Social assistance: Frequently asked questions

What is social assistance?

Social assistance, or income support, is a last-resort form of financial assistance for individuals and families which covers some of the basic necessities of life.

There are three components to social assistance:

  • basic social assistance
  • supplementary social assistance
  • preventive social assistance

You may have a right to basic social assistance if your income and assets do not cover your essential daily needs such as housing, food, health care and clothing. Applications for basic social assistance must be submitted to Kela.

The social services office may provide supplementary and preventive social assistance at its discretion.

Is social assistance affected by other social security benefits?

Social assistance is a last-resort form of financial assistance and is affected by all income and assets available to you, which includes social security benefits that you may get from Kela, your pension provider, an unemployment fund, or other sources.

Because social assistance is a last-reform form of assistance, you must first try to qualify for any other financial assistance which may be available to you. Among the benefits available from Kela, this includes unemployment benefits, housing benefits, pensions, financial aid for students, maternity, paternity and parental allowances, sickness allowance, child home care allowances, and child maintenance allowances.

How is basic social assistance calculated?

The right to basic social assistance is determined by means of a calculation of income and expenses. The types of income and expenses taken into account are defined in the Act on Social Assistance.

  • For the purpose of the calculation, income means the applicant's or the family's available net income after taxes as well as their assets. Assets means for example the savings deposited in a bank account.
  • Expenses are defined as the basic amount and other basic expenses. The basic amount is the sum of money needed for the essential costs of daily living.
  • If the recognised costs are higher than the income, applicants have the right to social assistance that covers the difference between costs and income.

Example:

Sanna is unemployed and the single parent of two children over 10 years of age. She has no savings. Because of her difficult financial situation, she applies for basic social assistance for the month of September.

In September, the family's income is as follows:

  • labour market subsidy + child increase €646.72
  • child benefit + single-parent supplement €298.65
  • housing allowance   €608.80
  • child maintenance allowance €309.54

The family's expenses in September are as follows:

  • rent €810
  • water €45
  • basic amount according to the size of the family €1,189.48 (single parent €534.05 + first child over 10 years of age €339.85 + second child over 10 years of age €315.58)

Total income €1,863.71 – total expenses €2,044.48 = €–180.77

Their expenses exceed their income by €180.77.
This amount is paid to them as basic social assistance.

Social assistance is not subject to tax.

Social assistance is usually granted for one month at a time, but can in some cases be granted for a longer period of time. When necessary, social assistance can also be paid for a period of time shorter than one month.

You can use this calculator (in Finnish) to estimate the amount of social assistance that you could get.

My circumstances have changed and I no longer need social assistance. What should I do?

If you are paid social assistance by Kela you can stop the payment for example by contacting Kela by phone.If you have a decision from the municipal authorities contact the social services office of your municipality.

Changes to social assistance in 2017

Previously available from municipalities, basic social assistance has been provided by Kela since the beginning of this year. The municipal social services offices continue to administer supplementary and preventive social assistance. The qualifying conditions for social assistance have not changed.

How can I apply for social assistance?

Basic social assistance is granted by Kela, and supplementary and preventive social assistance by the municipal authorities.

First apply to Kela for basic social assistance. You can state in your application if you also need supplementary or preventive social assistance. At your request, Kela can forward your application for supplementary or preventive social assistance to the municipal authorities.

You can apply for basic social assistance on Kela's online customer service website. Additional documentation can also be sent online. For example, you can take a photo of a document with your phone and send it online if it is clearly legible. You can also apply for social assistance on a paper form or make your application verbally. If you wish, you can get help with how to apply for social assistance. You are free to contact any Kela office. You can also book an appointment for a visit to a Kela customer service point.

What expenses will basic social assistance cover?

The basic amount of the basic social assistance which may be available from Kela covers

  • food
  • clothing
  • minor medical expenses
  • personal hygiene and keeping your home clean
  • public transport
  • newspaper subscription
  • telephone and internet
  • hobbies and recreation
  • and other comparable expenses of daily living.

Kela may also recognise the following expenses within reasonable limits:

  • housing costs and the maintenance of a single-family home
  • necessary moving costs
  • household electricity
  • home insurance premiums
  • other medical expenses besides those covered by the basic amount
  • daycare costs and the costs for before and after school programmes
  • if a child's parents live in separate households, the costs incurred by the non-custodial parent for seeing the child, to the extent that they are based on an agreement confirmed by the municipal social services office or on a court decision
  • cost of obtaining a necessary identity, residence or travel document

Does Kela provide social assistance towards health care costs?

