Hi Everyone. I post regular updates (in English) regarding changes to Soforthilfe, ALG and general Berlin coronavirus news via my instagram stories. Follow me on @lmnk44 for updates.
DISCLAIMER: This information has not been confirmed by a professional. It is what I have collected over the past weeks and have heard from other people, phone calls with agencies, accountants, steuerberater, etc. I cannot be held liable for relying on any of it, but I will be as transparent as I can about my reasonings if you get in touch with me. All the best, everyone!
23.04.20 What to keep in mind when receiving ALG II and still writing invoices
So, hopefully like many of you I received payment from the Arbeitsamt for the months of March (when I first applied) and April. These payments will keep coming on the first of the month for the next four months. My health insurance provider has also received payments from the Arbeitsamt, so make sure to check with them in case you've already paid your fees as they will need to transfer them back to you.
Now, it feels great and slightly weird to receive money from the different branches of German government and I am very grateful that they're taking such good care of us freelancers. Truly nowhere else in the world have I heard of systems as quick and capable as the German one. However, none of this is for free and every cent will be accounted for sooner or later. Do not assume that you are safe in the mass of people, do not assume that they won't bother checking every detail once this has blown over because of the sheer mountain of applicants seeking support. Stay on top of your finances and make sure that you educate yourself as to how and when and where you are able to spend the money, have to pay it back, have to prove your expenses etc.
I just called the Jobcenter again for this exact reason, as I am in the lucky position of having worked a couple of jobs and having one (!) job in the pipeline for the month of May, and I started getting worried as to how much of my ALG I need to put aside to repay once the final Abrechnung comes at the end of my 6 months support. Here is what I learned:
- The general rule of thumb is that if you earn MORE than the amount you are paid for RENT and FOOD, expect to have to repay the full month (including health insurance!)
- This seems rather messy to me, say I earn 750 euros and the jobcenter gives me 700 for food and rent, suddenly I have to repay the 700 plus 350 health insurance?
- Advisor on phone acknowledged this discrepancy, but could only tell me that this will be managed on a case by case basis
- If you receive money from any source of work (i.e. you wrote an invoice for it) your best option is to immediately report this to the Jobcenter so that they can adjust your next months finances.
- After the 6 months of support, you will have to fill out a form stating your exact income during that time period. This will be cross-referenced to what you received from the job center and then you will be given several methods of repayment, including rate payments. You will not be smacked with a massive €3000 bill that you need to pay within 14 days so don't worry too much.
- The date you receive money on your account is what matters, not the date of the job or the invoice!
- Obviously I'm not saying this, but considering all of this it might be smart to try and invoice as much as you can after your 6 month period runs out (should business be returning to normal by then), or attempt to spread it out across months so you're never over the limit.
As far as I can tell, you should all have gotten emails from a specific person at the Jobcenter, unless your application was perfect and they didn't ask you for any addendums (in which case email your Jobcenter directly, contacts can be found below). For everyone like me, this person is your Sachbearbeiter and you can freely email them all your invoices, incoming payments and concerns. Be nice though and don't overwork them, they're taking care of hundreds of people and deserve significant praise.
I am currently compiling a list of all the payments I received from March to today so I can send them to my Sachbearbeiter. I recommend everyone do the same.
Also, you should have gotten a form that frees you from paying your ARD and ZDF Rundfunkbeitrag along with your Vorläufige Bewilligung. Fill in your Number and send it directly to the Rundfunkbeitrag and you won't have to pay them for 6 months! Yay.
As always, get in touch if you have any questions or concerns.
21.04.20 General Update regarding Soforthilfe
Great news, everyone! Yes, that was a Professor Farnsworth quote. I come with some clarity regarding what we are allowed to spend the €9000 Soforthilfe on. This information is only regarding the €9000 that is only allowed to be used for Business Expenses and NOT regarding the €5000 (no longer available) for living costs.
