Wednesday 22 March 2023

Families take legal action against ministers over childcare benefit scandal

Photo: Joep Poulssen

Twenty of the families victimised by the tax office in the childcare benefit scandal are planning to take legal action against five ministers and former ministers for their role in the affair, news agency ANP reported on Tuesday.

Thousands of parents found themselves in serious financial difficulty after the tax office began clawing back thousands of euros in benefits which they said had been wrongly paid in 2012.  The tax office also admitted that 11,000 people were subjected to extra scrutiny because they had dual nationality.

Medical care minister Tamara van Ark, finance minister Wopke Hoekstra, economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes, former tax minister Menno Snel and Labour leader Lodewijk Asscher, who was head of the social security ministry at the time, are all named in court documents.

The case has been lodged with the Supreme Court because it involves ministers and former ministers.

Lawyer Vasco Groeneveld, who is representing the families, said the ministers have shown criminal negligence by failing to adhere to some of the principles of good governance.

In particular, officials could be found to be guilty of professional discrimination, violating Article 1 of the constitution (which states every Dutch person is equal’) and the violating the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, he said.

The highly critical report on the scandal published at the end of last year forms the basis of much of the argument. The report makes it clear that the ministers had so much worrying information at their fingertips that they should have intervened, Groeneveld said.

Tax office

Last week the public prosecution department said it would not begin a criminal investigation into the tax office and its civil servants for their role.

The prosecution service acknowledged that the tax office’s practices ‘had very unjust consequences in many cases,’ but concluded that this was a political matter.

‘The corrective mechanism for policies that are judged in hindsight to be “wrong” does not lie in criminal law in this case,’ it said. It said parents who still felt aggrieved could appeal directly to the courts to order a criminal investigation under Article 12 of the Dutch penal code.

Groeneveld is also representing six families who are planning to use Article 12 to pursue a case against the tax office, the NRC said.

Although the current ministers and Asscher have apologised for their role in the affair, resignations are not thought to be on the cards. Menno Snel did resign in December 2019.

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