Hartz IV recipient Julia Glanz from Lower Saxony delivers newspapers in her private car. In return, she gets fuel money in addition to her wages. The job center considers this subsidy as Ms. Glanz’s income and therefore reduces her assistance. The 56-year-old is outraged – and defends herself in court.
Julia Glanz is 56 years old and lives in a small community in the middle of the Lüneburg Heath. Due to the consequences of an accident, she is unable to work full-time. In order to earn at least some money, she works as a newspaper deliverer.
With her private car, an old Volvo, she delivers newspapers every working day in the Lower Saxony province. The papers have to be in the mailboxes by six in the morning. In return, she receives a fixed hourly wage from the publisher plus a night surcharge and tax-free petrol money.
Because the mother of three adult children cannot live on the income, she receives supplementary unemployment benefit II, better known as Hartz IV. The job center in Uelzen is responsible for paying out the state increase. Julia Glanz has been in a bitter dispute with this job center since 2019.
Although there is already a court decision in favor of the Hartz IV recipient, in practice she is still fighting for her rights. “I’m completely desperate,” says Glanz in an interview with FOCUS Online. “With my delivery job I try to stand on my own two feet, but the job center makes my life hell. It’s actually incredible.”
The stumbling block is the petrol money that the newspaper publisher Julia Glanz pays in addition to her hourly wage of 9.35 euros: 24 cents per kilometer. The distance traveled is precisely determined with the help of a GPS device in the car and billed to the nearest cent. For a distance of almost 12 kilometers, that’s around 2.88 euros per working day, a good 80 euros a month. Until the beginning of 2021, she even received more than 100 euros in petrol money per month because she was still driving to a large delivery area.
“I need the gas money to be able to do my delivery job at all, because in our country, newspapers are always delivered in private cars,” reports Ms. Glanz.
The problem: When calculating the top-up benefits, the Uelzen job center adds the petrol fee to the hourly wage – this significantly reduces the Hartz IV entitlement. Julia Glanz: “I’m only allowed to keep 20 percent of the 24 cents for gas per kilometer, that’s not even 5 cents! So from my minimum wage I also pay most of the gas costs myself!”
The Uelzen job center has a simple justification for its calculation method: The petrol money paid by the employer is “not earmarked payments”, but a “regular part of the earned income”. Therefore, the petrol money is considered a “wage component” and the Hartz IV entitlements are reduced accordingly. This is handled in this way “by all other delivery companies” in the region and is therefore “common practice”, according to a letter to the newspaper driver.
Julia Glanz did not want to accept this without a fight – and filed a complaint with the responsible social court in Lüneburg. Because things didn’t progress there for a long time, she made an urgent application in the meantime – and was right!
With its decision (Ref.: S 50 AS 17/21 ER) of April 16, 2021, the Chamber obliged the Jobcenter Uelzen to “temporarily provide the applicant with basic security benefits in accordance with SGB II for the period from February to April 2021 without taking into account the salary statements of the to pay what the employer calls ‘petrol money’. In German: The social court prohibited the job center from considering the petrol money as wages.
For example, the court order states:
“For the month of January 2021, the applicant received a total of 550.94 euros from her employer, which included ‘petrol money’ of 118.70 euros.”
According to the court, the job center assumed a net wage of 550.94 euros when calculating the Hartz IV entitlements, so the petrol money was fully counted as income. The job center referred to the case law, specifically to a judgment of the Saxony-Anhalt State Social Court (Az.: L5 AS 8/16) from 2017 on a similar case. Core sentence then:
“Travel allowance paid by the employer as a kilometer allowance for the use of one’s own vehicle when carrying out the work (delivery) is income in accordance with Section 11a Paragraph 1 Clause 1 of the Social Code II”.
In the current case of Julia Glanz, however, the Lüneburg Social Court came to the opposite conclusion. The decision to grant temporary legal protection for the Hartz IV recipient states:
“The component of wages referred to by the employer as ‘petrol money’ is NOT to be counted as income within the meaning of paragraph 11 SGB II.”
Reasoning of the court: The Hartz IV recipient always gets the costs of the previous month reimbursed by her employer. Julia Glanz therefore pays the travel expenses in advance – “and the employer only reimburses her for the costs incurred,” the social court in Lüneburg clarifies. “It is therefore only a reimbursement of expenses and not real wage payments”.
The court referred to similar judgments from 2016, for example by the Berlin-Brandenburg State Social Court (Az.: L 34 AS 1901/13). The judges there had determined at the time that the fare paid by the employer “is not to be regarded as income” if the newspaper deliverer only paid the “actual petrol costs” of it.
“The court clearly gave me the summary procedure right,” says Julia Glanz to FOCUS Online. However, the decision only referred to a limited period of time and only gave her short-term financial relief. “After that, the job center used the old calculation method again and counted the petrol money as income. That’s how it works to this day. I lose a lot of money month after month.”
