Six things to learn from Norway’s NAV social security scandal hearings

A two-day hearing has begun into the scandal surrounding Norway's Labour and Welfare Administration, NAV, which incorrectly interpreted EU rules on certain types of social security over a number of years.

Six things to learn from Norway’s NAV social security scandal hearings
This photo from November last year shows Prime Minister Erna Solberg answering questions in parliament about the Nav social security scandal. Photo: AFP

The issue resulted in people being wrongly convicted of benefit fraud since at least 2012.

At least 48 people have been wrongly convicted of social security fraud after spending time in EEA countries while receiving social security assistance from Norway, according to prior reports.

A two-day parliamentary hearing began on Friday. At the hearing, former Director of Public Prosecutions (Rigsadvokaten) Tor-Aksel Busch used the expression “collision of laws” in relation to Norway’s social security act (folketrygdloven) and the EU regulations, Aftenposten reported.


Here are five key things which emerged on the hearing’s first day.

Conflict between Norwegian and EU regulation

In order to receive Norwegian sick pay (sykepenger) or unemployment benefits (arbeidsavklaringspenger) Norway’s social security act requires the recipient to remain in Norway and not travel abroad.

This Norwegian regulation remained unchanged when the country Norway incorporated into Norwegian law an EU regulation which states that no matter whether “one lives or resides in another Member State”, one should be entitled to such benefits. The EU regulation takes precedence, Aftenposten reports.

Busch repeatedly stated during the hearing that this was difficult for “practitioners” to relate to.

33 rulings could have been blocked by Director of Public Prosecutions

Busch, whose term as Director of Public Prosecutions (Rigsadvokaten) ended last year after the scandal broke, stated “clearly” that he thinks he should have been informed much earlier, Aftenposten reported.

He did not decide who should have informed him; Nav or the foreign ministry. But he stated five specific occasions where he thought he should have been brought into proceedings.

He said that he should have been informed the second half of 2017, after courts began to change practice based on the notion that Nav had not properly implemented the EU regulation. This could have resulted in 33 judgments in 2018 and 2019 being stopped.

Former Director of Public Prosecutions criticizes government minister

Busch’s statements can be considered critical of Anniken Hauglie, the government minister in charge of labour and social issues.

He stated that Hauglie's ministry did not understand the seriousness at the time Hauglie has said “the alarm went off” over the issue, i.e. August 30th last year.

“There was still an absence of inquiries to my old office,” said the now-retired director of public prosecutions.

Busch also said he was surprised by the instructions from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Arbeids- og sosialdepartementet) not to look at cases retroactively.

Disagreement between court and Nav

Trine Fernsjø, head of Trygderetten, the court which assesses social security cases, said the court had on several occasions rejected Nav's interpretation of the law, which penalized people who went to EU or EEA countries without applying to take their social security benefits with them.

Former ministers give statements

Three former labour ministers, Hanne Bjurstrøm, Anniken Huitfeldt (both Labour) and Robert Eriksson (Progress Party) testified at the parliamentary hearing.

Both Eriksson and Huitfeldt both stated that they were concerned about limiting the export of social security, but that they were also concerned with complying with EEA law.

Records not taken at meetings

Civil servants pointed out that minutes were recorded at all meetings. That may in at least one case have prevented the scandal being detected earlier.

No minutes were recorded at an October 2017 attended by two departmental directors from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and employees from Nav. ‘Social security export’ was on the agenda, and a question directly connected to the current scandal was asked, according to Aftenposten’s report of today’s hearing.

Too early to conclude

After the first day of the hearing, Labour spokesperson Eva Kristin Hansen declined to comment on whether Hauglie's position had been weakened.

“I don't want to say anything about it until the hearing is completed,” Hansen said to Aftenposten.

But Freddy André Øvstegård of a smaller opposition party, the Socialist Left, told the newspaper that Busch was “clear-cut in his crushing judgment on the government's management” by identifying a number of times when he should have been notified of the case.

“I did not expect such a clear statement, and that puts the matter in a very bad light for the government,” he said.

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Norway plans to issue holiday pay to people furloughed and unemployed in 2020

Nav, Norway’s public welfare agency, is preparing to issue holiday pay on unemployment benefits before the summer, even though the scheme is yet to be adopted.

Norway plans to issue holiday pay to people furloughed and unemployed in 2020
Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

According to Norwegian employment law, employees have the right to holiday pay  amounting to 10.2 or 12 percent of annual salary from the previous year. Freelancers and independent contractors normally do not.

Under a recently-proposed scheme, people who are eligible will receive 10.2 percent of their unemployment benefits as holiday pay from Nav, the national agency which administers public welfare.

Earlier this year, the ‘green’ and ‘red’ parties on Norway’s left made demands for holiday pay on unemployment benefits for the unemployed and laid-off workers (permittert in Norwegian). Permittering refers to people laid off or furloughed or not working their full hours due to Covid-19 restrictions or their consequences.

The government agreed to part of those demands and presented proposals at the end of March. 

READ MORE: ‘Fellesferie’: What you need to know about holiday pay in Norway

Holiday pay on unemployment benefits is scheduled to be be reviewed again in parliament to smooth over some of the finer details of the proposal. But Nav plans to pay out the holiday before the summer and it should automatically enter your account if you are registered and eligible, the agency has said.

“Nav has initiated work on such a solution, so if it is adopted, it now looks like we will receive payment before the summer holidays,” Nav preparations manager Yngvar Åsholt told trade union news media FriFagbevegelse.

Many people will probably be entitled to holiday pay on unemployment benefits that they received in 2020.

The government’s proposal allows for:

  • Holiday pay on unemployment benefits, calculated at 10.2 percent of paid unemployment benefits during the calculation period.
  • The calculation for payment in 2021 is set for April-December 2020. Only people who received unemployment benefits during this period will be entitled to holiday pay.
  • Only those who were unemployed or laid off for more than eight weeks receive holiday pay.
  • A maximum of 25,000 kroner will be paid in holiday pay. If this limit had not been set, people who were out of work for the entire period could have received up to 33,000 kroner in holiday pay for the period April-December 2020. 
  • Persons who, as of June 8th, 2021, are entitled to four weeks holiday with unemployment benefits, will not receive holiday benefits.
  • Persons who have been laid off for 52 weeks on June 8th or later can both take four weeks holiday with unemployment benefits this summer and receive holiday pay benefits for unemployment benefits.