Social insurance institution Kela is badly behind in its handling of social assistance applications.
Kela head Elli Aaltonen says that the institution's current average country-wide handling time for assistance applications is 7.9 days – almost a full day longer than the legal maximum period. Customers in southern Finland may have to wait nearly two weeks for a reply.
Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen has received 135 official complaints about the crisis-level delay, with more coming in daily.
"This is a very severe situation for everyone who relies on this benefit for their survival," says councellor Tapio Räty. "This is directly affecting families, people living alone, the mentally ill and the elderly. All kinds of people, in other words, and especially those who need every single euro. They are suffering."
The complaints concern four main problems: the length of application handling times, the inefficiency of the institution's web service, congested customer service lines and Kela's own guidelines.
System transfer to blame
Social assistance is an income subsidy that is reserved for persons and families whose income is not sufficient to cover daily expenses.
Kela took over the handling of social assistance applications from municipalities on January 1. Following the change the institution's services have been backed up non-stop, and benefits have not been paid on time.
The volume of customers took the social insurance institution by surprise – even though it hired 750 new employees just to prepare for the backlog. Another 300 positions will be filled this year to cope with the strain, and Kela has even requested that municipalities lend them some social workers temporarily.