Highest court rules benefit sanctions unconstitutional


Going forward, the government will no longer be allowed to apply sanctions to job seekers and cut unemployment benefits as quickly and as extensively as it has been able to. This was decided by the Federal Constitutional Court. In principle, however, sanctions continue to be permissible.

Are unemployment benefit sanctions compatible with a dignified subsistence level? The Federal Constitutional Court had to answer this question and came to the conclusion that the current rules under the so-called ‘Hartz 4’ legislation are partially unconstitutional.

According to the vice president of the court Stephan Harbarth, sanctions of 60 percent or more in benefit cuts in particular are incompatible with the Basic Law (constitution). A 30 percent sanction will continue to be permissible.

904,000 Sanctions

Until now, anyone who rejected a job offer or a funding measure would run the risk of being deprived of unemployment money for three months. In extreme cases, all benefits are cancelled.

The current case did not deal with a minor misconduct such as a missed appointment with the (un)employment office, which can be punished with a ten percent reduction. Nor were the particularly severe sanctions for young Hartz IV recipients under the age of 25 reviewed.

Last year, an average of 3.2 percent of Hartz IV recipients were subject to sanctions each month. There were a total of 904,000 sanctions in 2018. 77 per cent of these – more than three quarters – were due to missed appointments. Only just under a quarter were heavier sanctions.

Man from Erfurt had sued

The background to the decision from Karlsruhe was the complaint of an unemployed man from Erfurt. He had refused a job as a warehouse worker in 2014 because he preferred to go into sales. He also hadn’t accepted another job offer that was presented to him. As a result, he had to make do with 234.60 euros less per month. The Hartz IV (benefits) rate for a single adult is currently 424 euros. In January it will rise to 432 euro.

The Social Court in Gotha had referred his case to the Federal Constitutional Court. The plaintiff’s lawyer sees the danger that those affected could be caught in a downward spiral of resignation and existential fear as a result of sanctions.


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