What is an a-kasse and how does it work? Essential info about unemployment insurance for those working in Denmark (and those nearing graduation!)
So you have a job in Denmark…Congratulations! Half the battle (or more) has been won. After basking for a couple of days in the glory of securing employment here, however, it is well worth considering what happens if you lose that job. (Sorry to put a damper on things, but…) Unlike other European countries, Denmark does not have a government safety net for the unemployed (per se; see below). Rather, taking out unemployment insurance, provided by private associations, is a voluntary action. These insurance associations are called ‘a-kasse’, which is short for arbejdsløshedskasse. Here are some facts you should know about the system in order to have a safety net under you should you lose your job in Denmark through no fault of your own…
How many a-kasse are there in Denmark?
There are nearly 30 a-kasse in Denmark. They range in size from 17,000 to 253,000 members.
How does one choose an a-kasse?
While many a-kasse are open to all employed people in Denmark (including the self-employed), some are open only to certain professions; for example, academics, electricians, and social workers and caregivers. You should ask your employer and fellow employees which a-kasse/s are most relevant to your profession or which they generally recommend.
In 2009 the government sponsored a report of a survey of members’ satisfaction with and loyalty to their a-kasse, which you can read here (in Danish only). The top five in terms of satisfaction were min A-kasse, CA, Kristelig, Fødevareforbundet, and Faglig Fælles while the strongest sense of loyalty went to AJKS (A-kasse for Journalistik, Kommunikation & Sprog), Akademikerne, CA, Frie Funktionærer, and Business Denmark. You can also find rates of satisfaction for all a-kasse on aksseguiden.dk (although it is not exactly clear where and when the rates come from).
How much are annual membership dues?
In 2014, annual a-kasse membership dues range from 4,788 kr. to 6,288 kr. for those with full-time work (naturally less for part-time workers). The amount of your fees that goes toward actual unemployment insurance is fixed by the government and does not differ among a-kasse (in 2014 it is 3,996 kr./year); however, your dues also include an administrative fee and it is this fee that differentiates the cost of membership. You can find a list of the monthly cost of membership of each a-kasse in 2014 at this website (which includes a comparison of administrative fees) or at this site. While membership dues contribute to the administration of the a-kasse and the benefits paid out to the unemployed (called dagpenge in Danish), the bulk of benefits paid out to the unemployed are, in fact, largely financed by the Danish State . In other words, a-kasse are funded by private membership dues as well as the government.
What is the difference between a-kasse and unions?
A-kasse are ‘organised for the sole purpose of ensuring economic support in the event of unemployment’ , while unions ‘work with representing the members interest towards the employers, and with securing them reasonable payment and terms of working’ . Many a-kasse, however, are part of workers’ unions, which are ubiquitous in Denmark. According to the Ministry of Employment and the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), between 75 and 80% of all employed people in Denmark are members of unions, which is a high rate of membership compared to other European countries . For example, FOA, which represents the rights of people working in childcare and education, the social and healthcare sectors, catering and cleaning, and the technical and maintenance sectors, is a union and an a-kasse. How much you pay in membership dues to FOA depends on whether you are working full- or part-time, whether you wish to be a member of the union as well as the a-kasse, whether you want to pay into an early retirement scheme (efterløn), and whether you are currently studying or in training.
What do I need to know in order to understand whether and when to join? What do I need to do if I lose my job?
Luckily, understanding a-kasse is relatively simple but it’s important to know the primary rules and how they pertain to you as a non-Dane.
- First, joining an a-kasse ONLY makes sense if you are Danish or from an EU/EEA country/Switzerland or your right to reside in Denmark extends beyond your job contract. If you come from a non-EU/EEA country and your residency in Denmark is tied strictly to your work permit, it makes NO sense to pay into an a-kasse as you will forfeit any rights to collect unemployment benefits if you have to leave the country right after losing your job. Please note, however, that some work permits allow you to stay 3-6 months after losing your job in order to look for another and you will, therefore, be able to collect benefits for that time period. If you come from a non-EU/EEA country, you need to be sure what your work permit states before you begin to invest in unemployment insurance. A green card or other residence permit may also allow you to stay in the country after losing a job – check and make sure!
- Second, you must have worked for at least 52 weeks of the previous three years and paid into the system for at least 12 months prior to losing your job in order to qualify for unemployment benefits. Since you don’t necessarily know when your job will end, a safe option is to join as soon as you start your job.
- Third, if you lose your job, the a-kasse have strict rules you must follow in order to collect benefits (some a-kasse are stricter than others; this is something you have to learn by asking around). These rules include the requirement to register with your local Jobcenter (you can find yours here) within a certain number of days of your job ending; informing the a-kasse that you have lost your job; posting your CV to the Jobcenter.dk site; signing into the Jobcenter.dk site at least once every seven days; sending in a monthly benefits card to the a-kasse; attending advice meetings at the a-kasse office; etc.
How about students? Can they benefit from joining an a-kasse?
Students can absolutely benefit from joining an a-kasse. In fact, membership dues (and joining fees) are generally waived for students and trainees. If you have not secured employment by the time you graduate, you then follow steps similar to those who have lost a job, including registering with your local Jobcenter, contacting the a-kasse, etc. You must have been a member of the a-kasse for at least one year before graduation in order to claim dagpenge or you may be subject to a ‘quarantine period,’ which is a period of time you will receive no benefits. If you fail to register with an a-kasse before you graduate, you will be ineligible for dagpenge according to the rules for students; however, precise rules for when students must join differ from a-kasse to a-kasse. It is a good idea to talk with your university or institutional administrators or fellow students for advice. Please note: if you are a student from outside the EU/EEA area and you wish to stay on in Denmark to work, you must ensure that your permission to reside in Denmark extends past graduation.
How much money will I receive if I’m on dagpenge?
It depends on whether you were employed full-time or part-time and are a recent graduate or not. The amount you receive once you’ve taken all the required steps after losing your job will not exceed 90% of your previous wage or salary, but there is also a maximum rate. In 2015, dagpenge for people previously employed full-time is 827 kr./day (five days/week) or 17,918 kr./month. Previously part-time workers get 551 kr./day or 11,938 kr./month. New graduates are entitled to 82% of the per diem amount, also called the graduate rate. This is equivalent to 678 kr./day or 14,690 kr./month (452 kr./day or 9,793 kr./month for previously part-time students). Benefits are deposited into your bank account once a month and taxes and ATP (pension) are deducted from the amount you receive. (See various a-kasse’s websites to find this information; e.g. here, here, or here.) The amount of dagpenge you receive is also reduced if you pick up any freelance or other type of part-time employment – even volunteer work! – while unemployed. You must check your a-kasse’s rules to find out these particular details. Please note: no matter which a-kasse you join, you can receive unemployment benefits for a maximum of two years.
What happens if you’re not in an a-kasse and you lose your job?
‘In case you become unemployed and are not a member of an unemployment fund, you may be entitled to receive social benefits. These are administered by the municipalities. Therefore, if you want to receive social benefits you must contact your local municipality office .’ The amount one receives in social benefits, however, is much lower than dagpenge and you are only entitled to such benefits if your partner cannot support you; if you own nothing, i.e. car, property, etc.; if you have no more than a certain amount of money in the bank; and so forth.
If you have additional information about a-kasse that might be helpful to others, please post as a comment or send me an email!
 ‘Working in Denmark: A guide to the Danish Labour Market’, prepared by the Ministry of Employment, 2009, p. 2. See LO’s web page here.
 Ibid, Danish Ministry of Employment