Trample on the poor

Few people know the Federal Employment Agency (BA) as a gigantic data pool in which there are numbers on numbers and is collected what it takes. Data on the income side are obtained, for example, from contributions to unemployment insurance, from which detailed information on employment and company structures, earned income and working hours can be obtained. On the expenditure side, information is provided on the qualifications, gender, age, health and environment of the beneficiaries.

However, when it comes to information about their own work, the BA is silent, so the agency was allegedly unable to make statements for years about how many beneficiaries in the legal circle Social Code 2 (SGB II) and beneficiaries in SGB III outstanding claims exist. As a reason for this shortcoming, the BA speaks of the fact that its IT procedures used in the collection procedure only allow evaluations based on documents and not on persons. But now, in the context of a small request (BT-Drucksache 19/27674) to the Federal Government, light could come into the darkness of the reclaims of the Federal Agency and with incredible figures.

Thus, it became known that in 2020, in the midst of the crisis period, the poorest in society were particularly disadvantaged. 1,198,169 Persons were affected by SGB II offsetting, which corresponds to a share of 21,2 Percent of people in total benefit receipt. In the same year, 544,270 appeals against SGB II decisions were decided, of which 190,000 or 35 Percent was fully or partially granted. In January 2021, the outstanding receivables in SGB II amounted to a total of 2,889,454,456 euros.

The huge extent of the collection or withholding is shown by the figures of the refund notices from the years 2015, 2019 and 2020. At that time, a total of around 8.1 million notices were drawn up in the legal circle of the SGB II, for which up to 30 percent of the standard rate can be withheld and charged by the job center.

For us, the main cause of over-indebtedness is the loss of jobs; for every fifth over-indebted person, unemployment was the cause of financial distress last year. For many, this marks the beginning of a downward spiral into debt. Because debt is an important "obstacle" to finding a job, many job centers finance debt counseling in external counseling centers for the people affected.

But if the job center or the Federal Agency (BA) itself is a creditor, they behave quite differently there. The debts are mercilessly collected and money is charged and not paid out, so that new debts have to be made in order to reach the subsistence minimum at all.

"I doubt that someone would be much more satisfied with 600 euros, "said Klugscheisser Detlef Scheele in an interview with"DIE ZEIT". "If you want to live carelessly, you have to struggle and find work that is as well paid as possible".

Only in special cases of hardship may they agree to an out-of-court settlement in debt settlement. This means that insolvency proceedings are inevitable for all indebted, unemployed people who are also in debt with the BA, because the principle applies to these out-of-court agreements that all creditors participate and waive part of the claim.

Jobcenter as lender

Every person who advises clients in the legal sphere of the Social Code (SGB) has been able to observe in recent years that the number of people who are in debt with the BA has increased incredibly quickly.

Above all, the job centers lend more and more money to the unemployed needy or to the low-income earners. In January 2021, the loans that Hartz IV recipients received for purchases such as a refrigerator reached a provisional record amount. The total outstanding receivables in SGB II amounted to 2,889,454,456 euros. The average loan amount last year was 459 euros, the highest since the start of consideration in 2007. At that time, the average value was still 231 euros.

The "top-ups" also have to get into debt with the job center more and more often, because their income and thus the support under Hartz-IV fluctuates and they then have to pay back money with a time delay. According to the Federal Statistical Office, this group of people is "disproportionately over-indebted".

Debt collection

Since the beginning of 2016, the Federal Employment Agency (BA) has installed its own collection service, which should increasingly take care of defaulting claims. As a result, the authority promised itself additional revenues of around 70 million euros a year. Since then, debtor counselling centres have had the experience that job centres no longer engage in negotiations.

The legal basis for the debt collection procedure of the Federal Fiscal Code (BHO), the General Administrative Regulations of the BHO and the Fourth Book of the Social Code (SGB IV). The collection service is handled at the Recklinghausen and Bogen locations. In the locations of Halle, Hanover and Kiel, telephone processing with the indebted people is offered.

A claim is payment impaired if no full payment has been made after the expiry of the due date and the total amount of the claim amounts exceeds at least 7 euros. The collection of the BA includes all necessary tasks from the moment of the default of payment of a claim, which become necessary until the final conclusion of a collection procedure, which are

The number of employees in the collection service of the Federal Employment Agency increased by 46 percent from 593 to 863 full-time employees from 2015 to 2020.

Hardship cases

A so-called hardship case is always present for the BA if a confiscation is unfair, i.e. if it contradicts the sense of justice in an unbearable way. The BA instructs its employees to take into account the entire circumstances of the individual case, in particular the personal and economic circumstances of the debtor as well as the nature and amount of the claim. Blanket statements should not be made by the BA due to the individual case-by-case nature of the decree regulations, but the legal regulations of the Federal Budget Code (BHO) apply.

