More Swedes denied sick benefits

The number of Swedes who have been denied sick benefits has risen sharply over the past year, according to new statistics.

Over 8,200 people this year have either been refused the benefits or seen their compensation reduced. The spike is due to new health rules and better procedures for judging who is capable of working.

About 30 percent more saw their sick pay compensation reduced in the first four months of this year compared to the same period last year, according to recent figures from the Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) as reported by news agency TT.

In the last two years, the number who have seen their sick pay compensation reduced has more than doubled.

“The increase in the numbers with reduced compensation has to do with how we apply the rehabilitation chain,” said Bertil Thorslund, an analyst at the agency. “Medical decisions probably also support such an impact. They result in illnesses not lasting as long.”

Radical changes have been made to Sweden’s system of sick benefits. Sweden has long had the highest levels of sick leave in the European Union, according to official figures, despite having one of the world’s healthiest populations by other measures.

Previously, it could be many years before a sick person’s work capacity was tested. They are now subject to time limits provided by the government in 2008, which means that working capacity is tested against the entire labor market after six months.

The government also introduced also introduced new guidelines for the sick in 2007, the so-called medical decision support.

“The agency has always had the mandate to test someone’s ability to work across the entire job market, but there have been no deadlines before,” said Thorslund.

During the first four months of this year, more than 8,200 people were denied sick benefits, of which about 3,300 saw their sick pay compensation reduced and about 4,900 were rejected and received no compensation at all.

The number who were refused sick pay rose 38 percent during the first four months compared with the same period last year. The percentage of refusals increased from 1.6 percent in 2007 to 2.8 percent in 2009.

The increase in denials may be related to the agency becoming better at investigating work capacity or that the application and interpretation of the law is more uniform at the various offices now than before.

However, no one knows for sure the reason behind the jump.

Thorslund described the developments as “a mystery that we do not understand.

“The increase is probably not due to any rule change. We have discussed it and not found any good explanation,” said Thorslund.

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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/

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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.