Families in Germany can rely on a wide range of state benefits. Child benefit (Kindergeld), tax allowances (Steuerfreibeträge) and Parental Allowance (Elterngeld) help all parents to reliably and sustainably meet part of the costs of raising children. Child supplement (Kinderzuschlag), education and participation benefits (Leistungen für Bildung und Teilhabe), Maintenance advance payments (Unterhaltsvorschuss) and tax relief for single parents (steuerlicher Entlastungsbetrag für Alleinerziehende) are specific benefits for low-income families and for single parents.
In addition to the federal state governments (Länderregierungen) and municipal administrations (Kommunen), the German Federal Government offers families a wide range of state benefits. Marriage-related benefits (for instance for surviving dependents) and family-related benefits amount to around 200 billion euros per year.
Financial support for parents and children
Parental Allowance (Elterngeld) is designed to give parents the opportunity to spend time with their child, especially during the child's first year, without suffering financial loss. Parental Allowance thus compensates for the loss of income when a parent stops working or reduces working hours to look after a newborn child. The allowance ranges from a minimum of 300 euros to a maximum of 1,800 euros per month and is paid for a maximum period of 14 months. If the other parent also claims Parental Allowance, it will be paid for at least two months.
Parental Allowance Plus (Elterngeld Plus) helps parents who want to work part-time soon after the birth of a child. It provides financial support for a longer period of time - including beyond the child's 14th month, as one month of Parental Allowance is counted as two months of Parental Allowance Plus.
Parental Allowance Plus is supplemented by the Partnership Bonus (Partnerschaftsbonus): if both parents work between 24 and 32 hours a week for a period of two, three or four months (between 25 and 30 hours a week for children born before 1 September 2021), they each receive two, three or four additional months of Parental Allowance Plus payments.
In addition to Parental Allowance Plus and the Partnership Bonus, the new rules on parental leave give parents more flexibility in returning to work and in reconciling work and family life. Mothers and fathers are now able to take up to 24 months of unclaimed parental leave between their child's third and eighth birthday.
Child Benefit (Kindergeld) is paid as a non-income related benefit: for all children up to the age of 18, for children up to the age of 25 in education and training and for unemployed children up to the age of 21. From 2023, child benefit amounts to 250 euros per month per child.
There is a range of special financial provisions available for single parents. The particular financial burden of being solely responsible for the family and home is recognised by the provision of a tax relief, which effectively reduces a single parent's taxable income.
Maintenance Advance (Unterhaltsvorschuss)is provided as a special form of financial assistance to help single parents with children under eighteen who receive no maintenance or no regular maintenance payments from the other parent. Currently maintenance advance amounts to 187 euros for children under six, 252 euros for children aged six to eleven and 338 euros for children aged twelve to seventeen. The income of the single parent is irrelevant for the entitlement.
There are also labour law provisions in place, for example allowing parents to take parental leave and protecting expectant mothers during a statutory maternity protection period. The Maternity Protection Period (Mutterschutz) serves to protect the health of pregnant or breastfeeding women and their (unborn) children, to protect them against discrimination and also to empower women to decide at their own discretion whether they work or not. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are to be legally protected against dangers, overexertion and health hazards at the workplace.
Statutory paid maternity leave during the "protected period before and after birth" is provided to ensure safety and health at work for pregnant employees and their unborn children, for employees who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding. The maternity protection period lasts for at least 14 weeks, six weeks of which are before and eight weeks after confinement. During this time, women are protected against financial loss. From the beginning of their pregnancy to the end of maternity leave, but for at least four months after giving birth, women are also protected against dismissal.
Digitization of family benefits and facilitating access to and take-up of benefits
In spite of the wide range of benefits for families, recent studies have shown a disproportionately low uptake amongst socio-economically disadvantaged families who might need them the most. These families might find it difficult to access these benefits for a variety of reasons, including being unaware of certain benefits as well as a lack of knowledge, skills and other resources required for completing the application forms.
The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs is developing digital access to all family-related benefits, to some extent in cooperation with the federal states. This includes interactive information websites using simple language aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of the family welfare system. The content offered covers different stages of life ranging from information about pregnancy to issues relevant for elderly people, for instance on the Family portal (Familienportal.de). Additionally, families can access the Family Information tool (Infotool-Familie.de). The Family Information Tool advises (expectant) parents and families online about the family benefits they are likely to be entitled to and where they can find further information.
The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth has made its application forms for family benefits available online. Parents can use Parental Allowance Digital (elterngeld-digital.de) or Child Supplement Digital (kiz-digital.de) when applying. Instead of copying the long-winded and complicated paper forms, the online versions are interactive, easy to use and shorten the time needed to fill in the forms. In addition, they detect errors that might occur when applicants fill in their data. Consequently, the digital application assistants reduce the time needed for government agencies to process the applications. The overall aim is to offer a low-effort and completely paper-free application process to families, with digital signatures, digital data transfer to the responsible government agencies and the option to upload necessary documents.
With the digitalisation of Parental Allowance and child supplement, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs has made progress in administrative digitalisation.