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Severe delays in Kela's telephone service

Numerous complainants have criticised the backlog in the telephone service of the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela) as well as the call charges incurred when queuing to the service.

In March, the average queuing time was 23 minutes. Individual callers may have had to wait for 30-45 minutes.

According to Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja, the long queuing times caused unreasonable costs to customers applying for social assistance considering their financial situation.

The service has now improved. In May, the average queuing time had reduced to 4.5 minutes.

In the Deputy-Ombudsman's view, overall, queuing to the telephone service does not currently seem to cause unreasonable costs to social assistance customers.

Kela pays the service number fees

Complainants have also criticised the fact that Kela's 020 telephone number is not included in all call packages offered by telecom operators; instead, a separate charge for calls to the number is added to the regular monthly fee.

According to information provided by Kela, when calling its service numbers, customers only have to pay for the local network fee or mobile call fee specified in their subscription contract. Kela pays the service number charges to the operators.

On its website, Kela recommends that customers with a call package check with their operator whether the package covers calls to 020 numbers.

Telephone service for urgent matters should be improved

Urgent social assistance applications must be processed so that Kela can make a decision on the application on the same day or at the latest on the next working day after receiving the application.

In urgent matters, Kela requires customers to visit a Kela Office or contact Kela by telephone.

According to the Deputy-Ombudsman, Kela should develop its telephone service so as to enable timely responses to urgent queries in all situations. This could be achieved, for example, with technological solutions reserved only for the processing of urgent applications.

Cooperation between Kela and municipalities is particularly important. According to the Deputy-Ombudsman, there are situations where a municipality must assess a customer?s need for urgent social assistance and, if necessary, arrange immediate assistance. Cooperation between Kela and municipalities is justified also in terms of social work.

Further information is available from Principal Legal Adviser Tapio Räty, tel. +358 9 432 3379, and Legal Adviser Riikka Jackson, tel. +358 9 432 3385.

The full texts of the decisions EOAK/2225/2017 and 2879/2017 made by Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja have been published in Finnish on the Parliamentary Ombudsman's website at www.oikeusasiamies.fi.