Here we go:
- Studio Rent
- Equipment Rate Payments
- Account / Steuerberater
- Material Expenses (analog film, paints, paper, development, stuff you require for your professional/artistic practice)
- Equipment Repairs *
You are not allowed to purchase new stuff with this money! This would be a so-called Investment and not an expense and therefore is not valid. Studio rent and equipment rate payments need to have contracts with dates prior to the 11th of March, 2020. Regarding Material Expenses and your Accountant costs, these are obviously not contractual however, expect to have to show that these are regular expenditures of yours by using your past tax declarations. If you've never declared material expenses, you can't start now. If you usually declare €100 on paints or brushes or paper or films or development every month, you can't start spending €1200 now, just because you want to use the money that you received from the state. Keep your spending in line with what you've declared so far and you should be alright. Remember to be ready to document and prove every single cent you spend! Get an accountant if you've not got one yet, the cost that you spend on a good one will be repaid many times over via the money they will save you!
* Repair costs is a big one. These don't need to have existed from prior to the 11th of March. If your laptop is broken, you've got an old, broken camera lying around somewhere, you have any sort of gear that you've been wanting repaired then DO THAT NOW! If you "need it to work" then you can get it fixed. The checks for this will be very difficult for them to do in any meaningful way, so if you've got an old Korg lying around somewhere that needs some work done, congratulations the IBB is paying for it!
For people, like me, that work from home - it is not clear yet whether or not our Arbeitszimmer (as long as it's declared as such) can be paid for using the Soforthilfe cash. I will post an update on this as soon as I hear from the IBB.
Regarding the changes in Soforthilfe legislation - do not worry about it saying 3 months everywhere now. You are able to reapply for a new €9000 every three months, however I doubt any of us will be doing that any time soon. The Soforthilfe that you received can be spent for as long as you are experiencing Corona-Pandemic related loss of business/income. It is likely that this will go well into 2021, so don't worry about it yet and keep track of how much of the €9000 you spend on expenses so that you know when you could technically reapply.
21.04.20 - General Update of ALG II Information
I've fixed some of the older info I had posted throughout my ALG II help, most notably that the Jobcenter has released simplified versions of all applications and no longer requires a Vermögensprüfung before giving out Grundsicherung. If you scroll to the ALG II section you should find a guide on how to apply for ALG II via the new, simplified process. They still require you to declare your net worth and also state whether or not you received any money from the Soforthilfe, but they will not ask you to burn through your savings before supporting you. Big news is that Soforthilfe from State and ALG II from Arbeitsamt DO NOT CONFLICT and you can apply for both without issue! You will need to tell the Jobcenter that you are receiving Soforthilfe but it will not change your application. I'm still in the process of figuring what exactly we can spend the €9000 from Soforthilfe II on and am hoping to post another update later today after hearing back from the IBB.
08.04.20 - Update after removal of €5000 Berlin Living Cost support
On Monday, the 30th of March the queue for the IBB application was paused. A few days later, it became clear that the state (Berlin) and country(bund) funds would be combined to a single package of €9000, rather than €5000 and €9000 from state and bund respectively. Then the realisation started to hit. The €5000, intended as support for living expenses and missing income, was simply being removed. The €9000 as offered initially by the Federal German governments BMWi ministry will remain unchanged, available only for business expenses. This is a drastic shift in policy and reflective of the overwhelming response that Berlin received after introducing the €5000. They did not expect the amount of applications that they received, for whatever reason, and simply ran out of money too quickly.
At this point I would like to state that, as far as I can tell, the money did not run out because people were asking for too much (the €9000 and €5000 were two different sources of funding, they weren't grouped together), but because too many people applied. Do not shame or judge people for taking "too much" in a time of near-panic and insecurity.
However, there are increasing reports of people applying for Soforthilfe II without having been eligible for it. If you are NOT earning more than 60% of your income as a Freelancer (aka writing invoices), but have applied to and received Soforthilfe II, You are committing fraud.
If you are a student who is receiving BAFÖG and have received €5000, you are most likely committing fraud. Prepare to prove to the cent that you were earning 60% of your income via freelancing or be faced with fines and repayments.
If you are not able to prove that you have a corona-related loss of income, you WILL have to pay back the €5000 with your 2020 tax declaration.
If you were already in dire financial straights prior to the 11th of March, 2020, or not regularly writing invoices, you are officially also committing fraud and at the very minimum have to repay the €5000.
If you became a freelancer shortly prior to Corona and have no history of jobs, tax declarations or incomes, you were not meant as the target audience of Soforthilfen and are committing fraud. People in this situation need to turn to the jobcenter and ALG II for Grundhilfe für Selbstständige!
