Swedes turn on benefit cheats

Swedish benefit cheats can no longer trust their neighbours, friends and colleagues to keep their secret from the authorities: in the first three months of 2007 the number of anonymous tip-offs to Stockholm's Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) has increased by 72 percent compared to the same period last year.

Swedes turn on benefit cheats

Up until the end of June this year there were 881 anonymous tip-offs in the capital. That compares to 1,175 for the whole of last year.

“People have always called us, but it’s suddenly much more common,” said Therese Karlberg, project leader in the agency’s benefit fraud department.

“When they see us in the media it makes them think about the people they know. Often people may know that a neighbour claims sickness benefit but then sees them working, or they know that someone who says they are claiming housing benefit for living alone is actually living with a partner.”

Karlberg told The Local that Swedes have traditionally been rather open about claiming social insurance payments but attitudes towards benefit fraud have changed recently.

“Politicians started to talk about this a couple of years ago and people realised that our system is very vulnerable if it loses too much money,” she said.

But revenge can also be a motive for a tip-off.

“Sometimes people tell us about their ex-husbands or wives who are filing false claims,” admitted Therese Karlberg.

The surge in tip-offs has led to a rise in the number of fraud cases being dealt with by Social Insurance Agency. In Stockholm alone there have already been 3,998 cases handled by Karlberg’s department – 487 more than for the whole of 2006.

And it’s not just in Stockholm that people are turning on benefit fraudsters.

“It’s the same picture across the whole country. Most people are hard-working and they don’t like to see others abuse the system,” said Karlberg.