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Hessian cities overwhelmed: When waiting for housing benefit threatens existence |

Living, waiting, worrying: As a result of the housing benefit reform, significantly more people have been entitled to housing benefit since January 2023. But recipients often have to wait up to twelve months for support. This can be life-threatening.

By Petra Boberg

Video post


01:52 mins

Long waiting times for housing benefit – Hessian cities are overwhelmed


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Tom, whose actual name is different, is a single parent and lives in Frankfurt with his three children. He works as an industrial mechanic 30 hours a week. Nevertheless, according to him, the money is not enough to make ends meet.

“You don’t know how to make ends meet.”

Tom is entitled to 400 euros in housing benefit per month. But he had to wait six months before his initial application was approved. That was a long time, says the 38-year-old. This is a threat to his existence, especially for him as a single parent with children. “Because you don’t know how to make ends meet, especially because the prices have been increased. So that’s very difficult.” He then only ate once a day; that was his last opportunity to save money.

Tom (name changed by the editors) on a bridge in front of the Frankfurt skyline

Like other single parents, families and pensioners, Tom should actually benefit quickly from the federal housing benefit reform, because they are particularly suffering from the burden of high rents and rising heating costs – especially in cities like Frankfurt.

Those in need are submitting significantly more applications

In September 2022, the federal government passed the reform – according to its own statements, it was the largest housing benefit reform in the history of Germany. But what is well-intentioned apparently falls on the municipalities’ feet. You are responsible for implementation. An hr query among the five independent cities in Hesse shows: There are long waiting times everywhere, with Wiesbaden at the forefront.

A map of Hesse with five Hessian cities shows how long applicants for housing benefit have to wait for the decision.  In some municipalities it takes 3 months, in others it can take a whole year.

The long processing times are also unsatisfactory for Andreas Bertram, head of the housing office in Frankfurt. The dissatisfaction among citizens is great and understandable, he says. But since the reform was implemented at the beginning of 2023, his authorities have no longer been able to keep up. The applications increased from 12,162 to around 18,699 compared to the previous year. “We were actually faster. Those were the times before the housing benefit reform.” The authority was not prepared for the mass of additional applications that were now received.

There is a lack of employees in the office

According to head of office Bertram, the legislature managed to get the housing benefit reform off the ground quite quickly. That is good, but the staff is not available to process the significantly increased number of applications. Finding new colleagues is not easy in times of skilled labor shortages. And hiring alone is not enough, says the 44-year-old administrative economist.

The Housing Benefit Act is a “small law”, but quite complicated. Training new employees takes up to twelve months. “We can’t do more than work.” The authority is working better than its public reputation.

Emergencies should be dealt with first

A bar chart shows how much applications for housing benefit have increased in five Hessian cities.  In some cities they have increased by 30% and in others by 50%.

In Wiesbaden, the number of applications has increased by 30 percent compared to the previous year, says Patricia Becher, head of the social affairs department. She also says she understands the distress and frustration about the waiting times. The authorities are doing everything they can to deal with the traffic jam.

Ten more full-time positions have been filled since March and training is taking time. But: Anyone who finds themselves in an emergency situation should contact the social benefits and job center. The housing benefit office is located there. Colleagues would process these applications as a priority.

Situation has not been “normal” for years

Since the beginning of 2024, housing benefit can also be applied for online in Wiesbaden. In the medium term, this will help shorten the processing time, says the head of the social affairs department. It is important that the required documents are complete when submitting the application in order to avoid additional requests, which in turn delay processing.

This is also not a satisfactory situation for the clerks at the housing benefit office. “We haven’t been in a normal situation for several years now.” However, the Wiesbaden head of social affairs emphasizes: “No claim is lost.”

Those waiting save on food and clothing

“The people who are entitled to housing benefit are not high earners,” says Eva-Maria Winckelmann, director of the Hesse regional association of the German Tenants’ Association. “These are usually tenants who do not receive any additional support for their living expenses because they earn “too much”.

“In the end, as long as the application is not approved, they will be worse off than the people who receive help with living expenses because they initially have to bear all the costs alone.” If there is a claim for housing benefit but it is not processed, the money is missing in other areas, such as for food, clothing or participation in cultural life.

Further information

Who is entitled to housing benefit?

The amount of housing benefit depends on several factors: income, rent, household size and place of residence. The Housing benefit calculator Ministry of Construction shows whether you are authorized. Households with low incomes just above basic income can claim housing benefit. This affects tenants (rent subsidy) as well as owners of their own living space (burden subsidy).

The German Economic Institute has calculated: A single person who lives in a particularly expensive area is entitled to housing benefit up to a gross income of around 2,300 euros. The same applies to a family of four in an expensive area with an income of less than 5,000 euros.

End of further information

Additional costs for the municipalities amounting to millions

The Hessian districts are also currently assuming at least a doubling of the number of cases, says Lorenz Wobbe from the office of the Hessian District Council. The housing benefit authorities have so far been able to cope with the increased number of applications with considerable effort, which also required additional staff.

This resulted in not insignificant additional costs, which in turn would lead to at least a doubling of administrative costs, according to Wobbe. Corresponding compensation demands would be addressed to the country. The Hessian districts expect additional costs for personnel and administration in the millions.

Help through tenant associations

Eva Maria Winkelmann from the Hesse Tenants’ Association advises all those affected who are waiting for their housing benefit to ask the authorities and get further help, for example from the tenants’ associations.

This is important so that it becomes known how great the financial pressure is for those affected. In any case, 38-year-old Tom from Frankfurt is grateful that his application was finally approved after six months.

Further information

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Further information

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