City of Hanover is one of the first municipalities in Germany to introduce the SocialCard for asylum seekers

Hannover, 08.12.2023

The question of how asylum seekers receive social benefits is the subject of numerous political debates in current migration policy. Today, 8 December, the state capital of Hanover, together with the company Publk GmbH, became one of the first municipalities in Germany to present the SocialCard, which enables access to cashless payment transactions. The Visa debit card has already been tested in Hanover for several months and is now being rolled out.


Almost 70 cards have already been in circulation since mid-November among customers of the Hanover Social Welfare Office who do not have their own bank account. Around 200 asylum seekers currently come to Hanover every month who are entitled to the card due to their residence status. Feedback from both customers and administrative staff has been consistently positive. The stigmatisation felt by customers, which resulted from the "Verpflichtungsschein "* as a special payment method and waiting in line, is now a thing of the past. The administrative burden is significantly reduced.

The state capital of Hanover is pressing ahead with the digitalisation of citizen services. In 2023, almost 20 per cent of housing benefit applications were already submitted online (2,478 out of a total of 12,756), which corresponds to around 250 online applications per month. The introduction of the e-file for granting various social benefits will also be completed by the end of 2023. Around 450 clerks at the City of Hanover will then be working with it*.

Lord Mayor Belit Onay said at the presentation of the product: "The SocialCard offers refugees non-discriminatory access to cashless payment. I think the current debate about restrictions on the card and the discussion about benefits in kind is wrong and not expedient. This is about people in emergency situations who we want to enable to participate. At the same time, we want to reduce the administrative burden of social benefits - that works! The SocialCard stands for what Hannover is - a modern and innovative municipality.

Sylvia Bruns, Head of Social Welfare in the state capital of Hanover, adds: "We are working flat out on the digitalisation of administrative processes. We are making the payment processes leaner and more digital for both benefit recipients and administrative staff. Queues are a thing of the past, as is tying up staff capacity when issuing commitment vouchers."


SocialCard: Functions of the product

The SocialCard launched in Hanover was developed by Publk GmbH, which specialises in the digitalisation of payments in the public sector. "The SocialCard is based on a conventional Visa debit card, can be used immediately and is managed on a credit basis," explains Joerg Schwitalla, founder and Managing Director of Publk GmbH. "It can be issued in digital form for the smartphone or as a physical card for the wallet. The city credits the social benefits to the card each month via SEPA transfer - without any additional hardware or software, which makes implementation much easier."

Only the city can book the credit - in each case the full benefit entitlement. The beneficiaries are free to decide how to use their credit. There are no restrictions on the use of the card. It can be used at any ATM and in any shop that accepts Visa cards. The city does not control cash transactions.

The SocialCard replaces the previous payment practice for benefit recipients without a German bank account, who previously received their benefits in the form of a monthly commitment slip. This is a form with security features with which the city guarantees customers an amount for payment by the savings bank. The new SocialCard is available to all customers of the City of Hanover who do not have a bank account. In addition to asylum seekers, this also includes people who receive assistance under SGB XII and do not have their own bank account.

Easy handling and long range

The design of the SocialCard is no different from other cards issued by banks, for example. This means that benefit recipients can pay for their purchases by card without being stigmatised. In the event of loss or theft, the card and its balance can be cancelled and transferred to a new card. Visa has a broad network of merchants in Germany with more than one million acceptance points. SocialCard holders can also pay everywhere there. This guarantees a wide reach for the use of the card right from the start.

Development of the project in Hanover

The number of Verpflichtungsscheine issued at the turn of the month rose to more than 1,100 in summer 2022 due to the large number of refugees from Ukraine. Issuing and redeeming them involved long queues in front of the social welfare office and the savings bank branch. "We therefore sought a digital solution for the non-discriminatory payment of benefits, for which no additional interfaces to the municipal social assistance programme had to be created," says Bruns, explaining LHH's motivation. The availability of cards due to the global shortage of raw materials at chip manufacturers initially led to delays in the project. The option of receiving cash via a mobile app on a mobile phone was not considered practical by customers in the first stage, so the city focussed on the physical card when switching the process.

Roll-out, test experiences and customer feedback

Tests with the first physical SocialCards began in autumn 2023. After successful tests, initially in small numbers, the market launch is now beginning on a larger scale. A team of clerks has been trained and authorised for the booking process. Minor process adjustments to the monthly booking on the card were quickly implemented. Almost 70 cards are already in circulation. Customer feedback to date has been positive. The card is perceived as easy to use. So far, no problems have been reported when making payments in shops or withdrawing cash from ATMs. The aim of the city of Hanover is to equip all authorised customers with the cards by the beginning of 2024 and thus completely switch to the debit card. The number of authorised users depends on the allocation by the state of Lower Saxony, currently around 200 people per month. According to current estimates, the city expects the number of card recipients to rise to 300 to 400 cards.

Background informationen:

E-file management:
The aim of the e-file management is to switch from paper-based file management to electronic file management. Administrative processes are to be simplified in this way, with regard to the processing time of applications and the improvement of file management (clarity). The e-file management is used in various departments of the City of Hanover's Social Services Department - in the Social Affairs, Senior Citizens and Social Participation departments. This involves the granting of benefits in accordance with Social Code IX (SGB IX), Social Code XII (SGB XII), the Act on the State Blindness Benefit for the Civil Blind (LBliG), the Criminal Rehabilitation Act - Act on the Rehabilitation and Compensation of Victims of Unlawful Criminal Prosecution Measures in the Accession Area (StrRehaG) and the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act (AsylbLG). Staff training should be completed by the end of 2023, by which time around 450 case workers will be working with the e-file.

Certificate of commitment:
This is a form with security features with which the city guarantees customers an amount for payment by the savings bank.

About SocialCard

The SocialCard digitalises the payment of social benefits. It is a "cash and cash cheque equivalent". The SocialCard is issued as a Visa debit card and enables benefit recipients to receive their social benefits quickly and easily. It thus offers them dignified participation in everyday processes. At the same time, it reduces the administrative burden on local authorities. Wherever cash or cheques are used, the SocialCard can simplify and streamline payments by digitising cash processes.

About Publk

Publk specialises in digitising payments in the public sector that were previously made in cash or by cheque. Publk knows the needs of local authorities with regard to payments and has developed a solution with the SocialCard that is optimally tailored to all requirements as well as legal and regulatory requirements.