The EEA’s EFTA Surveillance Agency (ESA) thinks that errors by Norwegian authorities in interpreting rules for receiving social security abroad could date back further than initially thought.
Norway’s Labour and Welfare Administration, NAV, is embroiled in an ongoing controversy after it incorrectly interpreted EU rules on certain types of social security, resulting in people being wrongly convicted of benefit fraud.
Resultantly, 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.
On Friday, the Norwegian state prosecutor froze all ongoing investigations into possible benefit fraud related to recipients who have spent time in other EEA countries.
The ESA now believes the problem could date all the way back to 1994, the year the EEA was established, media including Dagbladet reported Friday afternoon.
Bente Angell-Hansen, president of the ESA, told Dagbladet that the agency was now looking into errors in NAV administration of EEA social security rules dating from prior to 2012, the year new EU rules were implemented and when the errors are originally reported to have begun.
Norway is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) but not of the EU, and thereby shares enabling the extension of the EU’s single market to non-EU member countries.
“The way we see it, we are now thinking that [the NAV error] has been the case ever since Norway became part of the EEA agreement,” Angell-Hansen told Dagbladet.
That means possible wrong convictions for social security fraud dating back to 1994.
Consequently, up to 10,000 instances may exist of NAV wrongly demanding return social security payments from people who spent time abroad, according to a lawyer who specializes in the area.
“This could lead to a snowballing of cases. We are looking at an earthquake at NAV,” Olav Lægreid told Dagbladet.
Angell-Hansen said that the ESA had contacted authorities in Norway and intends to ask “how Norway is going to rectify this serious issue”.