Benefits agency closes 309 offices

The Swedish Social Insurance Administration, which handles all Swedish pension and sick benefit payments, plans to close 309 of its 330 offices. Customers are to be encouraged to use the Internet and telephone to communicate with the organization.

“Many of our customers have been dissatisfied with long telephone waiting times and long waits for their cases to be dealt with,” said Maivor Isaksson, production director at the organization, known in Swedish as Försäkringskassan.

It is planned for Försäkringskassan to cooperate with other state authorities in many 280 communities in Sweden, in order to provide some kind of local representation for the organization.

The plan to encourage more people to carry out errands via telephone and Internet was greeted with dismay by pensioner organizations.

“It is clearly a deterioration when they once again cut back on personal service, like they did before at [Swedish post office] Posten,” said Hans Lenkert, secretary general of the Swedish Pensioners’ Association, to Svenska Dagbladet.

But Maivor Isaksson said that pensioners would still be able to meet Försäkringskassan representatives. She said that the reorganization would make this easier, as many conversations currently dealt with at the offices would now be moved to the phone lines, freeing up representatives for important face-to-face meetings.

“The customer service lines will have their capacity doubled from 350 to 700 people. We will be open in the evenings, and maybe even at weekends,” she said, adding that the aim of the reorganization was to make things easier for customers, as well as to save money.

Isaksson said that jobs would disappear following the reorganization, but she did not yet know how many. She said she hoped the cutbacks would be carried out through retirements, rather than through redundancies.

“We have quite a lot of staff retiring in the next few years.”