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ECJ decision: why even unemployed EU foreigners have a right to child benefit


The ECJ has stated that EU citizens have to receive child benefits even without a job if their offspring do not live with them. We clarify the most important questions.

Under European law, child allowance must be paid to EU foreigners even if their children do not live with them.
© Julian Stratenschulte / dpa

Again and again, the question of whether EU citizens from poorer European countries in wealthier member states of the EU can receive child benefit, before courts negotiated. For the amount of child benefit differs, in Germany, for example, it is significantly higher than in Bulgaria. On Thursday, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) once again ruled that entitlement to child benefits exists, even if the children continue to live in their country of origin and even if their parents become unemployed in the other EU country. We clarify the most important questions.

What does European law say?

The EU Social Security Regulation regulates, inter alia, that the principle of equal treatment for EU citizens also applies to the child benefit applies. For example, all EU citizens have a right to child benefit in another EU country when they are resident there. Anyone who is not registered in the other EU country, but is staying there regularly – the lawyers call the habitual residence – and there income tax is payable, also receives child support for his offspring.

One of the aims of the regulation is to ensure that freedom of movement for workers within the EU does not lead to disadvantages in terms of living conditions. Therefore, the rules of the EU country, in which the child benefit entitlement arises. However, it does not matter if the children actually live with the parent who is entitled to petition or with the other parent or with relatives in their home country.


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What is the child benefit in the different EU countries?

The most child benefit is paid in Luxembourg: 265 euros per month are given to parents here for the first child. The sum increases, as in most EU countries, with the number of children. In France, parents only receive family benefits starting from the second child – the French state pays 120 euros. In Ireland, the child allowance amounts to 130 euros per month, in Austria just under 110 euros. The lowest is the child benefit with 20 euros in Bulgaria and 5.87 euros in Greece. Some EU countries do not pay such family benefits. These include Croatia, the Czech Republic or Portugal.

In Germany there are currently 194 euros per month for the first and second child, 200 euros for the third child and 225 euros for the fourth. From July, the child benefit will increase by ten euros each. In addition, it is granted for a very long time: parents usually receive payment until the age of 18. If the children are unemployed, the child benefit is paid until the age of 21. And if the offspring is still in training or studying, the claim extends to the age of 25 years.


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When can child benefit payments be denied abroad?

According to the EU regulation, it is hardly possible to refuse child benefit payments abroad, even if in individual countries it is repeatedly discussed about abuse of child benefit entitlement. The statistics of the family fund show that in 2018 around 252,000 children of EU foreigners received family benefits in Germany. The cost amounted to 402 million euros.

Polish children (123,855) were the largest group. This was followed by 32,500 German children living abroad and children from Romania, the Czech Republic and France. The child benefit transfers have risen sharply over the past five years. According to the Federal Government, child benefit amounting to around 75 million euros was paid abroad in 2012.

However, child benefit can not be paid in duplicate: the respective authorities responsible for family benefits must exchange information with each other and settle any claims. An Austrian who lives and works in Germany may be entitled to child benefit for his children both in Austria and in Germany. He would, however, the 110 Euro Austrian child benefit deducted from the 194 Euro child allowance in Germany. So he would have 84 euros more child support, as if he were in Austria.


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What is the problem of abuse?

In the summer of 2018, among other things, the German Association of Cities had pointed to cases of abuse in child benefits. For example, in some cities and municipalities, people from Southeastern Europe were sent to Germany to receive child benefit payments for their children living in their home countries. These people would often be housed in apartments by smugglers, who in Germany as their employer, and encouraged to apply for child benefit and up-grading Hartz IV benefits. But official statistics are not available. The child allowance is handled in this country via the family fund of the Federal Employment Agency, but does not cover the status of employment of the parents.

In Germany, on the occasion of this criticism, a change in the amount of child allowance for foreign children of EU citizens discussed. One idea was that the CSU was adjusted to the cost of living in the country where the child lives. Indexing is called the whole thing. However, the Finance Committee of the Bundestag decided to postpone its deliberations on this initiative indefinitely. As a reason, concerns were mentioned by the European Commission. The ECJ had also stated in a ruling in 2012 that this was incompatible with the principle of equal treatment.

Austria, on the other hand, has gone one step further and introduced new child benefit rules according to the indexing model for EU citizens. The EU Commission sees this as a violation of European law and has therefore launched an infringement procedure against Austria.


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