Wednesday 23 June 2021

Senior civil servants did see ‘explosive’ benefit scandal memo: RTL

Photo: Joep Poulssen

The most senior civil servants at the tax office and finance ministry must have been aware of an ‘explosive’ memo warning about the impact of the childcare benefit scandal, RTL Nieuws and Trouw said on Friday.

The scandal, in which thousands of families were wrongly accused of committing fraud with childcare benefits, led the government to resign in January and officials are still grappling with the fall-out.

The 2017 memo, which stated stopping the benefits was illegal and that some 300 parents should be compensated, was discussed at a crisis meeting at the ministry in June 2019 at which both civil servants were present, RTL and Trouw say.

The broadcaster bases its claim on a reconstruction of events leading up to the memo’s reappearance in 2020.

The memo was written by ministry lawyer Sandra Palmen and was discussed internally in 2017 but did not lead to any action and was buried, RTL said. It became public in 2020 following questions from MPs.

Former tax office chief Jaap Uijlenbroek said during his appearance before a parliamentary committee investigating the scandal last year that he was not aware of the memo ‘in any way’. Finance ministry boss Manon Leijten also told the committee she had no recollection of reading it in the 2019 meeting.

The finance ministry told Trouw and RTL Nieuws in a reaction to the claims that it had no reason whatsoever to doubt Leijten and Uilenbroek’s evidence to the committee.

Fraud

Thousands of parents were ordered to pay back tens of thousands of euros in allowances to meet the cost of out-of-school childcare after they were deemed to be defrauding the system.

In many cases the accusation was based on minor omissions in paperwork such as a missing signature, but parents were blocked from accessing financial support, barred from applying for benefits in future years and denied any right of appeal.

Around 11,000 parents were also subjected to extra checks because they had dual nationality, even though municipalities have been barred from recording second nationalities in their citizens’ register to prevent such discrimination.

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