If you are afraid that you have committed Fraud by receiving €5000 or €9000 from the Soforthilfe funds, I recommend that you get in touch with the IBB or Finanzamt ASAP and be as transparent as you can about your situation. I have posted phone numbers and emails at the bottom of the page.
If you, in good faith, asked for the €5000 due to a loss of jobs, cancellations and did not know when you would be able to earn regularly again, but are suddenly able to work again and are earning money, expect to have to repay a part, if not all, of the €5000 support.
How exactly this will all be calculated is unclear, but it will be done by the Finanzamt. If you have specific or detailed questions regarding your personal situation, I recommend you contact your Finanzamt directly.
I am assuming that a lot of this will be a comparison between your 2019 and 2020 tax declarations. They will be used, along with I am sure other evidence such as emails for cancellations etc., to prove that you were not financially vulnerable before the 11th, that you lost income due to corona, and that you needed the €5000 to support yourself. I have not heard of any precise numbers!
Be aware that should the situation recover for you and you start earning money again, you will most likely be asked to repay the parts of the €5000 that were not deemed necessary for your survival. Do not spend this carelessly.
I spoke to someone from the IBB and, whilst not able to give me 100% guaranteed information, she said that most likely your Betriebskosten (business expenses) can also be calculated this way. I, for example, spend a certain amount of money each month on materials, transport, meetings, research. I do not have any contracts for these, but they are technically pre-existing, running business costs (so called laufende Betriebskosten). According to the IBB employee, these expenses will most likely count toward your €9000 that you (maybe) received from the German Government! This is good news, because, up until now, it was only guaranteed for contractual obligations such as studio rent, Kredit(rate payments) for equipment, car rental etc. I hope to clarify this when I speak to the Finanzamt on the phone and find out whether or not this is true.
I have just gotten off the phone with the Finanzamt. They will call me back. When is not sure. As soon as I hear from them, I will post more updates.
So, for now, you are only able to apply for €9000 from the German government via the IBB. You are NOT allowed to apply for this money twice. If you asked for even just €1000 in your original application, you cannot get in line again. As far as I can tell, if you didn't ask for any of the €9000 and just received the €5000, you are able to reapply for the €9000.
I HIGHLY recommend everyone that hasn't done so to apply for ALG II at this point. The current situation has led to an immense decrease in the regulations:
- Up to about €60,000 you are no longer required to spend your personal savings before receiving support!
- They will cover your entire rent, even if you live in a €1500 loft at Paul Lincke Ufer!
- You are allowed to earn up to €100 a month for free, and the rest of your possible income will be calculated against what they support you with at a rate of %80.
Especially if you missed the €5000. Chances are you will get some money from the Jobcenter! At the very least they should cover your health insurance, even if you received the €5000 and it ends up counting as income (which I will try to confirm with the Finanzamt). I cannot really give people more situational advice, if you have questions then apply and get your foot into the system and then communicate with the employees from the Job Center that are responsible for you!
Finally, scroll to the bottom of the page for a growing list of resources to pass the time. Free documentaries, online courses etc.
Stay frugal, everyone.
03.04.20 - Update after phone call with Jobcenter
There are still no clear rules on how Soforthilfe and ALG II work together. It all kind of depends on whether or not the Soforthilfe II (€5000) will be classified as income or not. SHOULD they be classified as income then you can expect them to take the €5000 over 6 months, and subtract that amount from the help that you would have received otherwise. Say your application is successful and you have 400 euro apartment costs and receive 432 euros living costs on top of that. That would be 832 euros in total. The €5000 Soforthilfe, classified as income, amount to 833 a month over half a year, meaning you’d actually make a plus and then you wouldn’t receive any money for these two things from the Jobcenter. However, health insurance would be covered separately and would definitely still be covered! On top of that, you’re then eligible for a further payment of maybe around €100 which, if I remember correctly, the person on the phone called Lebensaufstockungsgeld? A bit of an extra to make living a little more bearable. Need to confirm this again. So, even in the worst case scenario, you are able to get at least your health insurance covered by the state.
There is always the possibility that the €5000 will not be classified as income in your tax form. The state has not clarified this as far as I’m aware, which is insane, considering if it counts as income then you are liable to pay taxes on it (aka put aside at least a third for your income tax declaration 2020). It just goes to show that fast help is great, but the bureaucracy needs to catch up sooner or later, otherwise we’re all stuck with these unknowns.
