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Tanya endures six-month wait for jobless benefits

Tanya endures six-month wait for jobless benefits

Published: 17 Nov 2009 13:11 GMT+01:00
Updated: 17 Nov 2009 15:42 GMT+01:00

As jobs in Sweden continue to disappear, the country’s unemployment insurance funds have been struggling to keep up with jobless claims, forcing many to wait for months before receiving their benefits.

More than six months after Tanya Martyn learned she would be out of a job due to the bankruptcy of her Malmö-based employer, she has yet to receive proper benefits from her unemployment insurance fund (a-kassa).

Martyn had been employed full-time since 2006 with Mubito, a media company specializing in building direct-to-consumer web platforms for musicians and record labels.

But in April she was told that Mubito was going bankrupt and her job as a project manager would come to an end as of June 1st.

As she wasn’t enrolled in an unemployment insurance programme at the time, Martyn immediately contacted Alfakassan, a fund not affiliated with any union and open to employees in all sectors.

“They told me to contact them again in two months when I was officially out of a job,” Martyn told The Local.

When June came around and Martyn had worked her last day with Mubito, she promptly filed the necessary paperwork with Alfakassan.

As Martyn had not been a member of the fund for at least 12 months prior to filing her first claim, she was only entitled to receive Alfakassan’s universal basic insurance benefits, which amount to about 320 kronor ($46) per day for a full-time employee.

After a month went by without any word from Alfakassan, Martyn contacted them to check on the processing of her claim.

“They told me it would be at least 12 to 14 weeks before anyone even reviewed my application,” she explained.

“It was a real shock.”

Frustration then set in when Martyn heard why Alfakassan needed so much time to process her application.

“They just said that they were overwhelmed with applications due to the high unemployment numbers and simply didn’t have enough people to review the applications any faster,” she said.

“I asked them, ‘How am I supposed to survive? I have bills to pay.’ They basically told me it was my problem and that they couldn’t help me.”

Martyn’s case is far from unique. According to recent statistics from the Swedish Unemployment Insurance Board (IAF), the wait times at several a-kassa funds have ballooned in recent months.

According to IAF, average wait times to receive income replacement payments have increased to eight weeks, one week longer than members had to wait one year ago.

The average wait time for basic unemployment insurance payments, meanwhile, has jumped to 19 weeks, up 11 weeks since last year.

But the wait times at Alfakassan are among the longest of all Sweden’s unemployment insurance programmes.

According to the most recent statistics from IAF, more than half of the applications for basic unemployment insurance benefits filed with Alfakassan remain unprocessed after five months.

Even after six months, 25 percent of Alfakassan claims have yet to be processed, according to IAF.

Ironically, Martyn should consider herself one of the lucky ones, as she did actually receive her first payment from Alfakassan after waiting 13 weeks.

However, the amount of the benefit payment was about 15 percent less than is should have been.

Martyn has since appealed the decision, and one month later was informed that could expect to wait another 11 weeks for her request to be processed.

In the meantime, Alfakassan neglected to issue Martyn's benefits payment for the following month of October.

"When I called there were a lot of excuses, but they promised me they would include the money for October in my November payment," she said.

While spokesperson Ulf Björklund regrets that many of Alfakassan’s members have had to endure lengthy wait times, he said that measures taken earlier in the year, including the hiring of 100 additional staff members, have gone a long way toward cutting wait times.

“We’ve certainly had long wait times, longer than we would have hoped for,” he told The Local.

“But now if we get in a new, complete application, we’re able to process it in about five weeks.”

He added that the figures from IAF are somewhat inflated because they are calculated from when a person first registers with the National Public Employment Office (Arbetsförmedlingen).

“From there, it may take weeks or even months before someone sends us their benefits application,” said Björklund.

Processing times are also lengthened because up to 90 percent of the applications received by Alfakassan are incomplete or require additional documentation.

Björklund admits that Alfakassan was caught unawares by the wave of joblessness which hit Sweden in the wake of last year’s financial crisis, adding that its mission to be “the a-kassa of last resort” means it receives applications from people who lose their jobs and don’t have any other unemployment insurance.

“A lot of these people aren’t very well established in the job market which can make their applications rather complicated to process,” he said.

So far, Martyn and her husband have managed to make ends meet without additional funds from Alfakassan.

“If it weren’t for our savings, we’d have had to move out and find a cheaper place to live,” she said.

