “by buying groceries or at least the basic kitchen needs together in larger quantities and using them together in the communal kitchens,” as the explanatory statement states. Working together can “be expected”.
Victims violated their fundamental rights
For the court, however, it is “not recognizable” that such savings are actually achieved – or could be achieved. Three years after the regulation came into force, there were no investigations, the judges of the First Senate said. Those affected are said to have violated their fundamental right to a decent subsistence level.
The specific case involved a man from Sri Lanka, born in 1982, who has been living in shared accommodation near Düsseldorf since 2014. In the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act, he falls under the provision that applies to all people who have been here for at least 18 months. The Karlsruhe decision therefore directly affects only this group. However, the Society for Freedom Rights (GFF), which initiated the procedure, assumes that it can be transferred to benefits received in the first 18 months.
The regulation on single people who have been here for a long time now needs to be revised. The constitutional judges also ordered for this group with immediate effect that all single people should again be granted the higher rate – whether they live in collective accommodation or not.
Retrospectively, only those affected benefit whose decisions are not yet final. This is the case if someone has lodged an objection or complained. These people may have been entitled to more money since September 2019.
Linguistic and cultural differences
The GFF had long criticized the justification for the cuts as unrealistic. “The constant fluctuation in the accommodations and the different linguistic and cultural backgrounds make working together very unlikely,” said the donation-financed organization, which conducts strategic court proceedings in a targeted manner.
In this case, the GFF had developed a template for social courts to have the “special needs level” checked in Karlsruhe. A judge at the Düsseldorf Social Court made use of it. There, the man from Sri Lanka is suing for higher benefits for the months of November 2019 to February 2020. If a specialist court considers a norm to be unconstitutional that it would have to apply in a specific case, it suspends the procedure so that Karlsruhe can decide.
The plaintiff now has a secure right of residence and works. During the time relevant to the proceedings, he had shared a room with a man from Guinea and a kitchen and bathroom with six other residents from Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia.
“My roommates are fine, but we don’t have a close relationship,” GFF quotes the plaintiff in an interview from April 2021. As a Hindu, he doesn’t eat beef and only eats vegetarian once during fasting periods. But even with joint purchases, no money can be saved from his point of view. “If I cook rice for four people, I need four times as much rice.”
The GFF does not have exact figures on how many refugees were last affected by the cut, but suspects that it may be more than 100,000. The federal government had indicated the savings potential from the new regulation in 2019 at around 40 million euros a year.
The organization Pro Asyl and the Berlin Refugee Council called on the traffic light coalition to abolish the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act completely and to include refugees in the planned citizens’ benefit. The law is discriminatory and leads to “arbitrary, almost arbitrary restrictions on the level of performance”.