Friday 27 May 2022

Ombudsmen: help benefits scandal victims’ children and partners

The Dutch tax and benefits office has been criticised Photo: Joep Poulssen

The ombudsman services that oversee Dutch government have called for faster action to assist tens of thousands of people affected by the childcare benefits scandal.

More than a year after the government fell because the tax and benefits office falsely labelled so many families fraudulent and demanded they repay all benefits, not enough has been done for children and ex-partners, say the national and children’s ombudsmen.

In 2020, a parliamentary commission found that ‘unprecedented injustice’ was done to thousands of parents between 2004 and 2019, labelling people fraudsters sometimes after the smallest mistake. Being a dual national was viewed as a potential fraud risk, and the data of dual nationals was processed in an unlawful and discriminatory way, according to the Dutch Data Protection Authority.

Child benefit scandal victims were promised compensation of at least €30,000 and the government pledged to take over their private debts last year. Although 23,238 people have received the first payment, their children and former partners have not yet had assistance, according to the ombudsmen.

New laws are taking too long to draw up, they say. ‘Around 95,000 children have suffered harm in multiple areas that are important for their development,’ they say in a news release. ‘Waiting any longer means postponing urgent help that cannot wait until they are adults. Almost 10,000 former partners also feel they have been left high and dry by the UHT [government help team].’

The ombudsmen point out that most of the 4,030 Dutch people who asked to see their benefits case files – as they have a right to do – are still waiting for access more than a year later. The UHT has also not responded within the legal time limit to 700 official complaints about whether people were compensated or the level of compensation.

‘The national ombudsman is very concerned about the lack of speed and information provided by the UHT,’ said the ombudsmen.

The government, when asked for a response, referred Dutch News to an update to parliament last week, which said almost 25,000 parents have been identified as victims of the child benefits injustice and 5,600 people have not yet had claims assessed. The government has pledged to offer all kinds of support, including cash.

Illegal

The Dutch tax office has however received a series of fines for illegal information handling in the interests of fraud detection in recent years, and has been accused of racial profiling by Amnesty International.

Data protection authority chairman Aleid Wolfsen has also suggested the highest Dutch court is guilty of discrimination for holding up faulty tax rulings.

Broader reports by PricewaterhouseCoopers have suggested that nationality, age and gifts to mosques were recorded and used for fraud detection by the Dutch tax office, which has been accused by some Dutch media of institutional racism.

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