Social assistance in Sweden

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Here you can read about how to apply for social assistance and what is needed for you to receive social assistance in Sweden.

If you have financial problems, this may be because you cannot support yourself due to unemployment, illness, or other reasons. Financial problems may also be caused by debt, making it hard to manage the everyday finances.

If you are Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, or Norwegian, and you are staying in Sweden legitimately, and you cannot support yourself and your family, you may be entitled to a benefit from the Swedish municipality to help you through your financial problems.

The benefit is called social assistance (ekonomiskt bistånd), and you can apply for it through the social services (socialtjänsten) in your municipality. Social assistance was previously called ‘social allowance’ (socialbidrag), and in everyday language, Swedes still call it that or ‘subsistence allowance’ (försörjningsstöd).

The social services in your municipality can also help with advice concerning budget and debt.

What is social assistance?

Social assistance is temporary financial support from the municipality that you may receive if you cannot support yourself. The social services make a decision in each individual case, and social assistance is paid for one month at a time.

The Swedish social assistance consists of two parts – a subsistance allowance (försörjningsstöd) and financial support (bistand) for day-to-day expenses. The subsistence benefit is to cover the household’s fixed expenses.

Some of the subsistence benefit is to cover costs of food, clothes and shoes, leisure and hobbies, hygiene, child and youth insurance, consumer goods, and newspapers and telephone. The other part of the subsistence benefit is to cover costs for housing, electricity, home insurance, trade union fees, and unemployment insurance.

Other financial assistance is to cover costs that arise from time to time. Examples are costs relating to glasses, dental care, medical treatment and medicine, contact with children, moving expenses, and funeral costs. An individual assessment is made of what is reasonable for the applicant in their life situation.

The social services consider your financial situation, and on the basis of that, assesses whether you are entitled to social assistance. You are entitled to social assistance if you have an actual need for financial assistance, and you have exhausted all other ways to support yourself financially.

Social assistance is a temporary solution to support you until you can support yourself again. The relevant legislation, the Swedish Social Services Act, emphasises your own responsibility for your situation.

What conditions must you satisfy to receive social assistance?

In Sweden, everyone is obliged to support themselves and their family.

Social assistance is a last resort for those people who have temporary financial difficulties. When you apply for social assistance, an individual assessment is made. First and foremost, you are responsible for your life. This means that you must try to contribute to your upkeep before you are entitled to assistance.

For entitlement to subsistence allowance, you must be available to the labour market if you can work.

If you are ill and not in a condition to work, you must be able to prove this with a medical certificate about impaired capacity for work. If you have other problems that prevent you from working, or participate in activities, you can discuss this with the social services.

You must also apply for general allowances and benefits, such as sickness allowance (sjukpenning), parental benefit (föräldrapenning), housing allowance (bostadsbidrag) and maintenance support (underhållsstöd) from the Swedish social insurance agency, Försäkringskassan.

Social assistance guarantees that you have a reasonable standard of living if you cannot attain this through your own income and other social benefits. Assistance is given so that you can support yourself in the future.

You are not entitled to social assistance if you have money in the bank or assets.

Before the social services can award you social assistance, you must do everything you can to support yourself:

  • You must be registered at the Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen) from the start of the period of unemployment if you are unemployed. You must be actively seeking work, and you must accept suitable work. If you cannot apply for certain jobs on medical grounds, this must be confirmed by a doctor.
  • You must apply for student financial support if you are studying.
  • You must apply for all benefits that you may be entitled to, such as housing allowance, pension, sickness benefit, parental benefit, child allowance, and sickness compensation. You can get more information and help from Försäkringskassan when you apply for these benefits.
  • You have an obligation to apply for other benefits such as unemployment insurance.
  • You must use your savings for your upkeep, or sell your assets to contribute to your upkeep. Your car is regarded as an asset unless you need it for your work or because of a disability or illness.
  • You and your partner must help each other financially if you are cohabiting, married, or registered partners.
  • You and your partner must plan how you will handle the financial aspects of a divorce if you separate. If you have children, you are responsible for determining child allowance, including maintenance (underhållsskydd and underhållsstöd), if the children live with you full-time or part-time.

When you apply for social assistance, the social services carry out an investigation to assess whether you are entitled to the benefit. Your application is assessed in relation to your financial situation and whether you satisfy the requirements of the social services.

You must provide information about, for example, housing and family conditions, and about all financial conditions, such as income, assets, and expenses.

The social services may request proof that the information you give is accurate, for example by showing a rental contract or a bank statement.

What is a reasonable standard of living?

Every year, the Swedish Government sets a national norm (riksnorm) for food, clothes and shoes, hygiene and health, leisure and hobbies, child insurance, consumer goods, newspapers and telephone costs. The norm also covers individual costs for housing, domestic electricity, work-related travel, home insurance and trade union fees, and for example expenses for prescription drugs. The national norm forms the basis for the level of social assistance.

The national norm also considers how many live in a household, children and their ages, whether children and young people eat lunch at home, and whether the adults in the household are single occupants or cohabitants.

The amount of social assistance you can receive is the same for all municipalities and is based on the national norm.

How do you apply for social assistance?

You are always entitled to apply for social assistance and to a decision. The application must be processed as soon as possible, but there are no regulations concerning how many days the processing of a case can take.

Contact the social services in your municipality to apply for social assistance. You will meet a social worker who will make a preliminary assessment of your right to social assistance. A social worker will then, together with you, investigate and plan how you can reach a position where you can support yourself again.

You can enter your details in the National Board of Health and Welfare’s calculation tool to see whether your finances are over or under the level for social assistance. However, the result is not a guarantee for whether you can or cannot be awarded social assistance.

How do you submit a complaint about a decision on social assistance?

If your application is rejected completely or partly, you will receive a written decision, with an explanation as to why you cannot receive social assistance. If you are not satisfied with the decision, you can register a complaint with the administrative court.

If you are not satisfied with the way the case official has processed your case, you can contact the head of the department at the social services. If you want to complain about the social services, you can contact the Health and Social Care Inspectorate (Inspektionen för vård och omsorg, IVO).

Who should you contact if you have questions?

If you have any questions, contact your municipality.

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