Ombudsman wants multi-purpose helpdesk in every town hall

HELP! button on keyboard

National ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen wants every town hall to have a help desk ‘for every conceivable query’, he said in an interview with newspaper Trouw.

People are finding society more complicated, Van Zutphen said, and local authorities should help them makes sense of it. That includes issues that are not of a purely administrative nature.

‘A citizen should be able to go to his town hall and say: ‘Such and such is my problem, help me,’ Van Zutphen told the paper. The town hall can then refer the person to the appropriate organisation. ‘A citizen whose fridge has stopped working or whose bank statements have been destroyed by accident is also entitled to help,’ he said.

Van Zutphen, who is addressing an audience of civil servants and scientists during a conference on Thursday called ‘Who participates in 2030’, said society is split into those who are able to cope with things like digitalisation and those who aren’t. The latter form a substantial group and are largely ignored, Van Zutphen said.

‘The authorities are very demanding but are not giving much in return. They have developed systems which judge citizens. The state has become a machine,’ Van Zutphen told the paper.

His remarks come in the wake of wide-spread criticism on the Dutch algorithm-based fraud detection system SyRi.

Another danger for citizens is the fact that local authorities are increasingly outsourcing tasks to companies or organisations. ‘That means people no longer know who they are dealing with,’ Van Zutphen said.

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