It is estimated that around 25 percent of the Swiss population has had to claim some form of welfare during their lives. Swiss welfare is a safety net for people who require immediate help and have exhausted all other routes. The payments are designed to sustain you and your family through serious financial hardship. The system is the final option in Swiss social security and is designed to be used only once other forms of welfare have been exhausted.
Claiming Welfare in Switzerland
The Swiss welfare system is designed to grant temporary relief to those who do not have enough money to support themselves. The system is paid for by the government and the type of benefits are determined by the counties (cantons). The system is not connected to your social security number, although it is expected that you apply for AHV benefits such as unemployment benefits or disability insurance before you apply for welfare.
Who can claim welfare in Switzerland?
Welfare is designed for residents who live below the poverty line. In Switzerland, this means that you must earn less than 2.259 Swiss francs a month as a single person, or 3.990 Swiss francs for two adults who have two dependents.
People who have a Swiss residence permit of any type can apply. However, bear in mind that your residence permit may not be renewed if you do not have employment or a C-permit.
Your welfare application will likely be refused if you already claim one of the other social security benefits that are offered in Switzerland or have significant cash assets in bank accounts.
Applying for Swiss welfare
Health Insurance while on welfare
While claiming Swiss welfare, in most cases it is mandatory to request a reduction in insurance premiums from your basic health insurance. Many insurance companies have special rates exclusive to those on welfare, although this usually requires you to renew your insurance every year. You may even have to switch providers. This step is taken to minimise costs for you and your family. It is also expected that you remove any unnecessary benefits included in supplemental health insurance.
Housing while claiming welfare in Switzerland
Swiss welfare also requires you to modify where you live in your council (Gemeinde) of residence. In order to claim Swiss welfare, you must be able to prove that your housing is the cheapest possible in your area. Each Gemeinde will have different standards depending on the average cost of housing in your town. You will not be asked to move cities, but you will be told to move somewhere cheaper if your housing is not considered cheap enough.
People who are under 25 years of age will be expected to either move into shared housing or live with their parents.
How much will I receive?
Swiss welfare payments are designed to provide the amount necessary in order to sustain yourself and your family. For an individual, payments amount to a maximum of 3.200 Swiss francs a month. This includes 1.000 Swiss francs for housing, 200 Swiss francs for health insurance and 1.000 for essential items such as food or clothing. If you are in debt, the monthly payment is increased by an extra 200 Swiss francs.
How to get Swiss welfare
In order to apply for Swiss welfare, you must contact your local Gemeinde. They will then guide you through the application process. Once accepted, you will receive a budgetary advisor, who will walk you through the necessary steps to allow you to receive welfare, as well as construct a plan to improve your financial situation. If you are looking for work, you will also be referred to an unemployment office, which will try to find jobs that are best suited to your skillset. Refusal to participate in a jobs programme or refusing to take a job your counsellor has deemed suitable will count as breaking the rules.
Common questions about Swiss welfare
Once you are claiming Swiss welfare, you must follow a number of rules in order to keep your payments going. There are also rules regarding what you can spend your allowance on.
Are vacations possible while claiming welfare?
You are allowed to take a vacation while claiming Swiss welfare. However, you need express permission from your welfare office in order to go on holiday. No costs from the holiday can be covered by welfare payments, so you must pay for holidays yourself.
Is it possible to apply for citizenship while claiming?
You cannot apply for Swiss citizenship while on welfare. Rules vary by canton but on average you must have not been on welfare for at least three years before applying for Swiss citizenship. In some cases, such as Canton Bern, you are unable to apply until you have been off welfare for 10 years.
Can I still earn extra income?
Any extra income that you receive must be declared to your welfare office. This is so that they can reduce the amount of welfare you receive. This extends to gifts and bonuses. Any failure to declare your extra income will be considered a breach of the rules.
Can I use a car?
Swiss welfare doesn’t include any special money to cover the costs of running a car. It is typically expected that you will use public transport instead. You can apply for a car if there are few public transport links to your place of work, or if you need a car for health reasons. Please consult your budgetary advisor to see if you qualify.
Are the costs of pets covered?
Sadly, expenses related to the keeping of pets are not covered by Swiss welfare. Any use of welfare funds in order to keep pets counts as breaking the rules. The only exception being if a pet has been prescribed for medical reasons or is a service dog. However these expenses are usually covered by health insurance.
What if I break the rules?
The rules around Swiss welfare are very strict. Any breaking of the rules can be dealt with severely, especially when it comes to expats, and can lead to a reduction in payments or payments being refused. In the face of persistent rule-breaking or exploitation of the welfare system, there is the potential to be deported back to your nation of origin and to have your residence permit revoked.
Do I have to pay my Swiss welfare back?
If you become able to earn a sustainable income, you will be removed from the welfare system. After this, some cantons will expect repayment of the welfare that you used. In most cases, this is only if you earn a large amount of money, inherit a large amount of wealth or win the lottery. Repayments expire between five and 20 years after the end of welfare payments. Please consult your cantonal office for more details.