Update on 26.02.2021, based on the information provided by Emiliya Bratanova van Harten during the webinar “Social support for asylum seekers and refugees in Bulgaria”, February 20, 2021
Who can apply
If you have refugee status, humanitarian protection or got asylum in Bulgaria, you can apply for social benefits. The below factors affect your eligibility and what type of social assistance you receive:
- Marital status
- Whether you’re employed
- Whether you’re a current student
- Whether you rent or own property or land
Asylum-seekers, living in the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) reception centres can get shelter, food and financial assistance - 20 leva per month, plus additional 10 leva for participation in communal activities. You simply need to contact SAR staff members to get these benefits.
If you applied for international protection after your first asylum application was rejected, you are not entitled to social assistance unless you are a member of a vulnerable group.
Types of social assistance
1. Monthly social benefits
If you and your family members are unemployed and in between 16 years old and retirement age, you need to register with an Employment Bureau office.
You have 3 months to register with the Employment Bureau after receiving your refugee status or humanitarian protection. Once you register, you can apply for monthly social benefits.
However, if you wait longer than 3 months to register, you will need to wait at least 6 months until you can apply for monthly social benefits.
You can find out about exceptions to the registration requirements at the offices of the Social Assistance Agency.
How much can I receive in social benefits per month?
The amount you receive depends on how much income you or the family members in your household earn. To calculate this amount, you subtract the previous month’s income that you or your family received from the minimum income specified by the Social Assistance Agency.
You can see the different categories and relevant minimum incomes in 2020 on the Social Assistance Agency’s website in Bulgarian, in the third column from the right.
Below are a few examples.
You can apply for monthly social benefits only if your income for the previous month was equal or lower than:
- 49.50 leva if you live with your husband or wife.
- 54.75 leva if you live alone.
- 68.25 leva if you are under 20 years old and attending high school.
- 90 leva if you are a single parent and your child is younger than 3.
- 105 leva if you live alone and you are older than 65.
If you are of working age but are not participating in employment programs when you get these benefits, you will have to do community service for 14 days per month, 4 hours per day. There are certain exceptions to this rule such as pregnant women after the third month of pregnancy, and people taking care of a child younger than 3 years old.
In the events of a declared state of emergency or emergency epidemic situation, families with children up to the age of 14 years old are entitled to a monthly assistance when both or one of the working parents, or a parent raising a child alone:
- cannot switch to remote work from home and do not have the possibility to use paid leave or to receive compensation for temporarily being unable to work;
- lost their job, but are not entitled to unemployment benefit or the amount of the received compensation is lower than the average monthly income (150% of the minimum wage for the country – for example for 2020 that will amount to or is less than 915 leva);
- are self-insured persons who cannot exercise their occupation due to the introduced anti-epidemic restrictions.
This financial assistance aims to compensate for your lack of income during the time you are unable to work in order to take care of your child/children who due to the restrictive measures are not attending school/kindergarten.
You have to submit your application to the Social Assistance Directorate in your current address no later than the end of the month following the month in which the restrictions have been imposed in schools/ kindergartens in the country.
The amount of the financial assistance is:
- for families with 1 child - equal to the amount of the monthly minimum wage determined for the country ( 610 leva for 2020 and 650 leva for 2021);
- for families with 2 or more children – 150% of the amount of the minimum monthly wage
2. Financial benefits for heating
You can apply for financial benefits to pay your heating if in the past 6 months, you and your family members’ average monthly income was lower or equal to:
- 125.25 leva if you live with your husband or wife.
- 135 leva if you are under 20 years old and attending high school.
- 154.50 leva if you are a single parent and your child is younger than 3.
- 174.75 leva if you live alone.
- 222.75 leva if you live alone and you are older than 65.
You can find the amount of the average monthly incomes in the same table in Bulgarian, in the first column from the right.
The requirements for getting financial benefits for heating also include registration with the Employment Bureau.
In 2020, the total amount a household will receive for heating is 495.90 leva. You can apply for this assistance from July 1 to October 31.
3. Financial benefits for municipal housing
If you live in municipal housing, you can apply for assistance to pay the rent if your income is under a certain amount. You may apply for this benefit:
- If you are a person over 70 years old, living alone.
