Due to the Dutch benefits system, people still get into financial problems every day. That is why the system must be abolished as soon as possible, says Inspector General Bart Snels, head of the Tax, Benefits and Customs Inspectorate, in Trouw.
Every year, 150,000 households have to pay back care, rent or other allowances because they have not reported anything on time. This concerns, for example, a change in their income or in the composition of the household.
“We ask the impossible of people and have placed all financial risks with the citizens,” says Snels. “We affect people’s livelihoods with the benefits.” According to him, the problem is not with the officials, who try to do “the right thing”, but with the system itself.
‘I couldn’t even do that’
If something goes wrong with government agencies when passing on data to the Tax and Customs Administration and the Benefits Office, the benefits are often immediately reduced or stopped. According to Snels, that is a major problem.
“We expect people to fight out that conflict themselves with the other government agency, even if they have not done anything wrong. And if they have succeeded, they must then also try to get the allowances back themselves. We ask a lot of people. I’ll be honest: I couldn’t even do that. I’m very shocked that the system works like this.”
Another fundamental problem is that people have to predict what will happen in their household in the coming year. “But you don’t know if you’re going to get divorced, start living together, or if your partner dies? You don’t know if one of your children suddenly comes home again, starts working and therefore has their own income? But all those changes have direct consequences for the entitlement to benefits. And if you don’t pass them on in time, you will immediately receive high refunds.”
At the beginning of 2021, the cabinet fell over the benefits scandal. NOS op 3 then explained how it could come to this:
Because the system is so complicated, and because many people have a bad experience with the benefit system, hundreds of thousands of citizens do not dare to apply for a benefit, says Snels. “They are afraid of the high recoveries, or because of the benefits affair. There are also people who do not even find their way to benefits, or do not know how to apply for them. This results in legal inequality between groups of citizens, and a social inequality that is very undesirable.”
According to the inspector general, the only solution is to abolish the entire system. Implementing organizations and municipalities are also arguing for this. “We can continue to expand in better services, but that will not solve the problem. That is why politicians must now provide clarity about which way we are going with the system. The House has been talking about it for about six years, and the coalition has also said that she wants to get rid of the surcharges.”
Solution is complicated
Abolishing is one step, but replacing the benefits system with a new system is very complicated, Snels notes. “There are countless buttons to turn, and political differences of opinion also play a role. The cabinet finds it difficult to take the lead in this.”
According to Snels, the fact that there are many islands in the government does not help either. “One department is working on the reform of the rent allowance, the other with the care allowance, and a third with the childcare allowance. And there is also a State Secretary for Benefits who has been instructed to think about a completely new system. The House of Representatives can be seen as a mirror image of this. I am not going to discuss it, but it would be good if the House came to one theme committee on benefits or social security.”
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