Beneficiaries of international protection have access to social welfare under the same conditions as nationals from the moment the protection status awarded to them becomes final. In practice they have such access immediately after the issuance of the protection status. They can apply for social welfare with the attestation confirming their status, which they receive form the CGRS. The PCSW has 30 days to take a decision.
Before the beneficiaries of international protection can effectively receive the social welfare, they have to have left the reception centre or other shelter in which they have been residing. Therefore the application for social welfare can be made while still in the shelter, but it will only be granted from the moment the beneficiaries have left the shelter.
Further conditions for receiving social welfare are:
- Habitual residence in a commune in Belgium;
- Being an adult;
- Being prepared to work;
- Having insufficient means of subsistence and having no possibility to claim means of subsistence elsewhere or being able to obtain means of subsistence independently; and
- Exhaustion of other social rights held in Belgium or abroad.
Since 2016, there are no longer any differences between refugees and subsidiary protection beneficiaries as regards social welfare.
If the beneficiary is an unaccompanied child, a different form of welfare can be awarded by the PCSW. In this case the claim for social welfare needs to be made by the guardian of the child.
The PCSW of the commune of habitual residence of the beneficiary is the authority responsible for social welfare. The term “habitual residence” refers to the place where the person’s material and personal interests are concentrated. This is a question of fact which is assessed by the PCSW.
Beneficiaries can freely move across the Belgian territory, therefore changing communes simply entails transfer of responsibilities to the PCSW of the new commune for social welfare. The new PCSW will nonetheless check again if the beneficiary meets all the conditions to obtain social welfare.
The requirement of “habitual residence” in a commune means that leaving the country for more than 7 days requires prior notification to the PCSW, otherwise the PCSW can suspend social welfare. If the beneficiary duly informs the PCSW and stays away no longer than 4 weeks in total per year, social welfare will not be suspended; it will be paid even when he or she is abroad. The PCSW can also allow an exception to this rule and even pay during the beneficiary’s stay abroad for more than 4 weeks. Examples in which this exception was granted include studies abroad to obtain a diploma or supporting a severely ill family member abroad.
In practice, the deadline of 2 months for leaving the shelter and finding a house after the grant of a protection status is overall too short (see Housing). If these 2 months have passed or if no extension has been granted, beneficiaries have to leave the shelter even if they have not found a place to stay.