However, with the changes on Monday to the Soforthilfen, I’m expecting new info asap. Starting Monday, there will no longer be €5000 Soforthilfe II from Berlin and €9000 Soforthilfe from Germany. These will be combined into one single sum of €9000. How exactly this sum can be used, whether or not it’s also for living expenses, has not been clarified yet.
On top of that, Wohngeld, contrary to what I’ve assumed, is actually separate from the Jobcenter. You can apply for it on top of everything else here: https://service.berlin.de/dienstleistung/120656/ . I will have a look at this process on Monday and update everyone here. The Jobcenter itself also covers rent, however they don't call it Wohngeld.
The adventure continues.
26.03.20 - Note on all the different applications and recommend process for Freelancers and Small Businesses
This information is not absolute. I had a lengthy talk with my tax guy yesterday and am paraphrasing his advice.
Currently, there are three known ways for freelancers/creatives/small business/"insert preferred term here" to apply for financial support during COVID-19. ALG II from the Jobcenter (covers rent, insurance and small living allowance, paid out monthly), Soforthilfe II (from city of Berlin, paid every 6 months, €5k, seems to not have many strings attached) and a general Soforthilfe from the BMWi (Federal Ministry of Economics, Germany-wide, max €9k every 3 months, seems bureaucratic, possible repayments required). ALG II, also known as Hartz 4, has been around for a long time and supplies help for freelancers, more info below. Soforthilfe II will be available starting Friday the 27th of March, more info below as well. The Soforthilfe from the BMWi is still being drafted, it will take a while before we have more info on this.
Now, on to the juicy bits. The recommendations of my taxman are as follows: Apply for ALG II as soon as you can, ideally before the end of March, as you will receive support for the full month that you submit your application in. Apply for Soforthilfe II once it becomes available tomorrow, as long as you are eligible. I will be posting further information tomorrow, once we know what the exact conditions and requirements are. I will also be attempting to download the applications and provide external links here, in case the website goes down. Expect a full summary and further help in filling it out by tomorrow night. Finally, as soon as the BMWi Soforthilfe becomes available, apply for that as well if you are able to. Taxman expects there to be a lot more strings attached to this Soforthilfe. It might only cover actual business expenses (offices, leases, loan payments, employee wages etc), and according to the little info on their website you might be required to repay some of the money they give you if you don't spend it directly on your "business".
It is incredibly important that, as soon as you hear from the Jobcenter, you notify them immediately that you have either applied for Soforthilfe II (and possibly BMWi money, if it takes that long) or have already received money from them! They need to decide whether or not they will still support you, and in what capacity. It is possible that the current situation means you won't receive your living allowance, but they might still cover your rent and insurance. You might also be able to receive everything at the same time. The Jobcenter needs to decide this, not you! If you do not mention this to them and start receiving money from multiple sources without being transparent about it, you could be opening yourself up to charges, investigation, fines or repayments.
Stay safe, stay posted for updates and read up on all the info below to be ready for everything.
In Germany, as a permanent resident or EU Citizen freelancer, you are eligible for “Grundsicherung für Selbstständige”, which consists of Arbeitslosengeld II (ALG II), Rent and Krankenversicherungsbeiträge (Health Insurance payments). This support, for freelancers who want the possibility to continue working, is limited to 6 months at a time. If you require help for longer, you'll be asked to do a summary of your income and expenses for the previous six months. After that, you can reapply for another 6 months of support. Any expenses over €400 need to be cleared by your Sachberater whilst you are receiving ALG II. Part-time and shift workers who are employed, your application doesn't differ much from freelancers. Please scroll down for more details.
On the 21.04.20 I have changed a large part of my guide on how to apply for Grundsicherung/ALG because there are simplified versions of the applications available via the Jobcenter. You do not have to expose your full financial status any more, as long as you own under €60,000. You no longer have to make accurate and detailed analysis of your financial income in the coming months. Everything you need to fill in is now available via two forms (linked below), instead of 4 as it was earlier.
