If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot support yourself and no one else can help you, you can apply for social assistance (Sozialhilfe). These are known as subsistence benefits, which the Social Welfare Office (Sozialamt) uses to pay for your running costs for food, accommodation, clothing or personal hygiene, for example. This may also include benefits for education and participation for children. Under certain conditions, the Social Welfare Office also covers the costs of one-off purchases such as the initial things required for setting up your household or in the case of pregnancy and childbirth. In addition to subsistence benefits, there are also other social assistance benefits. This includes help to overcome particular social difficulties, help with health, care and integration. Social assistance is available in cash or in kind, but also in the form of services such as counselling and personal assistance. These forms of assistance should enable you to get to a point where you can help yourself again.

Social assistance is available to all those who can no longer provide for themselves or who need help due to special circumstances. When you apply, the Social Assistance Administration always checks your status first. Whether you are a single parent or live in a committed partnership or marriage plays a role in the calculation. The calculation also depends on whether you have an income and, if so, how much you have, as well as what claims for maintenance exist. If you are able to work, you are not entitled to subsistence social assistance benefits. In this case, however, you are entitled to basic benefits for job-seekers under the German Social Code II. You can also receive social assistance if you have a settlement permit or a temporary residence title and you are staying in Germany permanently. If you are an immigrant and have a different residence status, you should seek advice from the Social Welfare Office or, even better, from a specialised advice centre.

You can usually get social assistance from the Social Welfare Office in the town or district where you live. The most important thing is that the Social Welfare Office knows of your plight. You can make sure of this by going to the Social Welfare Office for advice. The Social Welfare Office is obliged to take action when it becomes aware of your need. This means that they must inform you comprehensively about your entitlements and approve the corresponding social benefits. It's even better to apply for benefits in writing, because then you'll have proof. This also applies to later applications to the Social Welfare Office. In order for the Social Welfare Office to decide on your application, it needs documents showing your personal and financial circumstances. This includes your identity card and proof of income and assets, but also, for example, a pregnancy certificate or your maternity record (Mutterpass). The Social Welfare Office usually requires many different forms of evidence. To find out what these are, it is best to call your local Social Welfare Office directly. The Social Welfare Office will ask you to submit further documents if any are missing. Therefore, the application does not have to be complete from the beginning.

The processing of an application usually takes several weeks. Then you will receive a written ruling. It will tell you if you are eligible for social assistance, and if so, how much. If you do not agree with the ruling, you can appeal it. If you run out of money on the day of application, you can apply for an advance. This will tide you over until you get the social assistance ruling. The advance will later be offset against the benefits for which you are approved.

If you are unable to support yourself on your own or with the help of others, you are entitled to subsistence help. What’s known in Germany as ‘necessary subsistence’ is what a person needs to ensure the minimum subsistence level with human dignity. The cost of housing, food, clothing, personal hygiene, energy, household goods, and other everyday needs are all part of a decent human life. The so-called ‘standard needs levels’ apply uniformly throughout Germany. ‘Standard need’ includes the necessary costs for subsistence. The Social Welfare Office will assign you to one of these levels after reviewing your situation. In addition, the Social Welfare Office pays the actual costs for accommodation and heating. If they are too high, you will be asked to reduce these costs to a reasonable level. What is considered reasonable depends on where you live.

In some life situations, you need more money than usual because you have to buy things that you only need at that time. You have to prove the special need separately at the Social Welfare Office. One example is the additional help you receive starting in the 13th week of pregnancy. This gives you 17 percent more money than before to pay for maternity clothes, prenatal care, or even increased costs for your diet. You do not have to prove the use of the additional funds. You can therefore use the money for other things. As a single parent, you can apply for special additional funds. If you have a child under the age of seven living with you, or if you have several children under the age of 18 living with you and you raise and look after them on your own, you will not only receive the normal rate for ‘standard needs level’ 1, but up to 36 percent more funds on top of that. This amount is called the ‘single parent supplement’.

The special situations in which the standard and additional funds can be supplemented by one-off, extra benefits include the initial equipment required in the cases of pregnancy and birth. This includes the need for maternity clothes, the baby's first set of clothes, and furniture, such as a baby cot and a pram. Often there is a fixed amount of money for this. But don't go shopping until your application is approved by the Social Welfare Office.

Contributions to statutory and private health insurance and long-term care insurance are also part of necessary subsistence. That's why the Social Welfare Office will pay for these costs if you already have insurance. If you receive subsistence help or basic security benefits, you are not compulsorily insured with pension insurance. You can apply for the Social Welfare Office to pay your pension contributions. However, you have no legal right to have your contributions paid. The Social Welfare Office will cover the costs only under certain conditions.

If you receive help towards subsistence costs or basic security benefits and are not already compulsorily or privately insured in a health insurance plan, you will receive health benefits. The range of services and benefits usually corresponds to the scope of statutory health insurance. If you already have health insurance, the Social Welfare Office will pay your contributions. You can then continue to use your health insurance card to get medical services as usual. If you're pregnant and don't have health insurance, you should seek advice and support as soon as possible. The Social Welfare Office will pay the health insurance contributions in this case too. You are free to decide which health insurance company you would like to register with.

If your newborn child is at risk of or has been diagnosed with a disability, you are entitled to integration assistance if other service providers such as health insurance, the Jobcenter or pension insurance do not pay. Medical rehabilitation or services for community participation, such as curative educational measures for children, are included.

If your child is in need of care and you or your child are not insured for the long-term care insurance, you can get care assistance from the Social Welfare Office. The range of benefits corresponds to that of compulsory long-term care insurance. In order for you to be eligible to apply for care assistance, the ‘degree of care’ your child needs must be determined. The funds you receive depend on this. If you, as the legal guardian, care for your child yourself, you can apply for a care allowance. The degree of care determines what amount is paid out. If you or your relatives cannot provide the care yourself, you are entitled to care benefits in kind, i.e. home care assistance. If a special caregiver is needed, the Social Welfare Office can cover the cost.

If you already have a young child and are unable to care for them during your pregnancy, there is aide available to overcome this particular social difficulty. The same applies if, for example, you are going to be in hospital for a long time and no member of your household is able to take care of the household in your absence. Under certain circumstances, the Social Welfare Office will pay for a home aide to run your household and look after your relatives. However, the Social Welfare Office only pays the costs if your health insurance does not pay.