The Finnish Social Security Institution (Kela) announced on 18 December that the national phone services in Russian, Somali and Arabic will be closed after Christmas.
This is a decision that neither those responsible for the service nor the people who usually work as translators for immigrants consider appropriate, due to the lack of capacity of some customers to understand the issues related to Social Security in a language other than theirs.
During the last couple of years, the phone services have helped customers with questions about Kela’s benefits, especially in the initial stage of contact. "As the customer’s skills in Finnish, Swedish or English have increased, customers have been directed to services in these languages, Kela says.
Many customers have found the service very useful. According to Kela's numbers, it has helped an average of 2,080 customers per month during a period from 1 December 2018 to 30 November 2019. In fact, the number of queries has been so high that the phone service has only been able to answer 26% of all incoming calls.
The Social Security institution says that the closure of the phone services in Russian, Somali and Arabic is intended to be temporary. "Some challenges in organizing day-to-day work need to be solved before the phone service can continue," Kela said in a news release.
"This is truly regrettable. In the future, we hope to be able to continue with the service and develop it. We have seen how useful the service has been to our customers," says the Director of the Customer service unit for the Greater Helsinki Area Matti Kujala.
Translators consulted by Foreigner.fi also doubt that services to some foreign customers will be provided with the same quality if not in their mother tongue.
"I agree this is regrettable. Some Arabic speaking clients I have assisted cannot speak English because their level of education is low and they lack a minimum understanding of some basic concepts, for example what is a bank statement or other attachments that Kela demands. If they cannot call and explain it in Arabic, they will still need to hire assistance an that will become more costly for them," explains Boualam Sadou, who provides translation services at the company APartners Oy.
"I also doubt their language skills in Finnish or English increase with the time. I have had some clients for three years and they still come to me sometimes because they need help when they get for example a letter from Kela or any other official communications by mail," he added.
Kela’s customers are entitled to interpretation services if it is not possible to handle matters with Kela in the customer’s mother tongue and if there is no common language with Kela’s customer service personnel. In these cases, Kela can organize a professional interpreter for the customer.