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It’s All about Family: Extra Benefits in Switzerland
At a Glance:
- There are three main types of family allowance available: child allowance, education allowance, and birth and adoption allowance.
- While the federal constitution lays out certain general guidelines for the family allowance system, it is the cantons that have the most say on the specific regulations.
- There is a special register in place to keep track of families in Switzerland. This register ensures that no family slips through the system.
Confederation vs. Canton
Family allowance in Switzerland is a complicated topic to fully explain within the scope of one article, as the requirements and the range of compensation vary significantly between the 26 individual cantons. While the federal constitution does lay out some guidelines, it is the cantons that have the final say when it comes to regulating these benefits.
In an attempt to regulate family allowances across Switzerland to a certain extent, the Familienzulagengesetz (family allowance law) was put into practice in January 2009. The law provides a clear framework that the cantons must follow when setting their own guidelines for family benefits — for example, regarding minimum compensation. The Familienzulagengesetz also regulates who is entitled to receive these benefits and under which conditions. However, the cantons are allowed to be more generous than these federal regulations if they choose to do so.
As long as they stay above the minimum guidelines laid out by the state, the cantons are free to be as generous as they want. They can offer a higher amount of compensation, choose whether or not the canton will offer certain benefits, and add additional benefits to the allowance scheme. The cantons are fully responsible for their own family allowance fund, and they need to budget and organize the funds themselves.
It is worth noting that for the majority of people — except for those working for the federal government — the canton that they work in will be the canton overseeing their family benefits, not the canton they live in. An exception to this rule applies to non-working parents. In this case, the family allowance will normally be paid by the fund of the canton where they live.
The cantonal authority in charge of overseeing family allowances in Switzerland is the Family Equalization Fund (FAK).
For more information on your respective canton’s regulations on family allowances, you can look them up on the website of the Federal Agency for Social Security. Unfortunately, this information is only available in three of Switzerland’s official languages, though: French, German, and Italian.
What Are Family Allowances?
The aim of family allowances is to provide parents with some financial help for raising their child or children. The benefit scheme works according to the “one child, one allowance” principle. This means that only one person can claim benefits per child. If there are any disputes over who gets what, the decision will automatically be made based on an established order of precedence.
There are three different types of family allowance in Switzerland, but not all of them are offered in each canton.
Every canton in Switzerland offers child allowance. In this case, it is the canton you work in that decides who is entitled to these benefits and what exactly they are entitled to. Parents are entitled to receive child allowance, as long as one of the parents is in gainful employment or receiving unemployment (ALV) benefits. If the parent is employed, the benefits are paid by the employer, and if the parent is receiving unemployment benefits, the allowance is paid by the ALV fund.
Parents who work part time are likely to only receive a partial amount of these benefits, unless they earn over 587 CHF a month, in which case they receive the full sum.
As of 1 January 2013, it is compulsory for all self-employed residents to pay contributions towards the family allowance fund. Since then, all self-employed parents are also entitled to receive child allowance.
Education allowance is paid for children over the age of 16 who are still in education or training. Their parent will continue to receive these benefits until the child completes their education, or up until they turn 25 — whichever comes first.
However, if the child works while attending school, university, etc. and earns more than 2,350 CHF per year, their parents will not be entitled to receive education allowance. If the child receives employment, disability, sickness or accident benefits, they are all also considered income. If the child is entitled to receive any of these, the amount they get will be taken into account with regard to the family’s eligibility for family allowance.
As long as the training course leads to a specific qualification or general education, the family will be considered for the education benefits. Learning must also be the main focus for the young person in question — they must spend at least 20 hours a week over a period of four weeks on their coursework to be eligible.
As of November 2016, the minimum education allowance as outlined by the Swiss government is 250 CHF per month, but the cantons can be more generous if they like.
Birth and Adoption Allowance
In the case of birth and adoption allowance, the individual cantons themselves choose whether or not to offer it. If the canton chooses to pay birth and adoption allowance, they must follow certain regulations outlined by the federal government.
Firstly, the birth and adoption allowances are one-off payments for each child. If you have two children, for example, you will get two payments, and the same applies if you adopt two children. Paying both kinds of allowances to the same parent of a child is forbidden. However, in the case of an adoption, the biological parents can claim the birth allowance, and the adoptive parents can claim the adoption allowance.
Bear in mind that parents are not entitled to this kind of allowance if they receive unemployment benefits. Moreover, expats should be aware that, if the mother’s permanent residence is not in Switzerland and she is only staying there temporarily (i.e. only for the end of her pregnancy and to give birth in Switzerland), she is not entitled to receive this type of family allowance.
From Funding to Claiming: A Breakdown
Claiming family allowances is pretty straightforward — you simply fill out an eligibility form and send it to the Family Equalization Fund (FAK) in your canton. The specific details for employees, non-working parents, and the self-employed are outlined below, but it is important to realize that the responsibility for claiming their family allowances is predominantly placed on the parents’ shoulders.
What this means is that if any situation — professional, personal, or financial — should arise that could change your claim to family allowance, it is up to you to report this change to the FAK. If any changes are not reported and benefits are paid incorrectly, the authorities are perfectly entitled to ask for a reimbursement of any payments you may have received by mistake.
For employees, their family allowance is financed by their employers, who pay FAK contributions. In this case, the allowances are normally paid on a monthly basis along with the employee’s salary. It is the duty of the employer to inform their employees that they are entitled to receive family allowance, and they should help the claimant to fill out the application form. It is then the employer’s responsibility to pass on the application form to the Family Equalization Fund (FAK).
It is also up to the employer to monitor the application to a certain degree. If an employer knows about a change in the employee’s personal circumstance that could have an effect on their right to claim family allowance, the employer should let the FAK know about that as soon as possible.
Self-employed residents of Switzerland have to pay their own contributions towards a family allowance fund through the FAK. The exact contribution rates and the criteria that entitle them to receive for birth and adoption allowances vary among cantons, so for more information on this topic, it is advised to contact your local FAK.
The family allowance for non-working parents is predominantly financed by the cantons. Non-working residents who receive unemployment benefits should apply to their unemployment fund for their family allowance.
Keeping Track: You’re on the Register
On 1 January 2011, the Swiss government introduced the Familienzulagenregister (FamZReg). This register was put into practice in the hope that it would prevent families from receiving multiple benefits which they are not entitled to. The register also makes it easier for authorities to clarify whether or not a family is entitled to any benefits at all.
Only authorized persons can access the FamZReg, but the public does have limited access to this register via the internet.
Every family in Switzerland who claims family allowances will be put on this register. Therefore, the authorities will ask you for your work and home address, the number of people in the household insured by AHV (the Swiss social security system), and your child’s date of birth.
Children Living Abroad
If a parent is entitled to family allowance under Swiss law but their children live abroad, these benefits can still be paid in certain circumstances. This is mainly the case if there is an agreement between the Swiss government and the government of your children’s current country of residence.
Currently, such family allowance agreements are in place between Switzerland and the EU member states, Switzerland and the EFTA countries, as well as Switzerland and Turkey (for agricultural workers only).
If there is such a social security agreement, parents can make a claim to receive both children’s allowance and education allowance, but not to the birth and adoption allowance. For more information on exporting family allowances, find out more from the Federal Social Insurance Office of Switzerland. Please note that this information is only available in French, German, and Italian.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.