Due to Corona, the Jobcenter will no longer withhold support until your private Savings have been used up. You are allowed to have up to 60k per person in your household (around 30k for children) and still receive Grundsicherung für Selbstständige. This represents a shift in policy by the German government, signalling their intention to use ALG as living cost support during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Your application is valid for the month that it is submitted in! If you apply on the 31st of March, fill out 01.03.20 as the beginning of your need for help. You will be covered from the first of the month of your application.
If your application is complete and successful:
- Your rent will be paid for you
- Your health insurance will be paid for you
- You will receive up to €432 a month on top of that (living costs)
- You can continue working and writing invoices, any income will need to be repaid against the (possibly) €432 that you receive
You can cancel your need for help the moment you no longer require it. You can also quickly reactivate it if you ever run into tight times in the future! Being registered here can be of great benefit if your freelance work is seasonal, and you know that during summer months you’ll be earning less. You can save your health insurance and rent payments during those months.
You can download all necessary application forms for freelancers here:
(As far as I can tell, there are no official english resources available. If anyone knows third party info in English, please let me know)
Vereinfachter Hauptantrag (Main Application): https://www.arbeitsagentur.de/datei/ba146399.pdf
Anlage KAS (for Freelancers): https://www.arbeitsagentur.de/datei/vereinfachte-anlage-kas_ba146400.pdf
Note about Bedarfsgemeinschaft (BG): this crops up again and again in the forms and can be quite confusing. A Bedarfsgemeinschaft is when you and several others live together and share financial resources. This is not the case in a normal WG! This only applies if you have children, are supporting a spouse or elderly parents etc. If you don't do this, leave all references to BG empty.
Freelancers need to fill out all of the above forms.
Hauptantrag Help (German): https://www.hartziv.org/download/Alg2-Ausfuellhinweise.pdf
Hauptantrag Help (English): https://www.arbeitsagentur.de/datei/hinweise-algii-antrag-en_ba013348.pdf
Hauptantrag Help in many other languages: https://www.kreis-lup.de/suche/?q=hauptantrag
If you are married, have children or dependants, have applied to ALG II before, have any other sources of income (minijobs, pensions, orphan money, child money etc) you will have to fill out further forms that I am not listing here. The Hauptantrag will tell you which forms (Anlagen) they are. You can find a full list of forms here: https://www.hartziv.org/formulare.html
Once filled in, you can either send your application to the Job Center via email:
Neukölln: jobcenter-Berlin-Neukoelln.T660@jobcenter-ge.de (030 5555792222)
Mitte / Wedding: Jobcenterfirstname.lastname@example.org (030 5555452222)
Friedrichshain / Kreuzberg: email@example.com (030 5555442222)
Tempelhof / Schöneberg: Jobcenter-Tempelhof-Schoeneberg@jobcenter-ge.de (030 5555802222)
Phone numbers added in case of questions.
or via post to
Jobcenter Berlin Neukölln
Mainzer Strasse 27
or chuck it directly into their mailbox at the jobcenter in your district. Please keep in mind that you need to send your mail to the Job Center in your area! This doesn't work like the Bürgeramt where you can register your apartment in NK at the Bürgeramt Reinickendorf because the wait is shorter there.
20/03/20 - Soforthilfe II "Protection for Solo-freelancers and small businesses"
NOTE: As of 23.03.20, there is a federal care package in the works that is claiming to offer €9000 for all small businesses under 5 people and freelancers. This appears to be different from Soforthilfe II, which is run on state level and provided by the city of Berlin. There seems to be no clear info on how they will work together, or not. The €9000 care package seems to have more strict rules and will require you to pay back any support that you will not utilise. It also seems to be a couple of steps behind Soforthilfe II, and will likely take longer before you're able to apply for it. I will call a Steuerberater tomorrow to try and get more information.
NOTE II: Applications will be available as of Friday the 27th of March at 12:00. I will post more info on how to fill it out then!
Berlin has finally started reacting to the desperate need of help from its small business owners and so called "solo-selbstständige", aka freelancers, and has announced plans to release Soforthilfe II. However, despite Mayor Michael Müllers cry for €15000 for each freelancer plus quick and un-buearocratic access to the money, they've already mentioned several restrictions:
- You need to be able to prove that you need the money to secure your personal financial future and the safety of your business (expect bank account statements, proof of job cancellations, previous years' tax sheets etc.)