“Now the money I should have received in June to help with expenses during unemployment won’t be paid until at least the end of January. It’s put a real strain on my family.”

The entire episode has also soured Martyn on Sweden’s oft-praised social welfare system.

“I’m really disappointed. Everyone talks about Sweden having this great social safety net, we pay a lot of taxes and I was expecting to be taken care of when I lost my job,” she said.

“It’s not really insurance is it?”

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

14:54 November 17, 2009 by krow
That means we better save ourselves the trouble by pulling out of any insurance whatever, than having force hope.
17:02 November 17, 2009 by izbz
Alfakassa when it comes to paying them, must be always on the dot, when it comes to pay out......takes at least 6 months or more, zillions of questions asked, zillion paperwork to fill in. Excuses: not enough documents supplied to them, short of staffs, computer f¤%%#- up and etc. etc. Usually hard to get them on the damn phone. Am a member of alfakassa, never know what happen in the future, lucky I am employed by a very secure company. But still dare not cancel my membership.

Hotel and Restuarant Union worse of the worse, cancelled my membership for that. They really don't give two hoots to what happen to members except good in collecting money from the members.

I suggest members should always keep a copy of every correspondences with Alfakassa,

'usually the left hand don't know the right hand is doing' (chinese proverb). Keep a copy and let them bite their own tongue.
02:08 November 18, 2009 by tigger007
work is getting hard to find all over. i have noticed that sweden doesn't really give good tax right-offs for companies who create jobs in sweden. WHY? giving people more money on their pay checks is fine,but giving companies a tax break for creating jobs is better.
08:29 November 18, 2009 by ugg
Interesting comment..."we pay a lot of taxes and I was expecting to be taken care of when I lost my job," she said.' ummm your taxes don't pay for everything.
09:39 November 18, 2009 by Streja
Why didn't she join the a-kassa i the first place 12 months ago? Doesn't she know that no tax money goes towards a-kassa? It's an insurance, she didn't bother getting it and now she is pissed off?
10:14 November 18, 2009 by "green Swede"
yeah streja,am I missing something too,she wasn't a payed up member of any akassa but she still got 320kr a day,makes me wonder why I payed hundreds a month for ten years to get less than 500kr a month,strange.
10:53 November 18, 2009 by ugg
@green swede and @Streja

Couldn't agree with you more.

Nice that she has been paid.

"Ironically, Martyn should consider herself one of the lucky ones, as she did actually receive her first payment from Alfakassan after waiting 13 weeks"

I'm still waiting to be paid (16 weeks) and after being a member for 5 years...the word priority comes to mind.
17:31 November 20, 2009 by tommycapes
@ tigger

here here,

the swedish government is killing their countries economy. leaving communism but not quite embracing capitalism and allowing it to flourish. they need to decide.

As for the whole a-kassan thing. get a job, you are not owed a living you have to work for it.
00:10 November 21, 2009 by "green Swede"
sorry that should be less than 500kr a day.And as for "owed a living" I payed high taxes for ten years in this country and unlike the dole you contribute extra to a kassa,687kr per mth in fact.
09:49 November 22, 2009 by theredskipper
i've heard about so many people who decided to forego unemployment insurance and are now scrambling because they've lost their jobs and have no money coming in. really, thats lesson number one in money management. you should always have a cushion in case you lose your job. i really don't understand why she wasn't part of an unemployment insurance plan while she had a job so that it would kick in precisely in this eventuality. it's unfortunate, but she should have planned for this. i also love how this article only lightly touches on that subject. i guess it would be cruel and bad journalism to obviously use this woman as a cautionary tale.
17:26 November 22, 2009 by Alannah
I was in the same situation 3 years ago long before this recession started. Nobody explained how the A-kassa worked when I moved to Sweden - not my company's HR manager, my boss nor any of my friends, I assumed that if I ever became unemployed, the 60% taxes I paid during my employment would cover unemployment assistance ...given that around 25-30% of these taxes are for social welfare payments.

When I became unemployed, Alfakassan told me to sell my apartment first before I was entitled to any unemployment assistance. Great! Given the fact that it is impossible to rent long-term in Stockholm, they seriously expected that on top of losing my job unexpectedly I should also sell the roof over my head.

To be honest, I really wonder what we pay such high taxes for in Sweden ... aside from the maternity leave and subsidized kindergarten, I don't see any other social benefits from the system. Swedes always say medical care is free but a visit to the dentist costs money as does a visit to the Cityakuten or doctor.
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