The job center confirms that it has long since returned to the original calculation practice, which was disadvantageous for Ms. Glanz. “The Uelzen district job center implemented the individual decision in temporary legal protection from April 16, 2021 with a change notice from May 11, 2021 for the period in question. A corresponding additional payment was transferred to Ms. Glanz,” explained Andreas Rösler, managing director of the job center in the district of Uelzen, at the request of FOCUS Online. “After the period affected by the temporary legal protection, the job center has returned to taking into account the flat-rate reimbursement of travel expenses as part of the income.”
In an armored letter to the social court, Julia Glanz sharply criticized the behavior of the job center. “I’m appalled that the job center doesn’t see your decision as binding and apparently doesn’t show any respect for the social court,” she said. “When a court decision is ineffective, we live in anarchy. That scares me.”
Job center boss Andreas Rösler rejects the criticism: “We have set out the basis for our decision. In principle, the legal process is open to have the application of the law checked.” In this context, he emphasizes that there is now a judgment by the Federal Social Court “that supports the legal opinion of the job center”. In fact, the federal judges in Kassel decided on November 11, 2021 in a similar legal dispute (Az.: B 14 AS 41/20 R) and declared the crediting of petrol money to the income of aid recipients to be correct in principle.
In the specific case, a man from Saxony had sued the Zwickau job center. As a driver for an aid and welfare association, he drove his private car and received 30 cents from the association for every kilometer driven. The reimbursement of travel expenses was shown in the monthly payslips as not subject to social security and free of income tax. When calculating the supplementary Hartz IV benefits, the job center took the reimbursement of travel expenses into account as income – just like Ms. Glanz.
The man in Saxony sued against the calculation practice of the job center and initially failed before the social court in Chemnitz. In the next instance, the Saxon State Social Court agreed with him.
Tenor of the judgment: The reimbursement of travel expenses is indeed income, but this is “achieved independently of earned income”. It stems from a consideration for the use of the plaintiff’s private vehicle to his employer.
Taking into account the petrol costs, the pro rata costs of motor vehicle liability insurance, motor vehicle tax, the main inspection, repairs, replacing the tires, changing the oil, maintenance and the estimated loss in value, the expenses amounted to 31 cents per kilometer driven, the social court calculated . The man’s expenses even exceeded the reimbursement of travel expenses of 30 cents paid by the employer (Ref.: L 3 AS 535/18).
The job center appealed against this judgment pronounced on February 6, 2020 – successfully.
The Federal Social Court overturned the judgment and referred the matter back to the State Social Court for a new decision. To justify this, the federal judges explained that the reimbursement of travel expenses paid by an employer should be taken into account “as income from gainful employment” when calculating Hartz IV. “The reimbursement of travel expenses is income that the beneficiary receives, at least in a factual connection with the employment.” According to the court, however, the job center would have to grant a kind of exemption in its calculations for the reimbursement of travel expenses – “for reasons of administrative simplification, a flat rate of 10 cents per kilometer driven “.
At the same time, the Federal Social Court emphasized in its judgment: “If, however, higher expenses are proven that are directly and exclusively connected with the generation of this income and are therefore not assigned to private life, the deduction can increase.” This is exactly what the Saxon State Social Court in the have to decide on the reopened appeals process. According to the court, the plaintiff may still be “entitled to the final determination of higher benefits”.
And what does that mean for Hartz IV recipient Julia Glanz from Lower Saxony?
The fact is: According to the employment contract with the newspaper publisher, she is not already receiving a “flat rate” reimbursement of travel expenses. Instead, she gets fuel money of 24 cents per kilometer – the distance traveled is precisely determined by the GPS system for each journey and paid accordingly. If Ms. Glanz is on vacation or ill, she doesn’t get any gas money either.
All of these circumstances were taken into account by the Lüneburg Social Court on April 16, 2021 in its decision in favor of the plaintiff. However, it was a case-by-case decision of the 50th chamber in proceedings for interim legal protection.
A decision by the Lüneburg Social Court in the main proceedings is still pending. When it falls is not yet certain, court spokeswoman Lydia Maiworm told FOCUS Online. “The appointment is the responsibility of the chairman.” Incidentally, the decision in the summary proceedings does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about the coming verdict. “Main proceedings are usually made by a professional judge and two honorary judges, who work out the decision together,” says Maiworm. In German: The verdict could go back in favor of the Hartz IV recipient – but also completely different.
Of course, Julia Glanz hopes that her opinion will prevail. Waiting for a decision has long become agony for them. “I’ve asked for it so many times, but nothing happens,” complains the 56-year-old. Ms. Glanz filed both the lawsuit against the job center and the urgent application alone. She is now represented by a lawyer.
Meanwhile, the Uelzen job center is relaxed. The reason for this is the judgment of the Federal Social Court made during the legal dispute with Julia Glanz. Job center boss Andreas Rösler to FOCUS Online: “The basis for the decision is a nationwide applicable regulation.”