  • The basic amount of social assistance covers minor medical expenses such as over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies. Any expenses which are included in the basic amount of social assistance are not accepted as additional expenses.
  • Other basic expenses that can be accepted include the cost of using (primarily public) health services, such as the fees charged by health centres and outpatient clinics. Only expenses for which you are not compensated by some other source, such as health insurance or a private insurance policy, are accepted. You must always present proof of such expenses (for example an invoice).
  • Your own share of the travel costs associated with visiting a public health care provider, costs for public dental care, and the reasonable costs of buying eyeglasses can also be accepted as medical expenses.
  • Costs for private health care are accepted only if the care is urgently needed. Such situations come up very rarely because public-sector providers offer around-the-clock access to health care.
  • If Kela grants you basic social assistance and you need prescription medication, you will receive a voucher that you can use at the pharmacy.
    Further information on health care costs

I'm getting ready to move. If I need help with the rental deposit, can I get it from Kela as basic social assistance?

Kela can provide a voucher towards the deposit as part of basic social assistance in the following situations: divorce or end of cohabitation, health reasons, change in family size, homelessness or threat of homelessness, getting a job or place of study in another city or town, or moving to a more affordable home at the instruction of Kela or the municipal social services office. Read more

What documents should I send to Kela as proof of my expenses?

The basic amount is a fixed sum of money needed for the essential costs of daily living. These expenses are not examined separately, but are covered collectively by the basic amount. It is therefore not necessary to provide individual evidence of payment (for example bills or invoices), or sales receipts or phone bills.

Documentation about other basic expenses (e.g. a rental agreement or invoice) must be provided along with the application. Usually Kela recognises other basic expenses as such unless they are considered to be unreasonably large.

However, you should not send Kela bills or invoices for which you have already received basic social assistance and which you are expected to pay from your own account. Also, do not submit any documents for expenses that you cannot get basic social assistance for, such as fines, back tax or instalment payments for a car or household appliance.

Remember to enclose all necessary supporting documents with your application. This will ensure that your application can be reviewed within seven working days. If you  submit the application online, you will, at the end of the application process, see a list of the documents you must send in support of your application. The documents are also listed on the paper application form.

What should I do with outstanding bills or invoices? How do I send my bills or invoices to Kela?

Kela will usually pay the amount charged on a bill to you up front, so that you can pay the bill yourself. You can also ask Kela to pay a bill directly for example to the electric company or an insurance company. If you want Kela to pay a bill on your behalf, write maksetaan laskuttajalle on each bill you want Kela to pay.

The easiest way to send your invoices to Kela is to use Kela’s online customer service. Documents photographed with a mobile phone are accepted if the pictures are clear and legible.
Further information about how to send invoices to Kela.

How long does it take for Kela to issue a decision on an application for social assistance?

After submitting an application for basic social assistance to Kela, you receive a decision within 7 working days. This assumes that you include all necessary documentation with your application. If your application is incomplete, Kela will contact you and ask you to supply the necessary additional documents. Learn more about application processing.

When does Kela pay out basic social assistance?

Kela usually pays the basic social assistance on the first business day of the month. It is recommended that you apply for social assistance about two weeks before the beginning of the month for which it is to be paid. That way the payment will reach your account immediately on the first business day of the month. If you are granted social assistance but it is too late to pay it to you on the regular payment date, the payment is made at the same time with the decision to grant you social assistance. The payment is paid into your bank account within 2 business days.

I was turned down for social assistance even though my income and assets are not enough to cover my everyday expenses. What should I do?

You should first check the decision you received from Kela to make sure that your income and expenses are stated correctly. If you think that the decision is wrong, you can appeal it.

If you have particular expenses for which you cannot get basic social assistance, you may be able to get supplemental or preventive social assistance from your municipality. Contact your municipal social services office.

I don't understand when I’m supposed to apply to Kela for social assistance and when to the municipality. Where can I find more information about this?

Basic social assistance is granted by Kela, and supplementary and preventive social assistance by the municipal authorities. Learn more about the types of expenses for which you can get basic social assistance from Kela.

If you need social assistance:

  1. First apply to Kela for basic social assistance.
  2. In your application, you can state that you have certain expenses which are not covered by basic social assistance and for which you need supplementary or preventive social assistance. At your request, Kela can forward your application for supplementary or preventive social assistance, along with any supporting documents, to the municipal authorities.
  3. If Kela has already given you a decision on basic social assistance, apply directly to the municipality for supplementary or preventive assistance.
  4. You will need a decision on basic social assistance even if your application only concerns supplementary or preventive assistance.

Learn more about the division of responsibilities between Kela and the municipalities. More information may also be available on the website of your municipality.

Why does the application for social assistance ask about my husband’s income?

Social assistance is a family-specific benefit. That means that the amount of basic social assistance which is available is affected by the income, assets and expenses of all family members. This is why the application asks about their income and expenses.

‘Family' means parents living in the same household, minor children or adopted children, married spouses or cohabiting partners, and persons living in a registered partnership.

Last modified 03/05/2017
Updated 29/08/2016