- If you are a single parent raising a child.
These benefits cover the entire rent. You will have to present an invoice or a receipt to the Social Assistance Agency as proof that you used this money to pay the rent.
4. One-off social assistance
You can apply to receive a one-time amount of up to 375 leva to satisfy your vital needs such as health, education and household-related expenses. You can also use this amount to pay for your identity card.
5. Free train travel
Twice a year, you have the right to travel in Bulgaria by train free of charge:
- If the Medical Labor Commission determines that the degree of your disability is 71% or over (contact your doctor for more information about this).
- If you have a certain type of disability.
- If you are a child under 16 years old with a permanent disability.
6. Family benefits
Here are some of the most common family benefits:
- One-off benefit for pregnant women 45 days before delivery - 150lv.
The income of each family member must be less than 350lv. and the pregnant woman should be permanently living in Bulgaria and not receiving maternity benefits.
- One-off benefit for 1st graders – 250lv. You must apply before 15 October!
The average monthly income of each family member for the past 12 months before you submit the application must be less or equal to 400lv.
- Monthly benefits for child upbringing for children up to 18 years old or, by exception, up to 20 years old until completion of high school – 40lv. for 1 child, 90lv. for 2, 135 leva for 3 and 145lv. for 4.
To receive it you need to apply once every year and provide documents for your income for the past 12 months, a document from your child’s school for his/her attendance and a document from your doctor, proving your child has all the mandatory immunizations.
- One-off benefit at the birth of your child regardless of your income. The amount depends on the number of children– e.g. 250lv. for 1st child, 600lv. for 2nd, 300lv. for 3rd etc.
How to apply
You can find the application forms here. The application process, including the forms, is in the Bulgarian language and is complex. Here are the organizations that can help you with filling in the forms and submitting your application for social assistance:
In the application form, you will need to state whether you want to receive the money in cash or via bank transfer. If you’d like a bank transfer, you will need to specify your bank account details.
After filling in the application form, you need to submit it to the Social Assistance Agency in the area where you currently reside. They will ask you to show them your Bulgarian identity card or the decision granting you protection status.
Depending on your personal situation, you may also need to provide:
- Your marriage certificate
- Your children’s birth certificates
- Documents stating your income (for example, a labour contract)
- Documents from your doctor or other medical experts detailing your serious health problems
If you don’t have birth or marriage certificates, you can contact the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) and ask them to issue substitute documents.
After you apply
After you submit your application, a social worker will visit your home within 20 days to verify the information in your application and prepare a social report. Within 21 days after completing the report, you should receive a decision on your application for social assistance.
If you do not live at the address, where you are officially registered, your application will probably be rejected.
A home visit is not required when applying for family benefits
If they refuse your application for social/family assistance, you can appeal it with a lawyer’s help.
COVID-19 related support
Asylum seekers and refugee or humanitarian status holders can benefit from:
1) Interest-free bank loan - up to 6,900lv.
The maximum repayment period is 5 years, with a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of 24 months grace period. You can ask any bank in Bulgaria whether it offers this kind of loan. It aims to support people under an employment contract, self-employed persons, farmers, seasonal workers who ceased working due to COVID-19. It is available until the end of June 2021.
It offers subsidized employment for up to 6 months with a focus on job opportunities in hotels, restaurants and tourism. It is open until 31.12.2022.
This article is updated under the project "Legal aid to financially disadvantaged refugees and immigrants during a pandemic by using and improving the Migrantlife.Bg platform", implemented by the Foundation for Access to Rights - FAR with the financial support of the Active Citizens Fund of Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area.
The project "Legal aid to financially disadvantaged refugees and immigrants during a pandemic by using and improving the Migrantlife.Bg platform" is implemented with financial support in the amount of EUR 10,000 provided by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway under the EEA Financial Mechanism. The main goal of the project “Legal aid to financially disadvantaged refugees and immigrants during a pandemic by using and improving the Migrantlife.Bg platform” is to offer modern digital solutions for access to reliable information and a lawyer during a pandemic.
The entire responsibility for the content of this article lies with the Foundation for Access to Rights - FAR and under no circumstances it can be assumed that this content reflects the official opinion of the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area and the Operator of the Active Citizens Fund Bulgaria.