Yay Socialism! or How To Claim Unemployment Benefits in Berlin

Almost every person will spend at least a little time in their lives unemployed. If it happens to you while you’re in Berlin, what can you do? Here’s some info on what you’re entitled to and what to do if your employer tells you that your job’s going bye-bye.

Do you qualify for unemployment benefit?

As an employee in Berlin, you pay a lot of deductions out of your monthly salary. If you find yourself unemployed, this is when you’ll really feel the value of them. However, not everyone qualifies for Arbeitslosengeld or unemployment benefit. You will qualify if you are a registered person who has worked at least 12 months in the last two years. If you resigned, you will most likely have to wait 3 months before you can claim benefits. And if you’re a freelancer, unless you have employment insurance, you’re on your own.

How much money can you expect?

To claim unemployment benefits in Germany, you need to have contributed for twice as long as you can receive it for. That means, if you’ve worked and contributed for two years, you can claim benefits for one. In terms of the amount, you will receive 60% of your net salary (that means after deductions) and 67% if you have dependents.

Different types of benefits

The type of benefit you receive will fall into one of two categories:

Arbeitslosengeld 1 (ALG 1) — This is what you can claim after having worked as an employee in Germany for at least 12 months. You’ll be referred to the Arbeitsagentur.

Arbeitslosengeld 2 (ALG 2)  — This is also known as Hartz 4. Fun fact: it’s named after Peter Hartz who instituted the system. This is what you can claim if you’ve either never worked in Germany before, or if your Arbeitslosengeld 1 entitlements run out, e.g. if you’ve been claiming ALG 1 for over a year. You’ll be referred to the Job Center.

What to do when you find out you’ve been let go

When you’re let go from your job it’s likely to happen in one of two ways.

Way the first: you’re notified that your contract will not be renewed and you’re obliged to work for the remainder of the notice period.

The second is what happens when you’re let go due to unforeseen circumstances such as insolvency.

In both cases, you should get a letter of termination, and you need to bring this to the Arbeitsagentur ASAP, ideally on the day you get the news.

The Arbeitsbescheinigung or termination letter should detail the reasons you’re being let go. Again, if you quit of your own volition, you will have to wait three months before you can sign on. However, if there’s no animosity between you and your employer but you’re parting ways due to a mutual understanding, you can usually come to an agreement where an employer will provide you with a termination letter. This is not a general rule, but it can be worth investigating.

If you fail to register on time, you’ll likely lose out on some of the money you would have gotten otherwise. But there’s really no reason to do so. The unemployment system is really efficient and there’s no reason you should be out of pocket for long.

Register yourself as a jobseeker

When you get let go, it’s a good idea to go directly to the unemployment office as they’ll most often help you get everything sorted stat. However, before you go, you should immediately register yourself as a soon-to-be jobseeker online. This will show that you’re eager to be gainfully employed. You can register online here.

Register in person at the unemployment office

If you can, it’s a good idea to register as unemployed or soon-to-be unemployed in person before you actually finish working. If you don’t have that option, you need to make it the first thing you do on your first day of unemployment.

You’ll need:

  • Your passport
  • Your Meldebescheinigung or registration certificate (that piece of paper they gave you at the Bürgeramt)
  • Your visa (if you need one)
  • Your health insurance (Krankenkasse) card
  • Your employment contract
  • Your termination letter

The person who handles your case will explain everything to you including next steps. If you don’t speak German well or you’re unclear about anything, do not hesitate to ask questions. They’re more than happy to help.

Fill in the application form

To officially apply for unemployment benefits, you’ll need to fill in the Antrag auf Arbeitslosengeld or application for unemployment benefit. You can do this on paper at the office itself, or you can fill it in online here. You’ll need the login details you created when you registered yourself as unemployed online. It’s a pretty basic form that asks you about what your current situation is, if you have dependents, and why you are applying. They will use this form to assess your claim so if you’re unsure, ask a friend for help.

Wait for confirmation

Once the form is submitted, the process is usually really fast. You should receive confirmation within two weeks. This will confirm how much you will receive, how you will receive it, and when you can expect to receive it. Unemployment benefit is usually paid directly into your bank account just like your salary would be, and you will receive backdated payments to your first day of unemployment — presuming you applied on that day or before.

Attend meetings

Once you have the financial situation sorted out, you will be called to a meeting with the person who is handling your claim at the Arbeitsagentur. They are on your side and will want to help you find a new job that suits you. Attendance at these meetings is compulsory, and you should show evidence that you’ve been applying for new roles. It’s worth investing the time in these meetings as the rep you meet can point you towards a wide variety of programmes and grants that might help you get back on your feet.

All in all, it’s a pretty painless process. So just show up with the right information and you should be fine. The system is very dignified and claiming benefit doesn’t feel like a humiliation like it does it many other countries. Germany wants you to maintain your standard of living so that you can start working on what matters to you as soon as is possible for you. The country also seems to understand that sometimes, this can take a while. So don’t grumble about all those contributions you pay out of your salary. They form the safety net that will catch you when you need it.


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