Kela backlog for callers to foreign language helplines

The Arabic, Somali and Russian helplines are open three days per week for just a few hours each morning.

File photo / Credit: KELA Facebook

Finland’s social security agency Kela says its foreign language helplines are getting so many calls that there’s a long backlog for help, with many calls going unanswered.

The popular phone services – in Arabic, Somali and Russian – were discontinued after Christmas but opened up again in spring to offer assistance to people during the coronavirus crisis.

However due to the high volume of calls, Kela says the waiting times for assistance are long and staff are not able to answer all the calls.

Part of the problem is that people who had been using Finnish and Swedish services had now reverted to using a language they are more comfortable with, and this has increased the demand on the service.

“Currently customers who previously have contacted Kela in Finnish or Swedish also call the service numbers in Arabic, Somali and Russian. We hope that they will continue to use our services in Finnish or Swedish” says Kela’s Sanna Piironen.

As people’s language skills improve, they will be told to start using Kela’s Finnish, Swedish or English helplines instead, where the waiting times are short and an appointment can be booked within a couple of days.

The foreign language phone helpline services are currently available on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 09:00 – 12:00.

The numbers are:

  • Arabic 020 6344 902
  • Somali 020 6344 905
  • Russian 020 6344 901

Background to Kela’s foreign language helplines

Kela used to operate phone helplines in different languages but before Christmas these were closed, with the agency saying they had too many challenges organising the
day-to-day work of the helplines, which at that time assisted around 2,000 people every month.

However, about a quarter of the calls were going unanswered.

While the phone service is very busy, Kela offers a wide range of language options on its website.

The full site is available in Finnish; Swedish; English; three Sámi languages and easy Finnish. There’s also a wide range of information available on the website in Russian; Estonian; Kurdish; Arabic, Farsi, Somali; and Finnish and Swedish sign language via videos.

In addition, information about Kela and the benefits system is available at the InfoFinland website, a dedicated portal for immigrants to Finland.

That website contains information in 12 languages: Finnish, Swedish, English, Russian, Estonian, French, Somali, Spanish, Turkish; Chinese, Farsi and Arabic.