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. 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, municipalities grant supplementary and preventive social assistance
Applications for social assistance should be addressed to Kela, which decides whether the client is eligible for basic social assistance. Municipalities are responsible for granting supplementary and preventive 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.
Both Kela and municipalities give advice on how to apply for social assistance.
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
When basic social assistance is granted, the expenses to be covered by the basic amount and other basic expenses are taken into account. The basic amount laid down in the Act on Social Assistance is a calculated amount of social assistance intended to cover the daily living expenses of different groups of people, corresponding to a minimum level of consumption. The basic amount is adjusted in accordance with the national pension index.
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
Municipalities may grant supplementary social assistance on a discretionary basis. 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 of a person or family that are considered necessary to secure their income and promote independent coping (special needs or circumstances could include, for example, long-term receipt of social assistance, long-term or serious illness as well as special needs related to 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.
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.
Organisation of social services
Municipalities provide social services to their residents on the basis of an individual service needs assessment. The assessment is based on the client’s own view and on one or more expert opinions. In emergency situations, immediate action is taken to provide clients with the necessary social services.
In emergency situations, municipalities must ensure that social services are also arranged for people who are temporarily staying in the municipality. People can also apply for social services in their temporary municipality of residence if they are staying there for a longer period because of work or studies or for some other similar reason.
Municipalities organise 24-hour social services to ensure access to urgent and necessary support.
Further information is available at each municipality's social services office. The municipalities’ website addresses are usually in the format 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 concerning basic social assistance, you can submit a claim for a revised decision to Kela’s appeal centre. If you are dissatisfied with your municipality’s decision on social assistance, you can submit a claim for a revised decision to your municipality’s social welfare board. You also have the right to appeal against a decision of your municipality 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.
Your municipality’s social services ombudsman can give advice and help in matters relating to the status of social welfare services’ clients. They are also able to give advice on how to claim a revised decision from a local social welfare board or how to appeal against a decision to a court of law.
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 (AVI) 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.
In matters relating to basic social assistance:
- You can file an administrative complaint with the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela) if you believe that one of its units or officials has acted or otherwise carried out measures unlawfully, wrongfully or inappropriately. Kela handles such complaints internally. An administrative complaint can also be filed if an official or a unit has failed to act or to carry out their duties. An administrative complaint cannot be used to appeal a decision made by Kela concerning a benefit.
- A complaint may be filed with the Chancellor of Justice if you believe that a public authority, public official or other person or body assigned to perform public tasks has acted wrongfully or neglected their obligations.
- You can turn to the Parliamentary Ombudsman if you suspect that a public authority or official has failed to comply with the law or to fulfill their obligations or that fundamental and human rights have not been appropriately implemented.
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.
Supervision of social welfare (Valvira) (in Finnish)
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
- Self-regulation of social services (AVI) (in Finnish)
- Appealing income security decisions
- Administrative courts
Kela answers to inquiries about basic social assistance and provides information, instructions and guidance for people who apply for basic social assistance:
Your municipality’s social welfare office provides information about social welfare services and supplementary and preventive social assistance (make an appointment with a social worker or a social instructor). Most municipalities also have advice services where no appointment is needed.
Ritva Liukonen, Senior Specialist
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Department for Clients and Services in Healthcare and Social Welfare / APO, Service System Unit / PAL Telephone:0295163278
Susanna Rahkonen, Ministerial Adviser
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Department for Clients and Services in Healthcare and Social Welfare / APO, Service System Unit / PAL Telephone:0295163215