Social Welfare Centres (Ośrodek Pomocy Społecznej – OPS) are institutions that operate within the social assistance system at the local level (in gmina – municipality). Their activities focus on providing assistance to families and individuals who found themselves in a difficult life situation. According to the Social Assistance Act, these situations include: poverty, orphanhood, homelessness, unemployment, disability, long-term or severe disease, family violence, the need to protect motherhood and families with many children, helplessness in matters of parental care and housekeeping (especially in single-parent families and in large families), difficulties in adjusting to life after institutional care or prison, difficulties in integration of foreigners who have been granted refugee status or subsidiary protection in Poland, alcoholism and drug addiction, a random event, crisis situation, and a natural or ecological disaster.
Social assistance may be provided in the form of financial and material support, as well as other services. Financial aid tools include primarily cash benefits, like various allowances, that are available to families and individuals without income or with low income. The income criterion plays a key role here. From 2018, the income threshold for a single person is PLN 701 per month, and PLN 528 per month per person in the family. Families and individuals whose income exceeds the above-mentioned amounts can receive the benefits only in exceptional cases. Non-financial forms of assistance involve social work, material aid such as meals and clothing, care and household services, and specialised counselling.
Who is entitled to social assistance
Social assistance is available to both Polish citizens and foreigners who meet the statutory criteria. Foreigners are eligible for benefits, if they belong to any of the groups listed below:
- persons residing on the territory of the Republic of Poland on the basis of a permanent residence permit, a residence permit for EU long-term resident, a temporary residence permit granted for the purpose of family reunion (note: this applies only to family members of a foreigner who has been granted refugee status or subsidiary protection) or due to other circumstances (in particular, to those holding a residence permit for EU long-term resident granted by another EU member state);
- persons who have been granted refugee status in the Republic of Poland or subsidiary protection;
- those who have obtained a residence permit for humanitarian reasons or a permit for tolerated stay – in the form of shelter, meal, necessary clothing, and earmarked allowance;
- EU/EFTA citizens residing on the territory of Poland, as well as their family members who are eligible to stay in Poland;
- persons residing on the territory of the Republic of Poland on the basis of a temporary residence permit for victims of human trafficking or a certificate confirming the existence of such presumption – in the form of crisis intervention, shelter, meal, necessary clothing, and earmarked allowance.
Where and how to apply
To get assistance in times of hardship, an application must be made to the local social welfare centre. In Warsaw, social welfare centres operate in all 18 districts, with some of them being divided into two branches, e.g. in both Praga districts or Mokotów.
The application can be submitted by a person concerned, their legal representative or another person, with the consent of the person concerned or their legal representative. Once the application has been made, a community interview will be conducted in the applicant’s place of residence or stay. It is an essential part of making the decision of whether or not to grant social assistance. If the decision is positive, it will also form the basis for developing an assistance plan.
The procedure requires an applicant to provide the documents that show the hardships being faced. The decisions on social assistance are issued in a written form. Any decision issued by the social welfare centre can be appealed.
Need assistance with applying for social benefits at the OPS or with approaching the selected centre?
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