A family of Ukrainian refugees has siphoned off approximately €40,000 in German welfare benefits despite returning to their homeland without notifying the German authorities.
A mother and her son arrived in Germany in the spring of 2022, shortly after the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, and applied to receive Bürgergeld — the German citizens’ allowance.
The pair initially stayed with a host family in Schleswig-Holstein before a subsidized apartment was made available, and a taxpayer-funded daycare place was approved for the son.
Shortly after their arrival, the husband also fled Ukraine and stayed at the apartment in Germany and the couple were soon expecting their second child.
After the child’s birth, the family of four was receiving welfare benefits to the tune of €3,200 per month, comprising Bürgergeld, discounted rent, and heating subsidies.
Focus Online reported that the family decided to return to western Ukraine at the beginning of 2023 where they stayed for almost a year before heading back to Germany toward the end of the year to avoid the bitter Ukrainian winter.
During their almost year-long absence, the family failed to notify the German authorities they had left the country and had been in receipt of €40,000 in taxpayer-funded state benefits.
The discrepancy was noticed by the Ukrainian family’s host in Germany whom they contacted upon their return for assistance with securing a school place for their 6-year-old son, and the host mother who said she felt “explored” by the family alerted the authorities.
The local job center has now reportedly launched an investigation into the matter and is exploring possible charges of fraud.
The case highlighted significant shortcomings in the benefits system when it comes to Ukrainian refugees as there is no provision currently to ensure that families in receipt of payments are still residing in Germany.
The host mother told German media that it is “extremely difficult” to keep tabs on the location of Ukrainian nationals and expressed her concern that this was not an isolated case.
There are reports that guidelines are circulating among Ukrainian refugees on how to evade the German authorities and return home whilst remaining in receipt of financial handouts.
A spokesperson for the Federal Employment Agency admitted that the system is vulnerable to exploitation, stating that Ukrainians are required to periodically attend job centers in Germany but that “the job centers decide on the specific interval at their own discretion,” meaning that poor management could result in Ukrainians signing up for payments and not being required to show proof they are still living in the country for months.
Furthermore, they could simply head back to Germany for their interview and then return to their homeland.
Other pitfalls in the welfare system relate to income and savings declarations. Germans are required to show proof of savings and income in order to be eligible for benefits, but while proof is asked for from Ukrainian nationals, this cannot be corroborated.
A check is “not actually possible,” explained Steffi Ebert, head of the Schmalkalden-Meiningen job center in Thuringia.
Approximately 700,000 Ukrainian refugees are currently receiving welfare benefits in Germany, though it is unclear how many actually remain in the country.