Remission of claims on (former) benefit recipients

The remission or cancellation of claims is generally governed by the provisions of the Federal Budget Code and is subject to very narrow and strict criteria, such as those that are also applied to the remission of tax claims.

After the' Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs ' (BMAS) issued new instructions to the BA in January 2016 regarding the remission of claims on (former) benefit recipients, the criteria are implemented by the collection agencies of the Federal Agency much more consistently than was the case before.

According to this directive, a (partial)decree is bound to personal and factual reasons for the decree, which must be interpreted and examined closely. Thus, the need for remission is already forfeited if the individual is protected from seizure anyway due to low income. Illness or old age alone no longer constitute grounds for personal remission.

The same applies to the factual reasons for a decree. There must be special cases of hardship here, e.g. if man" slips off socially under the pressure of circumstances and completely loses his footing". Only "unfavorable" economic conditions are not sufficient to remit the debt.

In 2020, 31 claims with a volume of 5,061 euros were issued in the SGB II jurisdiction.

Outsourcing of debt collection

Since October 2016, the BA has commissioned the collection companies APONTAS and EOS-Group / Deutscher Inkassodienst with the collection of a total of 120,000 recoveries. This was preceded by an invitation to tender.

Most of the claims should be claims from 2006 to 2010 against former recipients of unemployment benefit I. On average, one claim was 1,200 euros. Claims from tax-financed services of the job centers were not affected.

The two debt collection companies operate within a narrowly defined legal framework as an extended arm of the BA administration and are therefore also bound by the very tight budgetary regulations for the remission or cancellation of public-law claims. Therefore, you have no possibility for an out-of-court settlement.

After the restrictions became known, the Federal Ministry of Labor quickly stated that they would continue to examine each individual case. If the economic existence of the indebted person is seriously threatened or the over-indebtedness "permanently demotivates him and lets him slide socially under the pressure of circumstances", an agreement is still possible.

However, according to the assessment of the Consumer Center North Rhine-Westphalia, it will be difficult for unemployed people to prove such a heavy burden. In any case, for such a receipt, you need to turn on a doctor and deliver a certificate.

Debt trap

For each person who receives a loan from the BA/job center, this can be the entrance into the debt trap. It is common practice that several loans are granted in succession for which there was previously aid that did not have to be repaid. In the case of people in Hartz IV, the debts are usually offset, i.e. a part of the receivables is not paid at all by withholding and accordingly reduces the income significantly.

Now the current livelihood can no longer be guaranteed and further loans from the job center are required. Although it is clearly regulated that only 10 percent of the standard rate may flow back, it often happens in practice that Hartz IV recipients are withheld from the standard rate of 446 euros up to 120 euros or a mix of installment payment and offsetting provides for an enormous reduction in income.

Revenues are not enough to cover expenses, people are insolvent, which, in turn, is a criterion for applying for bankruptcy proceedings.

Insolvency proceedings

On the instructions of the Minister of Labour, the' Federal Employment Agency ' not only promotes insolvency, but may only enter into an out-of-court settlement in special cases of hardship in debt settlement.

In the meantime, it is common practice to make the total debt due and, in the event of non-payment, also to enforce it in the impenetrable income or offset it with other social benefits. Desirable attempts at agreement, such as appropriate instalments or temporary deferrals, are categorically rejected.

This means that insolvency proceedings are inevitable for all unemployed people who are in debt and who are also in debt with the BA. Because these out-of-court settlements are based on the principle that all creditors agree to the debt adjustment plan and waive part of the claim, the out-of-court settlement attempt usually fails due to the stubborn attitude of the BA and an application must be made for the opening of insolvency proceedings.

The price of the hard line of the Ministry of Labor is paid not only by job seekers, but also by the federal states. About 2.000 Euro costs an insolvency procedure, which faces the people in case of a failed agreement. For destitute debtors, the countries then cover the costs of the proceedings.

While the Federal Ministry of Justice wants to avoid the expensive insolvency proceedings and there is therefore the obligation to negotiate out of court in the Insolvency Code, the Ministry of Labor only wants to waive money if this is expedient and economic for the federal government.

First, the unemployed people are driven into debt with chain loans, when they are then over-indebted, the way for an out-of-court regulation of their debts is blocked and they have to go through the complex insolvency proceedings and submit to the insolvency administrator.

The reason for the misery, however, are the too low standard services, which have not been sufficient for a long time until the end of the month. The increase at the beginning of 2021 of 14 euros for single people of legal age will increase the loan problem at the job centers even more.