Hartz IV recipients will have to fear fewer sanctions next year for violations, such as registration requirements. Criticism of the new practice came immediately – also from the Federal Employment Agency.

Job seekers will have fewer Hartz IV sanctions to fear by the middle of next year. On Friday, the Bundesrat allowed the suspension of sanctions for breaches of duty, which had already been decided in the Bundestag, to pass.

One reason for the moratorium is the citizen’s allowance planned for 2023 instead of the current Hartz IV system, which should also be linked to a new regulation for sanctions. In addition, the legislature must implement a decision of the Federal Constitutional Court from 2019.

The possibility of reducing unemployment benefit II by 30 percent in the event of a breach of duty will be suspended for one year. This applies, for example, if reasonable work is not accepted. However, in the event of repeated failure to report or missed deadlines, there is a risk of benefit cuts of up to 10 percent of the standard rate. The law is scheduled to come into force on July 1, 2022.

Criticism from ex-BA CEO Scheele

In an interview, the outgoing CEO of the Federal Employment Agency (BA), Detlef Scheele, criticized the change in sanctions for Hartz IV recipients. “It would have been better if the government had cast the judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court of November 2019 in law,” said the BA boss to the “Handelsblatt”.

The Karlsruhe judges decided in 2019 that the benefits of Hartz IV recipients can be reduced by up to 30 percent if the conditions are violated. Now cuts of only ten percent are allowed for one year – and this only after the second violation, for example against reporting requirements. The Bundesrat allowed the corresponding suspension of the regulations, which the Bundestag had already decided, to pass on Friday.

With the citizens’ money, cuts are possible again

When the new citizens’ allowance comes next year, cuts of 30 percent should be possible again. “It’s difficult to understand,” said Scheele. “I don’t want to be a job center consultant who has to explain that.” 97 percent of benefit recipients would not come into contact with sanctions at all because all the requirements would be followed. Scheele described it as a pity that the focus was now again on sanctions.

Scheele urged caution when assessing the new citizens’ income. He does not believe that simply granting a surcharge on the previous Hartz IV rates would be expedient. “Because even if the standard rates were higher, it would be better to go to work and earn standard wages wherever possible,” he said. “In any case, the chances have rarely been as good as they are now,” emphasized Scheele, referring to the empty job market.

“Slap in the face of all employees in job centers”

Bavaria’s Minister of Social Affairs Ulrike Scharf (CSU) also criticized the decision made by the federal government. “With the moratorium on sanctions, she is again throwing a principle of our welfare state overboard – the principle of demanding,” said Scharf. A completely wrong signal is sent to benefit recipients who refuse to cooperate: no matter what you do, the job center will pay anyway. “The sanctions moratorium is therefore not just a retreat by the state. It’s a slap in the face for all employees in the job centers who try to get benefit recipients back to work every day,” criticized Scharf.

Criticism also came from Baden-Württemberg: Economics Minister Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut (CDU) emphasized: “Sanctions are still needed for a few who persistently refuse to cooperate.” If the obligation to cooperate is violated in the long term, the system will run empty, especially for those who need help the most. “A moratorium will not help us here, it needs a quick new legal regulation and a clear commitment from the federal government to the principle of promoting and demanding,” said Hoffmeister-Kraut.