Benefit fraud in relation to personal assistance in Sweden

Summary of legal cases, statistics and media coverage as of November 2012

In early 2010, Halmstad District Court handed down three judgments and several people were sentenced to prison for benefit fraud. These cases involved people pretending to be disabled, as well as other types of crimes, such as tax evasion and fraudulent timesheets that also figured in the subsequent discussion. In 2011 about 20 assistance companies were investigated, and two more people were convicted in February 2012. According to  Karl Arne Ockell, Halland Police, the cases were discovered because the timesheets were digitized and the Swedish Social Insurance Agency shared information with the police and other authorities. He believes that organized crime is involved, with branches all over Sweden, and would like to see legislative changes, such as stricter requirements for medical certificates. The cases received considerable media attention, especially from newspapers, as well as the TV show P1-morgon and the radio show P1 STUDIO ETT.

Stig Orustfjord, Social Insurance Agency, said in an interview that two kinds of fraud occur: pure rogue companies (the exact meaning of this is unclear) and fraudulent reporting of assistance hours used. He believes some people have a culture that views assistance benefits as a sum of money rather than a number of assistance hours.

Considerable discussion has been devoted to how widespread fraud is and how much money wrongly disbursed. Amounts mentioned range from a SEK 10 billion to a few hundred million Swedish kronor (Karl Arne Ockell on the television show P1-morgon). Tomas Sundberg, Social Insurance Agency, said in an interview in May 2010 that he believes there is a hidden figure estimated at 3.65% in the report Improper payments and social insurance violations in 2009.

Karl Arne Ockell, Halland Police, stated that he believes that one third of the assistance benefit paid out in Halland County was based on false premises, though he admits in an interview in November 2010 that this is speculation.

The Swedish Agency for Public Management was mandated by the Government to write the report “Increased security in payment of the assistance benefit” in which they will set forth proposals to improve monitoring. Nejra Milisic, Swedish Agency for Public Management, stated in an interview that they will rely in part on their own observations, as well as on the FUT delegation reports What do the errors cost? and Why are there errors? According to these reports, 6-7 percent of disbursements are paid in error and in half of these cases, the individual who is eligible for assistance intentionally makes the error. Björn Johnson, political science expert  at Malmö University, believes that the idea of widespread fraud is a myth and that the margin of error in the methodology used by the FUT delegation is very large. “This would never be accepted in an academic context,” he says. Vilhelm Ekensteen, Ifa, the interest group for individuals eligible for assistance, and Maria Söderberg, The Swedish National Audit Office, are also critical of the FUT delegation’s calculations. The Social Insurance Agency reports only 15% of its demands for repayment to the police and Söderberg believes that so few police reports contradicts the idea that such a large proportion is due to fraud.

Several people express concern that these events will have a negative impact on assistance reform. Under the heading “Do not let the cheaters ruin things for those of us who need help,” Wenche Willumsen, who is entitled to assistance , wrote in Aftonbladet that there is a risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Henrik Petrén, the Swedish National Association for Disabled Children and Young People, and Maria Johanson, DHR, say that the violations should not be called cheating, but criminality. Journalist Jonas Franksson  fears that people without criminal intent will be questioned by the Social Insurance Agency when such a large gray area is involved. He believes that the just opposite is the case, that many people do not receive the assistance they need. Margareta Johansson, Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union, feels that the “media image is completely distorted” and that people make negative generalizations about the industry. Göran Fredriksson, Health Enterprises, would like to see a clampdown on cheaters as well as collective bargaining agreements with all providers, while preserving the freedom and choice offered in today's unique legislation and enjoyed by individuals eligible for assistance.

In February 2012, Susanne Billum, Supreme Administrative Court justice, submitted the report Measures against fraud and misconduct involving the assistance benefit, (Assistanskoll summary) to Maria Larsson, Minister for Children and the Elderly at the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. Despite criticism of the estimates of how widespread cheating and fraud are, she argues in an interview that fraud and incorrect payments are involved in 9-15% of cases. The report proposes unannounced home visits, more stringent requirements for running assistance companies, requiring organizers to provide information to the Social Insurance Agency and preventing assistants from serving as trustee for the person eligible for assistance. Svante Borg, Swedish Social Insurance Agency, states in one interview in December 2011 and another in November 2012 that the Social Insurance Agency estimates the cost at hundreds of millions of Swedish kronor, which is far from Susanne Billum’s report and the FUT delegation’s calculations. He believes there is an interest in personal assistance among hardened criminals who do not want to see comprehensive monitoring of how assistance hours are used. "Our questioning of individual assistance hours will not have any impact on crime,” he says.