Mark Rutte’s Third Cabinet called out for ‘administrative incapacity’ due to its role in an intense pursuit of parents wrongly thought to be committing childcare allowance fraud
By Adriana Dancu
A report conducted by the parliamentary interrogation committee on childcare allowance revealed that an estimated of 26,000 parents across the Netherlands were the victims of false suspicions of fraud regarding the childcare allowance and/or were the victims of a tough approach to fraud by the Tax Authorities from 2013 to at least 2019. The report led the Dutch government led by Mark Rutte to step down for its role in the campaign.
How did this happen?
In 2013, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s second Cabinet founded an anti-fraud committee for childcare allowance affairs. The “all or nothing approach” of the committee was backed by then State Secretary Frans Weekers (VVD), and Lodewijk Asscher (PvdA) who approved the more intensive fight against fraud as Minister of Social Affairs in the coalition government.
The anti-fraud committee’s aim was to tackle fraud within the benefit system, but it turned out that its rules were applied far too harshly. Following its “all or nothing approach”; as soon as recipients of the childcare allowance benefit made a minor mistake (such as not paying back a personal contribution in full) they had to pay back all benefits they received. If parents paid 10 euros less than the personal contribution amount, for instance, they would receive a fine of 10,000 euros.
This campaign continued for years, as the Tax and Customs Administration has wrongly classified thousands of parents that received childcare allowance as fraudsters, and considered every minor mistake as intentional. Moreover, as NU.nl reports, the tax authorities made use of far-reaching recovery options, such as seizure of cars or forced sales of homes.
Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate, Eric Wiebes, was allegedly aware of these abuses committed by the committee from August 2017, however, it took two years before the State Secretary Menno Snel (who resigned in 2019) realised the scale of the harassment campaign and impact of the fraud hunt.
The report conducted by the interrogation committee argued that the fraud hunt “grossly infringed the rule of law,” and was an “unprecedented injustice.” Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra, however, argued that “too few alarm bells were raised at all levels” to catch the attention of officials, reports NOS.
The fallout led to widescale condemnation of the Rutte Cabinet, and the resignation of Asscher from the PvdA leadership.
As a result, Mark Rutte met with King Willem-Alexander last Friday to offer the resignation of his Cabinet.
What are the political implications?
The CDA, ChristenUnie, D66 and VVD coalition that formed Mark Rutte’s third cabinet had promised three and a half years ago to make the Netherlands better “emphatically also for people who now feel that the government is no longer there for them.” Now, the Cabinet has had to step down (less than two months before the elections, however it will continue in a caretaker role) because of exactly that; untrustworthiness.
NOS reported that Prime Minister Rutte assumed responsibility for the injustice committed by its own Cabinet. He acknowledged that the fraud hunt “went horribly wrong,” and that even though the interrogation committee’s report is harsh, it is accurate nonetheless. Additionally, Mark Rutte said the Cabinet agrees that “if the entire political system has failed, only joint responsibility can be borne.” Thus, this has led to the resignation of the entire Cabinet.
The resignation of the Cabinet will not hinder the fight against the pandemic, however, said Rutte. The Cabinet will keep its role as caretaker in the Coronavirus crisis in the upcoming months, reports NRC.
Who were the most affected by this?
Npo radio 1 reported that journalists Pieter Klein of RTL, and Jan Klein Nijenhuis of Trouw had noted that the Tax and Customs Administration targeted especially minorities, and people who have two nationalities. “This is just state racism,” said investigative journalist Thomas Muntz.
“By now I get the idea that the Tax Authorities still don’t understand how tough this topic is. If you use people’s second nationality to pump them into a system aimed at finding fraudsters, then this is a form of racism practiced by the state,” said Muntz.
It seems like the practice of the Tax Authorities was not only disproportional with the “crime” committed, but also biased.
Even though the Dutch government resigned, and has approved up to 30,000 euros in compensations to each victim, it still might not be enough. With the elections of a new government approaching, actual solutions need to be created in order to prevent this abuse from happening again.