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BENEFITS

Stricter sick rules push up ‘last resort’ benefit claims

Stricter rules for claimants of sick benefits and unemployment insurance benefits has led to a larger number of Swedes applying for social benefits, the last-resort benefits provided by local authorities.

The centre-right Alliance government, which came to power in 2006, has made it harder to claim sickness and unemployment benefits, particularly over a long period. The changes to sick benefits have had a particularly large impact, according to the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR):

“The Swedish Social Insurance Administration’s policy changes and stricter rules has meant increased costs for council social services,” said SALAR’s Leif Klingensjö.

The conclusions are based on a survey of 24 municipalities, with a combined population of 2.3 million. Half of the councils said costs had increased since the clampdown on sick benefits.

Union SKTF, which represents social workers, said a survey of 360 of its members confirmed the trend.

“The picture they give is that they are seeing more and more clients that they had not previously encountered,” said SKTF chairwoman Eva Nordmark.

Social benefits are awarded on a needs basis – a single person without children might expect to receive around 3,500 kronor per month, as well as extra money to cover costs such as housing. This is significantly less than sick benefits, which entitle people to initial benefits of 80 percent of previous income up to a ceiling.

BENEFITS

Parents told to pay back millions to Swedish state

Swedish parents who stay at home with sick children get paid at least 80 percent of their salary. But after a crackdown by the Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan), hundreds of Swedish mums and dads have been told to pay back a record 14.8 million kronor ($1.7m) to the state.

Parents told to pay back millions to Swedish state
Swedish parents have been told to pay back millions to the state. Photo: Lena Granefelt/imagebank.sweden.se

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733 parents in total were forced to repay 14.8 million kronor in erroneous payouts in 2014, compared to the year before when 472 parents paid back 5.8 million.

Insurance controller Daniel Lundmark told news wire TT on Tuesday that the sharp rise is due to the Swedish Social Insurance Agency stepping up its work on investigating suspected benefit crimes.

“We have some criteria that flag up some cases. Exactly what those criteria look like, we won't communicate. It could also be that you have been involved in investigations before,” said Lundmark.

One parent was told to pay back 1.1 million kronor, an unusually high figure. The second highest last year was less than half and the average was 6,300 kronor per parent.

Sweden's generous welfare politics include paying out at least 80 percent of the salary to parents who stay at home to look after their children if they are sick. It is called 'VAB', which stands for 'Vård av barn' (Care of Children), and is very popular with Swedish mums and dads.

Last year parents claimed VAB payments for 5.9 million working days, and in February this year, parents stayed at home with their children for 680,224 days in total – a new record.

The Social Insurance Agency estimates that about a third of the cases being forced to repay the cash in 2014 intentionally tried to cheat the system and will be reported to the police. Usually, the mums and dads have claimed 'VAB', while still working and receiving their normal salary.

In the past few years, around 20-38 percent of reported benefit crimes have resulted in a conviction.

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