Jobless man must repay funds for taking Swedish

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.

Jobless man must repay funds for taking Swedish

“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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INTERVIEW: Swedish doctor on the state of the coronavirus in ski resorts

Sweden's government has decided to leave its ski resorts open during the current 'sports holiday', despite concerns that this could lead to rising infections. The Local spoke to Anders Lindblom, the infectious disease doctor in Dalarna, about how it is going in the region's ski resorts.

INTERVIEW: Swedish doctor on the state of the coronavirus in ski resorts
The Lindvallen ski resort in Sälen is busy this week. Photo: Gustaf Månsson/SvD/TT

The annual 'sportlov' school break kicked off last week and will run through the first two weeks of March, with the exact week varying depending on where in Sweden you live. In a normal year, a lot of families use this break to go skiing in the Swedish mountains. At the time of writing, the ski resorts remain open, but the Public Health Agency has issued guidelines on how to travel safely – although some regions advise against travelling at all.

What's the current situation in Dalarna [a region in central Sweden and home to popular ski resort Sälen]?

We don't have the highest incidence in Sweden. The cases have been increasing a little bit over the last three weeks from a relatively low level, but the travel obviously makes it difficult to foresee what's coming. So I'm a little bit worried about what's going to happen.

What are your worries?

I hope it won't happen, but if the cases increase in the ski resorts, they're going to take their disease back to their home counties, and if we see a lot of increase in those counties, it could mean more patients in hospital.

We're in the second week of the 'sport holiday', how has it been going so far?

It's going fairly well. We had a meeting with the Public Health Agency and the regional government today. In the ski resorts in Dalarna, they are following the rules pretty well, but when they go shopping on the way to the ski resorts, it gets crowded in the shops and in the petrol stations on the way up.

So what are you going to do about this? Are you going to recommend that people shop before they travel up?

We've done that before, but we're going to repeat that message again. We're going to repeat it in Dalarna, and also the Public Health Agency is going to issue it as a national recommendation.

What will it take for the sport holiday not to lead to a surge in infections?

It's very important that people follow the rules in the ski resorts, to keep their distance and avoid crowded areas, especially indoors.

I don't think the problem is outside. If you're outside, the risk of spreading the disease is minimal. The high risk is crowded places indoors – shops and restaurants – and so far, it's not crowded in the restaurants, and the ski lounges are closed during the day.

If you just stay with your family or your travel companions when you're indoors, it's not that risky. It's when you have parties with other people, and mix with other people, that there's a problem. Then it can spread from one travelling company to another.

If a family go up there, get sick, take a test and go home, that's not going to spread the disease.

Anders Lindblom is the infectious diseases doctor for Dalarna. Photo: Region Dalarna

If you had been able to decide, would you have wanted the ski resorts to close?

I can't decide myself whether people can travel. If the government and the Public Health Agency allow travelling, what I can do is make it as safe as possible for people to be in the ski resorts.

So I'm having a lot of discussions with the companies up there, at the lifts, and at the hotels, and at the shops, so that not too many people go in there, that they can rent skis outdoors, and to make sure that the restaurants follow the rules.

As far as we see right now, the spread of Covid-19 is not that extensive. But I think there's a risk that people don't follow the rules.

How are you getting the message out so far?

From the ski resorts, when people are booking their trip there, or the hotel or a cabin, they get the message from the vendors, and we repeat the message whenever we get interviewed, and I think the Public Health Agency are going to repeat the message when they speak to the media on Tuesdays and Thursdays.


People skiing in Sälen on Tuesday. Photo: Gustaf Månsson/SvD/TT

A cluster of the variant first discovered in South Africa has been found in Sälen. Is there a risk the resort could become a centre point for growth of that particular variant?

We saw some spread among the inhabitants in Sälen, but that is going down. We don't know about the tourists.

What could it mean for the spread of that particular variant? If there's so many people coming in and out of the resort, is there a risk that it could really get established?

I think it's already established. The risk is that it's going to spread around Sweden. That's the problem, and it could be that when people from Dalarna go on their spring vacation, they can get affected and spread it when they come home as well.

What's coming next? Are there new recommendations on the way?

We discussed the situation with the Public Health Agency on Friday, and we did it yesterday [Monday] and today [Tuesday] as well. They are going to talk to the government, and see what they should do. 

I think they're going to tighten up the restrictions that we already have, that's for sure. I'm not sure if they're going to make any new restrictions.

When do you expect the new restrictions?

The Public Health Agency has told us that it is going to be this week.

What other actions have you taken? 

We have a lot of test stations in the ski resorts, so you can go there and get tested every day. I think we have four test stations. What we are advising people to do is, if you get sick, get a test, and stay home until you get a result. If it's positive, then then you should go home.

So I suppose the big test will be when Stockholm has its sport holiday next week?

We had Gothenburg last week, and we have Skåne this week. There have been a lot of people in the ski resorts this week and last week, but maybe it's going to be more people next week.