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Discretion in the “Backyard of Law”: Case Handling of Debt Relief in Sweden

Journal article
Authors Bengt Larsson
Bengt Jacobsson
Published in Professions and Professionalism
Volume 3
Issue 1
ISSN 1893-1049
Publication year 2013
Published at Department of Cultural Sciences
Department of Sociology and Work Science
Centre for European Research (CERGU)
Language en
Keywords new public management, street-level bureaucracy, welfare profes-sionals, discretion, debt relief
Subject categories Sociology


This article explores discretion in welfare professional work. The aim is to analyse what room for discretionary decision-making that exist in case handling of debt relief at the Swedish Enforcement Authority (SEA). The analysis is guided by a conceptual distinction between structural and epistemic aspects of discretion, as well as between substantive and procedural aspects. The data comprises official and internal SEA documents, interviews with management and staff and field notes from observations. The analysis points to a change in the balance between standards and discretion in relation to the on-going formalization of case handling at the SEA, though not in the simplistic sense that discretion is diminished through formalization. When taking into account the different analytical aspects of discretion, it is concluded that discretion is narrowed only in some respects. There is still space for case officers in selecting and interpreting information and assess-ing the conditions regarding subject matter.

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