Sunday 31 May 2020

New ministers to face tough questions over new tax office blacklist

Photo: Joep Poulssen

Junior finance ministers ministers Alexandra van Huffelen and Hans Vijlbrief, drafted in to restore order at the tax office in the wake of the childcare benefit affair, will face tough questioning from MPs on Wednesday, following new revelations about a blacklist.

The tax office is once again in the firing line for breaking privacy regulations – this time with a blacklist of 180,000 companies and private individuals whom it considers are potential fraudsters.

The list was compiled over a 20-year period using the tax office’s internal systems for reporting suspected fraud, which could be as little as a telephone tip-off from a jealous neighbour, Trouw and RTL Nieuws reported last weekend.

MPs are not angry about the fraud watch per se, but are concerned that more than 5,000 officials had access to the list, and were able to copy it or make changes. In addition, the list was never given a periodic review, meaning an innocent person could remain on it for years.

‘We have asked multiple times if there were blacklists and this was repeatedly denied. But now it turns out there was one,’ said Christian Democrat MP Pieter Omtzigt.

Omtzigt was at the forefront of efforts to get to the bottom of the child benefit scandal, in which the tax office forced hundreds of families to pay back child benefits without proper grounds, ruining some financially.

The tax office has now taken the fraud suspect list off line, in the wake of the media reports.

Mothballed

Van Huffelen and Vijlbrief have already told MPs that the list should have been mothballed a year ago, when questions about it first surfaced. ‘It should not have taken questions from the media to achieve this,’ the ministers said.

In addition, the ministers said in a second briefing to MPs on Monday that the tax office has for years failed to pay back fees for sending reminders to people and companies whose tax bills were later reduced.

The fees were only refunded if the person or company specifically requested it. In total, 410,000 companies and private individuals should have been refunded a total of €31m for letters about money that they did not owe.

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