Nationwide survey on the accessibility of social services provided by NAV 2020–2021. Summary report.
Report by the Norwegian Board of Health Supervision 5/2022
For most people, the increased number of digitalised services in society has improved the availability of public services. At the same time, some people are not able to use digital solutions for a variety of reasons. In 2020 and 2021, the County Governors carried out a study covering 70 municipalities regarding the availability of NAV’s social services for persons who visited an office, telephoned or used digital services. The study demonstrates that there remain challenges around the availability of these services.
NAV offices with short opening hours
49 of the 70 NAV offices involved in the study were open and staffed to receive the public for six hours or less per week. 11 of the 70 were closed all week. Users who visited a NAV office without an appointment were therefore often met with a locked door. In the case of offices that were open to the public and staffed, users normally got the help they needed, but due to the short opening hours, the users with acute needs were seldom able to talk with a consultant on the same day they visited. This was problematic for the users, and some said that they had given up trying to get in touch, even though they had an acute need for help.
In a letter sent by the Norwegian Directorate of Labour and Welfare's letter to municipalities across the country in 2022, the Directorate states:
“Non-digital recipients of services must have the opportunity to receive proper services, and everyone must have the opportunity to receive acute help pursuant to the Act relating to social services when they contact a NAV office. This implies that persons must have the opportunity to visit a NAV office in person, both with and without an appointment. If opening hours are restricted so that persons applying for social services are not able to visit a NAV office in person, a reason for this must be specified, and the municipality must find some other manner to ensure that those who need help receive it.”
The study shows that this requirement has not been met in many municipalities. The Norwegian Board of Health Supervision is severely concerned about the fact that NAV offices do not have the resources to receive visits from users without an appointment, when such users may have an acute need for help, such as food, electricity and housing.
Long wait on the telephone
All phone calls to NAV’s telephone number (+47 55 55 33 33) are routed to NAV’s contact centre (NKS). The Norwegian Board of Health Supervision's study of NKS in 2021 showed that a high number of the inquiries regarding social services had to be forwarded to the relevant NAV office. NAV offices seldom answered calls from the contact centre, which meant the contact centre would send a message to the office in question informing them that the user wanted to be called back. If the user was not reachable by phone when a NAV consultant called back, the user had to start the process again from scratch by calling NAV’s contact centre, which sent a message to the NAV office, which then called the user back. It could sometimes take several days before the user was able to talk to someone at the NAV office who could help. The Norwegian Board of Health Supervision is severely concerned about the long waiting time experienced by users when calling NAV, possibly resulting in the users not getting the help they need in time.
NAV consultants gave users direct numbers to call so they were more available
Many consultants in NAV offices wanted to make their services more available, so gave users a direct number to call. Users were happy with this as it meant they did not have to call via NKS, and it took less time to contact the NAV office.
However, it was left up to individual consultants to decide whether they wanted to hand out their direct number. Only a small number of NAV offices had fixed procedures in place for when to issue direct numbers to users. The Norwegian Board of Health Supervision finds it positive that the NAV consultants are attempting to improve service availability, and believes that giving the users a direct number can be a good solution. At the same time, a lack of routines and equal practice can result in unequal treatment both within the NAV offices and between municipalities. Service availability should not be dependent upon the individual NAV consultant, and must be regulated, harmonised and predictable.
Partners helped users get in touch with NAV
Other municipal agencies that often cooperate with NAV offices, such as substance abuse services, mental health services, refugee services and service centres, stated that they often helped users get in touch with NAV. They helped users send digital applications, and they interpreted the contents of letters and decisions. They felt that they were carrying out work for which the NAV office was responsible, and that this could potentially have an impact on their own work. The Norwegian Board of Health Supervision wishes to emphasise that it is important for NAV themselves to assist users in relation to NAV’s own services. NAV consultants have the necessary competencies to carry out these tasks, and it is important to avoid partners being burdened with additional tasks simply because NAV offices are not available.
The channel strategy adopted by NAV provides improved availability for many, but worse availability for some
NAV has a channel strategy that applies to the governmental services in each NAV office. It states that contact between users and NAV offices should take place digitally as much as possible, and that meetings should be scheduled in advance. Many users have found that this strategy makes it easier to get in touch with NAV. They can contact NAV digitally at any time without having to worry about opening hours and travel.
At the same time, there are some users who are not able to use these digital solutions because, for example, they do not have BankID, they have language difficulties, or trouble accessing digital platforms. For these users, the service availability has deteriorated. The Norwegian Board of Health Supervision is of the opinion that the strategy affects the municipality’s social services, and that limited opening hours are a direct consequence of the strategy.
The social services provided by NAV are the last safety net for society – but do they work as intended?
NAV’s social services are society’s safety net, and ensure that everyone has what they need to survive. The services must be available to everyone, no matter the individual’s situation and irrespective of whether or not society is suffering from a pandemic. Short opening hours and long waits on the phone represent a risk of failure for the NAV offices’ function as society’s safety net. The Norwegian Board of Health Supervision is severely concerned about this resulting in individual users not receiving help to cover their basic needs, such as money for food, electricity and housing, in time.
The Norwegian Board of Health Supervision’s recommendations
The Norwegian Board of Health Supervision recommends that the municipalities and the principal professional authorities, such as the Directorate of Labour and Welfare and the Ministry of Labour and Social Inclusion, implement measures to ensure that the social services provided by NAV offices are more available to users.
- NAV offices’ opening hours are under evaluation. If NAV offices retain their existing opening hours, it must be documented that municipalities have implemented compensatory measures to ensure proper availability to the services for all persons.
- Clear, written communication between the NKS and NAV offices must be ensured by means of professional systems that ensure duty of confidentiality.
- Municipalities must also assume more responsibility for answering telephone inquiries from users via NKS and for establishing a staffed phone line that NKS can contact during their opening hours.
- The municipalities’ responsibility as a safety net for society that provides services that are easily accessible is based on partnership between the government and municipalities.
- A study is required into where the line is drawn between NAV offices’ responsibilities and partners’ responsibilities. The current practices of NAV offices, which lead to partner organisation providing users with assistance when contacting NAV, should be a part of this evaluation.
- Studies will be carried out in the future to check that the measures implemented have resulted in improved availability and proper social services for the users.