- You will need to announce whether or not you are receiving any other benefits from the state. They appear to want to avoid people receiving support from multiple sources (i.e. ALG II).
- If someone receives support from multiple sources, it is likely that you will need to pay back parts of it or cancel one of the two sources of support.
- The amount comes to €5000 per person or small business. Single freelancers are able to reapply after six months, small businesses after three months.
- This program is going to be launched by the Investitionsbank Berlin (IBB) within the coming week (23-27th of March)! THERE ARE CURRENTLY NO APPLICATION FORMS OR FURTHER INFORMATION AVAILABLE.
As soon as more information is made available, I will post it here. As soon as there are hotlines available, I will call and make sure what the situation is regarding those non-EU citizens who are currently not eligible for social support such as ALG II.
If you are worried that you won't be eligible for this support if you have now applied for ALG II, don't be! I have applied for ALG II and will be waiting for more information to be released on this. If there is a prospect of receiving €5000 quickly and without long wait, I would consider pausing my application for ALG II for the immediate future. This will be possible and I will provide more details should the need arise. For now, it is best to use all methods available to us! We can always choose which one we want to use when the time comes.
Further information for people on work permits and visas and otherwise non-EU can be found here: https://www.redtapetranslation.com/how-not-to-go-broke-as-a-freelancer-in-germany-during-covid-19/
Freelancers and in general those who are non-EU citizens and working via Visas that explicitly state you are unable to receive social benefits (at risk of losing your visa), your situation is a much more difficult one. The employees I've spoken to at the Jobcenter all recommend that you turn to the Auswärtiges Amt (https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/de/) and/or your Embassy in case your situation becomes desperate. There are currently no exceptions for you with regard to ALG II and social support in general. I will update this as soon as detailed information on Soforthilfe II is released.
Important information for members of the Künstlersozialkasse (KSK):
You're able to apply for ALG II whilst also being a member of the KSK. However, there are some things to be aware of. The KSK expects you to earn €3900 a year (after tax) from your artistic practice. You're allowed to earn less than this twice every six years. The KSK automatically finds out about your ALG II status via your health insurance. They might come and check if you're still working as an artist. If you plan on using ALG II regularly, please keep in mind how much you earn as an artist and how often you don't hit your yearly sum, otherwise you could be at risk of losing your membership.
Important information for students:
In normal times, you're not eligible for ALG II. However, I spoke to the service hotline yesterday and was told that, whilst there are no guarantees, it is definitely recommended to apply for ALG II anyway. So, if you're a student and losing a lot of income, don't hesitate to fill out the forms. Either way you'll have gathered all of your information together and you'll also be in the system and have proof of your need. That might be invaluable down the line.
Update: I've just heard from someone who spoke to the hotline today. Apparently Hartz IV is definitely available for students (that's the up to €432 a month). Rent and Insurance aren't guaranteed (yet). It's not much, but it's a start. This is a sign that you should definitely apply as well.
Important information for shift workers/part-time workers that are employed and do not write invoices:
You're also eligible for ALG II! The Jobcenter will pay your lost wages due to cancelled shifts/days and your employer will continue paying your "Sozialabgaben". You need to fill out only the Anlage EK and (if applicable, see above) Anlage VM in addition to the Hauptantrag.
If you have any other questions, please ask! If you have any information that I've not listed here, please tell. Please message me via my instagram. @lmnk44
Please get in touch with me if/when you hear from the arbeitsamt, jobcenter, government, anyone! Share your experiences and any new information so that I can pass them on to others in similar situations, that's the only way this system works!
Soforthilfe II Contact Information:
030 / 2125 - 0
IBB Kundenberatung Wirtschaftsförderung
All of the above will be able to advise you regarding Soforthilfe!
Good resources and external links
Arbeitsamt FAQ regarding Coronavirus and Applications
Official Berlin Corona Resource:
Great summary of freelance tips and information regarding corona and social support (localised to Baden Württemberg, but some info applies to Berlin as well)
Xing.com - Coronavirus in Germany, what does it mean for freelancers?
Spiegel.de - 40 Billion Euros for Freelancers and small businesses
bkk.de - KSK and ALG II
Classcentral - free online university courses from US Ivy Leagues:
Stream Experimental Films and Video Works:
Investitionsbank Berlin (Soforthilfe 2):
Architecture and Design Documentaries to Stream: