The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is responsible for social assistance legislation as well as manages, steers and develops social assistance as part of social welfare.
Social assistance is the last-resort form of financial assistance. Until the end of 2016 social assistance is granted by municipalities. As of 1 January 2017 basic social assistance will be granted by the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela), while municipalities will still be responsible for granting supplementary and preventive social assistance. Social assistance is a means-tested benefit, and it is usually granted for a month at a time. Its amount is based on the client’s essential expenses.
The amount of social assistance is the difference between the client’s disposable income and assets and the expenses that give eligibility for social assistance.
Usually a social assistance recipient has other income, such as housing allowance, unemployment security or sickness allowance. In such cases the social assistance granted is lowered by the amount corresponding to the client’s income.
Kela grants basic social assistance as of 1 January 2017
As of the beginning of 2017, applications for social assistance should be addressed to Kela, which decides whether the client is eligible for basic social assistance. Both Kela and the municipalities give advice on how to apply for social assistance.
Kela has the obligation to transfer the application to the client’s municipality if the client has included in the application other expenses than those covered by the basic amount or other basic expenses. Moreover, clients must first request a transfer either when they submit the application for social assistance or when they receive Kela’s decision.
The municipality decides whether a recipient of basic social assistance is eligible for supplementary social assistance or preventive social assistance.
Clients can apply for supplementary and preventive social assistance directly from the municipality if they have already been granted basic social assistance by Kela for the same period of time.
Outside the opening hours of Kela’s offices, municipalities can grant social assistance to ensure urgent and absolutely necessary support without prior assessment and decision by Kela concerning the client’s eligibility for social assistance during the same period of time. In such cases the client will be granted preventive social assistance.
During the transition phase, municipalities can grant their clients basic social assistance for a period extending until the end of March 2017 if the application was submitted in 2016. Kela has the right to process applications it has received on 15 December 2016 and later when they concern basic social assistance to be paid in 2017.
Municipalities provide social work as a free-of-charge service given by social welfare professionals. Read more about social work, social guidance and social rehabilitation:
- Social work (in Finnish)
Social assistance is provided by law
Social assistance is provided by law. The relevant acts are available on Finlex.
Provisions on social assistance are also in the new Social Welfare Act and the Act on the Status and Rights of Social Welfare Clients. These two acts are not available in English.
- Social Welfare Act 1301/2014 (Finlex, In Finnish)
- Act on the Status and Rights of Social Welfare Clients 812/2000 (in Finnish)
Types of social assistance
Social assistance consists of
- basic social assistance (basic amount and other basic expenses)
- supplementary social assistance and
- preventive social assistance.
Basic social assistance
The basic social assistance is based on the basic amount which is defined in the Act on Social Assistance and adjusted annually by the national pension index. For persons living alone the basic amount is EUR 485.50 per month in 2016 and EUR 487.89 in 2017.
The basic amount covers the following:
- minor healthcare expenses
- personal hygiene and keeping your home clean
- local public transport
- newspaper subscription
- telephone and internet
- hobbies and recreation
- other comparable daily living expenses of the person and family.
Other basic expenses which are taken into account up to a reasonable amount are housing expenses (e.g. rent or maintenance charge, water, heating, electricity and home insurance premium), other healthcare expenses (e.g. prescription medicines) as well as necessary moving expenses. Other basic expenses include also daycare costs and costs for before and after school activities as well as costs incurred by the long-distance parent for seeing the child. It is also possible to receive basic social assistance for the costs of obtaining a necessary identity, residence or travel document.
All available reductions to fees and payments should be utilised before basic social assistance can be granted.
The amount of the basic social assistance granted depends on the applicant’s income and assets.
Supplementary social assistance
The supplementary social assistance covers special expenses such as
- housing expenses other than those entitling to basic social assistance
- expenses arising from special needs or circumstances (e.g. long-term receipt of social assistance, long-term or serious illness as well as children’s leisure activities and hobbies).
Preventive social assistance
Municipalities grant also preventive social assistance and decide on the grounds under the Act on Social Assistance. The purpose of preventive social assistance is to further a person's or family's independent coping as well as to prevent social exclusion.
It can be granted for instance to alleviate difficulties caused by over-indebtedness or a sudden deterioration of the financial situation.
Who can get social assistance?
Social assistance can be paid to any individual or family who need support and whose other disposable means, such as income and assets, do not cover their essential daily needs. The municipalities can also grant social assistance to support independent coping as well as to prevent social exclusion.
Social assistance applications must be submitted to Kela as of 2017
Until the end of 2016 applications for basic social assistance must be submitted to the social services office in the client’s permanent municipality of residence. As of the beginning of 2017, applications for basic social assistance must be submitted to Kela. Applications for supplementary and preventive social assistance will still be handled by municipal authorities. In urgent cases, it is possible to apply for social assistance also at the social services office in the client’s temporary municipality of residence.
How long will the application processing take?
The decision on social assistance must be given at the latest on the seventh weekday from receipt of the application. In urgent cases the decision must be made on the same weekday or at the latest on the following weekday. The applicant must be provided an opportunity to discuss personally with the social worker or social advisor at the latest on the seventh weekday following the day when the applicant asked for it. The applicant must be provided an opportunity to discuss the decision with a Kela official at the latest on the seventh weekday following the day when the applicant asked for it.
The decision on social assistance will be issued in writing and it will contain the reasons for the decision. All claims for revised decisions on social assistance will be processed without delay. Kela’s appeal centre will process claims for revised decisions on basic social assistance. In municipalities, claims for revised decisions will be processed by the competent local authority committee.
- Access to social services (in Finnish)
Municipalities organise 24-hour social services to ensure access to urgent and necessary support.
- 24-hour social services (in Finnish)
Further information is available at the municipality's social services office. Your municipality’s website address: www.municipalityname.fi
How to appeal against a decision on social assistance
The decision on social assistance will always include instructions on how to appeal against the decisions or how to complain about it. If you are dissatisfied with a decision you can submit a claim for a revised decision to your municipality’s social welfare board. You have also the right to appeal against a decision of the social welfare board to the Administrative Court and in some cases to the Supreme Administrative Court if it grants permission to appeal. Likewise you can appeal against a decision of Kela’s appeal centre to the Administrative Court or the Supreme Administrative Court.
The municipality’s social services ombudsman can give advice on how to claim a revised decision from a local authority committee or on how to appeal against a decision to a court of law.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health does not process appeals, complaints or official complaints.
If you are not satisfied with the service, care or treatment you have received from municipal social services, you may
- submit a complaint to the head of the unit or the director responsible for overseeing social services. Before submitting a complaint, you should try to settle the matter with the persons who have processed your application.
- file an official complaint with the supervisory authority: the Regional State Administrative Agency (AV) in your region or the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira)
If you feel that you have been mistreated or need advice on your rights, you may contact the social services ombudsman in your municipality or joint municipal authority if your questions concern supplementary or preventive social assistance granted by the municipality or your right to social services. If you have problems with basic social assistance you should contact Kela.
The National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira) is the national authority that guides, authorises and supervises social welfare services. It does not supervise Kela.
The Regional State Administrative Agencies (AVIs) guide and supervise social welfare services in their areas. They guide and supervise both municipal and private social welfare services.
- Family and social services (AVI) (in Finnish)
- Appealing income security decisions (In Finnish)
- Administrative courts
Your municipality’s social welfare office provides information about social assistance (make an appointment with a social worker or a social instructor). Most municipalities have advice services were no appointment is needed.
Kela answers to inquiries about basic social assistance and provides information, instructions and guidance for people who apply for basic social assistance: