Purpose of supplementary benefits

What are supplementary benefits?

Supplementary benefits may be claimed when old-age or invalidity pensions and other income are not sufficient to meet minimal living costs. They are meant to ensure that the elderly as well as the surviving family members of pension beneficiaries and the disabled have sufficient means to cover their basic living expenses. Several private charitable foundations - Pro Senectute, Pro Infirmis, Pro Juventute - also grant financial assistance to individuals in need.

Means-tested benefits

Supplementary benefits are means-tested and granted on demand. They are not social welfare benefits. Beneficiaries who fulfil two prerequisites are legally entitled to them: they must be recipients of an old-age, survivors' or invalidity pension (this may include individuals who receive no pension to the fact that they did not pay contributions long enough), and their income must be too small to meet their expenses for rent, sickness insurance, nursing or other care, and other essential needs. Supplementary benefits make up the difference between expenditure and income.

Foreign nationals must have lived in Switzerland without interruption for ten years to qualify for supplementary benefits. This is not applicable to nationals of EU - or EFTA-member states (EFTA: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). For refugees and stateless persons, the waiting period is five years. 

The top-up function of supplementary benefits: insufficient income is supplemented up to a set maximum level.


Supplementary benefits are financed out of tax revenue by the federal authorities, the cantons and partly by the municipalities. They are not paid for by contributions on salaries as the rest of old-age and survivors' insurance and invalidity insurance. 

Administration and supervision

The cantons name the bodies that administer supplementary benefits. With the exception of Zurich, Basle and Geneva, all cantons have delegated this task to their old-age and survivors' insurance compensation offices. Social welfare institutions are legally prohibited from doing so. Federal authorities are in charge of overall supervision and guarantee that their subsidies are used in an appropriate fashion.

Appeals may be lodged against decisions of the administrating body. As a rule, legal proceedings are free of charge.


Supplementary benefits were introduced in 1966 as a transitional measure, to span the period until pensions would be high enough to guarantee a satisfactory minimum income. It has by now grown abundantly clear that this provisional approach was pure wishful thinking. The costs of housing and of long-term nursing and health care is rising, making supplementary benefits more vital than ever. Over one-third of supplementary benefit recipients live in a nursing home and require additional means to cover the high cost of institutional care.

Last modification 08.01.2015

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