A Northern Irishman who studied in a Swedish class for immigrants while unemployed has been ordered to repay nearly 200,000 kronor ($30,000) in benefits after incorrectly filling out a form.
Published: 09 Oct 2010 22:36 CET
"I am basically screwed for the rest of my working life because I went to school (SFI) to learn Swedish (to fill in forms correctly). A-kassan [unemployment insurance] wants nearly 200,000 kronor back (one year in unemployment benefits) because I went to school for 79 hours, which SFI calls full-time," Richard Blaine told The Local in a statement.
"I think I filled in the forms wrong and with no feedback or control by either a-kassan, SFI, or Arbetsförmedlingen, it all hit the fan when I did an årsanmällan [annual notification]," he added.
Blaine, who lives in Åre in central Sweden west of Östersund near the Norwegian border, moved to Sweden in 2007 after living in the Netherlands for 20 years and speaks Dutch fluently, he told newspaper Länstidningen Östersund on Friday.
When he began his job as an electrician, he began to study Swedish for immigrants (Svenska för invandrare, SFI) one full day a week in nearby Järpen.
To do so, Blaine specified in his contract that he had to work one less day a week to learn Swedish properly so he could better integrate and become acquainted with the country's customs and traditions.
"I asked about evening study, but they don't have it. I had to take one day off work because there is no evening study," he told The Local.
At the end of 2008, Blaine lost his job. He stopped attending classes for three months because he was so upset. When he finally resumed, he attended classes for two to four hours a day, one day a week from late March to early June 2009 and then again for two to five hours a day, one day a week from early October to mid-December.
Altogether, he spent about 79 hours in class in 2009 - but that was apparently enough to disqualify him from his eligibility to receive unemployment benefits.
After losing his job, Blaine had registered at the Swedish Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen) and received payouts from unemployment insurance based on his previous salary.
But his problems began when his unemployment insurance plan demanded an annual notification at the end of 2009.
Soon after filing the notification, Blaine learned that his unemployment insurance plan was demanding he repay the funds he received throughout the year because he had not informed it correctly about his studies.
Since the plan considered Blaine's actions fraudulently, he was also expelled from the plan and the police were notified. Blaine also claims that the insurance plan has also demanded interest and that he will likely be making payments likely until 2023.
Blaine is receiving help from the electricians' union to appeal the decision, but finding a resolution to the mess has taken a long time and doesn't appear headed toward a conclusion any time soon.
An arm injury made it difficult for him to continue working as an electrician, so he has worked as a mountain host, which he enjoys. However, it is not a job, but an initiative through the so-called job and development guarantee offering limited compensation from the regional social insurance office.
To avoid dealing with the Swedish Enforcement Administration (Kronofogden), Blaine has repaid the first installment to the insurance plan. He also wants the public to learn about what happened to him so that other SFI students do not face the same situation. As a result of his difficulties, he cannot risk returning to SFI.
"I just want this to end. I feel that they should change the rules to stop this happening to anyone else, maybe by only accepting students who have written permission first," Blaine told The Local.
In response, the insurance plan said that Blaine should have asked for help if he did not understand the process.
It added that it was only following the rules. It sees no extenuating circumstances in Blaine's case and considers that he acted fraudulently because he filled the form in incorrectly.
"The general rule is that anyone who is studying is not unemployed. Those who are studying cannot receive benefits," plan director Alexander Brockne told Länstidningen Östersund newspaper.
Brockne pointed out that there are exceptions, including part-time study and an affidavit submitted in advance of a willingness to suspend studies if one finds a job or if it clashes with the job search.
"If one does not submit such a declaration, it reverts immediately to the general rule that one is not entitled to benefits," Brockne told the newspaper.
Although he admitted that the rules may not be crystal clear to an English speaker, Brockne reiterated to the newspaper that anyone can ask for help from the organisation.
Brockne also clarified why it appeared Blaine was "punished" for studying one day a week when he was working the other four days.
"One should look for work full-time when he or she is unemployed in order to be entitled to the exemption under the part-time study provision. The fact that he needed to take time off from work suggests somewhat that he could not combine full-time work with his studies," Brockne told the newspaper.
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