Berlin-Tempelhof, a gray morning at the end of March, it is raining a lot. Marcel Eichenseher and a colleague ride a bicycle to the first “customer” of citizen money. He has not contacted the employment office for six months. You know: Dennis (name changed) is 32 years old, has no education, has no job, has or had debts and lives with his brother in his mother's house.

A big problem that you can probably see from afar.

But what the two employment agents see a little later, when they ring the doorbell, surprises them. Because Dennis not only lives in a nice old building not far from Tempelhofer Feld. He also wears a stylish blue jacket and his hair is styled in a fashionable style. And when he tries to look up an email address on his cell phone, a chunky, valuable-looking smartphone appears.

But the employees at the employment office were very surprised when they asked Dennis if he had noticed that in January and February his citizen allowance of 563 euros was reduced by 10 percent because he did not show up for scheduled interviews. “No, I didn't,” he replies.

A brief nod and then the elegant Dennis disappears into the rain.

Of course, Eichenseher says, why Dennis didn't notice is pure speculation. “Whoever has needs and receives citizen benefits should immediately notice a reduction in benefits. Expensive branded clothes and new mobile phones are in contradiction to long-term unemployment with citizens' money.”

After a 20-minute conversation at a nearby cafe about new job opportunities, Dennis knows that if he doesn't keep a reporting appointment next time, he will be threatened with having his citizen benefit suspended. The 32-year-old takes a sip of coffee, nods and assures her that he will try to find work in the security sector with the help of the employment office. Brief greeting without shaking hands. Then dashing Dennis disappears outside in the rain.

On the citizen money patrol: “Not even cuts provoke a reaction”

The “disclosure tips” offered by Berlin's Tempelhof employment office for a year now stem from a trend that dates back to the coronavirus era. After the pandemic, 50 percent of contacted citizen benefit recipients no longer attended reporting appointments, more than ever. “Not even the cuts provoke any reaction anymore. But the problem remains: we don't know why customers no longer contact us. We wanted to change that so we could understand better,” explains Eichenseher, 53.

To prevent home visits, which are announced by mail, from causing fear among “clients”, the employment office teams, who always travel in pairs, do not use formal identity documents or notebooks with an inscription in the office of employment. “We don't want to screw anyone, we just want to help. And some need completely different help from what we can offer them as employment agents,” says Eichenseher.

Totally lonely: an unemployed Afghan woman (26) did not leave her apartment for two years

The employment expert cites as an example the fate of a 26-year-old Afghan woman who fled alone to Germany in 2010 when she was 12 years old. After the home visit was announced, she registered and then went to the employment center for the registration appointment. She “She told us that she had not left her apartment for two years and that she was socially isolated. For her, the most important thing was to finally talk to someone again, to get out of total isolation. We did that. And now we are trying to get him a job.”

After home visits, the employment center teams usually make appointments for psychological support. Because many of those who no longer respond to invitations to report appointments live alone and can no longer take care of themselves. “It is extremely difficult for the Germans to get out of there again. “The problem is even greater for refugees and immigrants who do not speak German or speak it poorly,” says Eichenseher.

Turks do not open doors or turn off mobile phones, so citizens' money is canceled

The next home visit will take the employment agency couple to Schöneberg this morning to visit two “clients” coming from Turkey. This is a 54-year-old man who lives in a high-rise building with his wife and one of his two children. Both parents are unemployed, he since 2016 and her since 2022. Although both have lived in Germany for several years and the wife recently works as a waitress, she barely speaks German.

During the last visit last year, the husband was still in bed when Eichenseher was at the door with his colleague. However, the wife invited them both to have tea in the kitchen. A few minutes later, the husband with the fine white rib sat down in front of them. “He was surprised that we came, he hadn't read the ad.”

But this time there is no coffee and no prospect of good ribs. Despite ringing the doorbell several times, the door does not open and the couple's mobile phones are visible, even though it is now 11am. “We are now informing you that citizen benefit payments will be suspended until you contact us.”

Fewer benefit recipients, but more foreigners

In total, the number of people eligible for standard benefits in the Tempelhof-Schöneberg central employment district decreased from 41,508 to 40,018 from November 2021 to November 2023. The number of long-term unemployed also fell from 21,438 to 19,567 in the same period. The number of long-term unemployed who can work but have also been receiving benefits for more than four years also fell from 15,317 to 13,811. However, the number of foreigners entitled to standard benefits increased from 16,567 to 17,301.

Last year, employment office teams carried out 180 home visits in the Tempelhof-Schönefeld district. “The success rate is not measured by job placements, but by the fact that we were able to help some people regain social contacts by treating them with empathy. Without this step there will be no job placement. There are no statistics for these cases.”

Even doctors in Syria and Ukraine have to “reduce their demands”

The fact that the biggest problems for employment office teams cause the biggest problems for recipients of citizen benefits with foreign citizenship is not only due to a lack of language skills. “Many of them have no training. And even doctors who come from Syria have to lower their expectations, because it is not easy to have their license to practice medicine recognized,” reports Eichenseher.

This also applies to Ukrainian refugees. “Most of them have a significantly better educational level than other refugees. But even they cannot quickly find a new job without language skills. And they also have to lower their demands.”

Mailbox checked, checked by a spy: payments to data technicians suspended

The last “client” that morning, also in Schöneberg, is a 30-year-old German with a degree in data engineering. “The only employment he could prove was a three-month temporary job in 2019,” says Eichenseher. The last registration appointment at the employment office that the man attended took place in November 2022. The data technician did not respond to salary reductions.

This “client” also does not respond to doorbells or phone calls. Eichensehr checks at the entrance to see if there is a pile of mail in the mailbox, which could indicate a prolonged and unauthorized absence. His colleague listens upstairs at the door to see if he can hear any noise and looks through the peephole to see if she sees anything interesting. None. After ten minutes, Eichenseher takes out a pre-printed letter announcing that welfare payments will be temporarily suspended and throws it in the mailbox located right outside the apartment door.

“Experiencing gratitude, of course, is also pleasant for us.”

The conclusion of this day of “disclosure advice”: one in three “customers” is there and accepts a conversation, two are not attended to, which corresponds to the statistical average. Since then, another person has moved away and found work.

Employment agencies also managed to reintegrate a young Afghan woman into society after two years of total isolation in her apartment.

“You can especially see the relief in these loners when they finally talk again,” says Eichenseher. And he adds that many times those affected no longer have a telephone because no one calls them. “Experiencing the relief of customers when we managed to end that isolation is, of course, very pleasant for us too.”