Social assistance

Social assistance

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is responsible for social assistance legislation, and it also manages, guides and develops social assistance as part of social welfare.

Social assistance is the last-resort form of financial assistance. Social assistance can be paid to individuals or families who need support and whose other disposable means, such as income and assets, do not cover their essential daily needs.

Social assistance is a means-tested benefit, and it is usually granted for one 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, wellbeing services counties grant supplementary and preventive social assistance

Applications for social assistance should be addressed to the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela), which decides whether the client is eligible for basic social assistance. Wellbeing services counties are responsible for granting supplementary and preventive social assistance. 

Kela has the obligation to transfer the application to the client’s wellbeing services county 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 wellbeing services county decides whether a recipient of basic social assistance is eligible for supplementary or preventive social assistance.

Clients can apply for supplementary and preventive social assistance directly from the wellbeing services county if they have already been granted basic social assistance by Kela for the same period of time.

In exceptional cases, wellbeing services counties can grant preventive social assistance to ensure urgent and necessary support, without the client first having to apply for basic social assistance. As a rule, it should always be established whether the client is entitled to basic social assistance. In wellbeing services counties, social welfare professionals should be responsible for deciding on preventive social assistance so that they can make an overall professional assessment of the client’s situation. 

Both Kela and wellbeing services counties give advice on how to apply for social assistance.

Wellbeing services counties provide social work as a free-of-charge service given by social welfare professionals. Read more about social work, social guidance and social rehabilitation:

Provisions on social assistance are laid down by law

Provisions on social assistance are laid down by law. The relevant Acts are available in Finlex.

Provisions on social assistance are also laid down in the Social Welfare Act and the Act on the Status and Rights of Social Welfare Clients. These two Acts are not available in English.

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 Social Assistance Act 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:

  • food
  • clothing
  • minor healthcare costs
  • personal hygiene and cleanliness of the home
  • 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) and necessary moving expenses. Other basic expenses also include 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 in 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

Wellbeing services counties may grant supplementary social assistance on a discretionary basis for expenses arising from the special needs or circumstances of a person or family that are considered necessary to secure their income or promote their independent coping. 

Special needs or circumstances can include long-term receipt of social assistance, a long-term or serious illness, special needs related to children’s leisure activities and hobbies, or other comparable circumstances or needs. 

Preventive social assistance

Wellbeing services counties also grant preventive social assistance and decide on the grounds for this assistance under the Social Assistance Act. The purpose of preventive social assistance is to promote a person's or family's independent coping and prevent social exclusion.

Preventive social assistance can be granted, for instance, to secure housing, to alleviate difficulties caused by over-indebtedness or a sudden deterioration of the financial situation and for other purposes to promote the recipient’s independent coping.

Decision-making in social assistance matters

A decision on social assistance must be given at the latest on the seventh weekday from the filing of the application. In urgent cases, the decision must be made on the same weekday or at the latest on the following weekday. 

Social assistance services must be accessible and easily available, taking account of the needs of different client groups. The applicant must be provided with an opportunity to discuss personally with a Kela official or a social worker or social instructor in the wellbeing services county at the latest on the seventh weekday following the day when the applicant asked for it. Kela and the wellbeing services county may also meet with the client together, and the client has the right to request a joint meeting.  

The decision on social assistance is given in writing, and it contains the reasons for the decision. 

How to request a review of a decision on social assistance or to appeal against it

A decision on social assistance always includes instructions on how to request an administrative review of the decision or to appeal against it. People dissatisfied with the decision on basic social assistance may request an administrative review of the decision from Kela’s Appeals Management Centre.

Those dissatisfied with the decision on social assistance made by their wellbeing services county may request an administrative review of the decision from the wellbeing services county. 

A decision on the request for an administrative review may be appealed against to an administrative court and, in some cases, to the Supreme Administrative Court if it grants leave to appeal. 

If you are not satisfied with the treatment you received in matters relating to basic social assistance, you may:

  • file an administrative complaint with 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 may also be filed if an official or a unit has failed to act or has neglected their duties. However, an administrative complaint cannot be used to request a review of a decision made by Kela concerning a benefit.
  • turn to the Parliamentary Ombudsman if you suspect that a public authority or official has failed to comply with the law or to fulfil their obligations or that fundamental and human rights have not been appropriately implemented.

In case you are not satisfied with the service or treatment you received from the social welfare services in your wellbeing services county: 

  • The social services ombudsperson provides advice and assistance in matters related to the status of social welfare clients. The social services ombudsperson may also provide advice on how to request an administrative review of a decision on social assistance or how to appeal against it. The social services ombudsperson has no competence in Kela’s activities.
  • You may lodge an objection with the head of the unit or the senior officeholder in the social welfare services. However, before submitting an objection, you should try to settle the matter with the persons who processed your application.
  • You may file a complaint with the supervisory authority: the Regional State Administrative Agency (AVI) in your region, the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira) or the Parliamentary Ombudsman. 



Kela answers to inquiries about basic social assistance and provides information, instructions and guidance for people who apply for basic social assistance:

The wellbeing services county where you have your municipality of residence provides information about social welfare services and supplementary and preventive social assistance.

Further information

Ritva Liukonen, Senior Specialist 
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Department for Insurance and Social Security / SVO, Benefits Unit / ETU Telephone:0295163278   Email Address: