April 2020: 9 changes affecting expats in Germany
As a result of the coronavirus crisis, tenants have acquired new rights, child supplement is easier to access and Hartz IV recipients can get their benefits without means testing - and other non-corona related laws are coming into effect too. Here’s an overview of the most important changes expats in Germany should be aware of.
1. Changes to BAföG repayments
The Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz (BAföG) provides financial support to people studying in Germany, helping them cover tuition fees and studying costs, in the form of a grant or loan.
From April 2020, some new rules will apply to the repayment of BAföG loans. According to the old regulation, BAföG recipients had to pay their loan at a maximum rate of 105 euros per month, up to a maximum repayment of 10.000 euros. The new regulation now states that beneficiaries must repay 130 euros per month, regardless of their income, for a maximum of 77 months. The maximum repayment amount will therefore increase to 10.010 euros.
Those earning low salaries can also apply for a partial exemption and temporarily repay lower instalments of at least 42 euros per month. Those paying a lower instalment still only pay back for a maximum of 77 months.
2. Easier access to child supplement
As part of the coronavirus aid package put together by the federal cabinet, parents who are experiencing loss of earnings will have easier access to the child supplement (Kinderzuschlag) from April onwards. The child supplement is intended to help parents whose earnings are not sufficient to support their entire family.
Up until now, the family’s average income over the past six months has been used to calculate their benefit entitlement, but for the new “emergency child supplement”, the calculation period will be significantly shortened: applicants will only have to show income data for the previous month. The new regulation will initially apply until the end of September.
3. Childcare contributions suspended in some federal states
Parents in North Rhine-Westphalia will not have to pay contributions towards their children’s childcare in April. This was announced by NRW Family Minister Joachim Stamp on Thursday last week. Similar regulations have already been passed in several other federal states, including Saxony and Thuringia.
Many towns and cities in Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Baden-Württemberg are also looking to reimburse parents for fees for daycare. The municipalities are to receive 50 million euros from the coronavirus emergency aid fund.
4. Hartz IV without means test
For at least six months, starting from April, Job Centres in Germany will no longer check the assets and the rental costs of those applying for Unemployment Benefit II (ALG II / Hartz IV). In addition, applications for unemployment benefits will no longer have to be made in person, but can be done by phone or online.
5. Higher air traffic tax
Although most planes remain grounded because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a new regulation comes into force on April 1 to make flying less attractive, as part of the federal government’s climate package. A higher tax rate will apply to air traffic leaving from German airports, meaning that the price of airline tickets will probably rise as a result.
For domestic and EU flights, the tax increases by 5,65 euros to 13,03 euros per ticket. For flights up to 6.000 kilometres long, the tax is increased by 9,96 euros to 33,01 euros. For long-haul flights over 6.000 kilometres, the tax goes up by 18 euros to 59,43 euros. The tax increase is intended to encourage more people to switch from flying to taking the train.
6. Higher minimum wage in construction
The new month also sees the minimum wage in the construction industry increase - regardless of the statutory minimum wage in Germany. Minimum wages like these, which are negotiated as part of a collective agreement, are generally binding and apply to all companies in the construction industry, including those not bound by collective agreements.
The minimum wage for auxiliary work on construction (wage group 1) will increase from 12,20 euros to 12,55 euros per hour. Skilled workers (group 2) in western Germany will now receive a minimum of 15,40 euros per hour instead of 15,20 euros. In Berlin, the minimum wage for skilled construction workers will rise from 15,05 euros to 15,25 euros.
7. Protection for tenants in coronavirus crisis
The coronavirus pandemic has also led to some exceptions in Germany’s otherwise very strict tenancy law: tenants cannot be evicted during the coronavirus crisis for not paying their rent. This new law applies to rental debt accumulated between April 1 and June 30, 2020, provided it is based on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (if, for instance, you are prevented from going to work).
In a nutshell, the tenant’s obligation to pay the rent on time remains, but the landlord’s right to terminate tenancies will be restricted - both for residential and commercial space leases. The government is authorised to extend the period of the measures until September 30, 2020.
8. Loan repayments can be suspended
Many people in Germany are currently paying off a loan. Those who have lost income due to the coronavirus crisis, and who are no longer able to pay off their loan as a result, will be helped by a new deferral regulation.
The law stipulates that all consumer loan contracts that were concluded before March 15, 2020, can be suspended for a maximum period of three months. This includes the repayment, interest and principal payments that are due between April 1, 2020 and June 30, 2020.
However, in order to benefit from the ruling, you must prove that you have lost revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that further repayment of your loan would lead to your livelihood being endangered.
9. Payments for electricity, gas, water and telephone can be suspended
If utility bills for electricity & gas, water, telephone and internet can no longer be paid due to loss of income caused by the coronavirus pandemic, nobody will be cut off from basic services. The federal government has put together an aid package for consumers.
If you do not have the money to pay your bills, you have the option of temporarily suspending payment until June 30, 2020.
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