January 18, 2021

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Welfare fine bill is a “minor improvement”

Welfare fine bill is a "minor improvement"

The proposals to adjust the social assistance fine represent a small improvement for “social assistance fraudsters”. The lawyers are also moderately positive. At the same time, they don’t go far enough and many problems will continue to arise, says the National Client Council on Work and Income.

There is now widespread support for fine adjustments and reclaiming support from scammers needs to change, says a majority in the House of Representatives. The coalition parties CDA, D66 and the ChristenUnie published two different solutions today.

Amma Asante of the National Client Council calls it a beginning: “No matter how beautiful these initiatives are, they ignore the core of the problem. It will probably help a little, but the problem that you can’t cope with with wellbeing will remain. The low welfare almost forces people to ask friends, acquaintances and relatives for help. “

The law requires recipients of social assistance to report gifts and income. This so-called information obligation is strict: According to the law, the municipality has to reclaim the support if you receive something as a gift or earn additional money but do not report it.

Bulgarians fraud

For example, Raïsa (last name known to the editors) was fined and reclaimed for not reporting help from her father. “My children started with kickboxing. Since the youth fund only pays the membership fee, my father transferred money for sportswear, protection and boxing gloves,” says the single mother. “That’s one of the amounts I’ve been fined for. After almost a year of paying back and reclaiming that fine.”

“The law is so strict because of the fraud against the Bulgarians a few years ago,” explains attorney Thomas Sanders of AKD Benelux Lawyers. In 2013, it was found that fraudsters were bringing Bulgarians to the Netherlands. They had to register with a municipality and open a bank account so that the fraudsters could apply for benefits on their behalf and thus defraud the state.

“Everyone was very angry about it, and then this legislation was written. The thought was, ‘If you don’t report something, you have something to hide.’ But of course that is not the case: people make mistakes, and that was not taken into account at the time. “

Panic soccer

That feeling has now changed, in part because of the childcare allowance affair. In 2013 CDA, ChristenUnie and D66 voted for the current participation law; The coalition parties are now overlapping with proposals for defining the law. “There must be room for churches to be a little more merciful,” declared the Christians in the Radio 1 Journal.

This party wants to remove the mandatory fine for social assistance fraudsters. D66 and the CDA suggest keeping the fine but making recovery of previously paid assistance optional.

“The CDA and D66 proposal is very similar to panic football,” says Sanders. “Then you get that the lady in Wijdemeren does not have to repay thousands of euros, but still receives a fine. That does not seem very sensible to me. The proposal by the ChristenUnie offers good prospects in this regard, because the compulsory penalty will be canceled.”

exception

There are now also exceptions where the recovery is not mandatory. But this threshold is high. “There must then be unacceptable financial or social consequences,” explains Sanders. “It is not enough to be alone on the street. Only being on the street, for example when you are seriously ill, is seen as an ‘urgent reason’.” The change that the House is now proposing would give the municipalities, but also the judges, more room to deviate.

Between 2013 and 2018 there were almost 6,000 judgments by administrative judges regarding the reclamation of the Participation Act. Around 95 percent of the cases were compulsory reclaims for breaches of the information obligation.

Of all the people who appealed to the court because of the exception, a total of 772, none succeeded. “On appeal, my lawyer reduced the fine and the recovery, but I still had to pay them,” says Raïsa. “Last year I paid about 52 euros a month. I really feel like I usually shop for almost a week.”

Tailor-made communities

When welfare recipients report additional income and donations, the communities now have the space to be compassionate. How this is dealt with differs depending on the municipality.

In Amsterdam, for example, you can get up to 1200 euros a year as a gift. “At Christmas I received money from my brother for my daughter’s Christmas present. Then I immediately called the community,” says Raïsa. Still, she finds it exciting: “It feels like you are under a microscope. The lady of the church I spoke to didn’t know anything about it; the church would call me back within two days. Five days have passed and I haven’t heard anything yet. I’ll call back on Monday just to make sure. I’m just afraid to get help. “

Instead of just creating more room for exceptions, Asante wants a generic change. “You could increase the social assistance benefits. It would also be helpful if the cabinet automatically pays out all the extras that the minimum can provide. Now these extras are often behind complicated forms and application processes. Soon I’ll make a mistake: “We hear a lot.”