Research: Heavily indebted people get little help from cities

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Tens of thousands of Dutch people with financial problems are not getting the professional help they need from their municipalities - an unacceptable situation, according to State Secretary Jetta Klijnsma of Social Affairs.

According to a study done by the Hoogeschool Utrecht, municipalities only help people that meet strict criteria, NOS reports. Virtually all municipalities work with "general exclusion clauses". These clauses exclude, among others, people that are going through a divorce, do not have their administration in order, have their own home or have rental arrears.

About 1 in 6 households in the Netherlands are struggling with financial problems, wit about 800 thousand of them having such big problems that they can not get themselves out of it. The study estimates that about 150 thousand Dutch people are turned away from municipal debt aid based on the general grounds of exclusion.

Klijnsma finds it unacceptable that municipalities deny people with financial difficulties access to debt relief without looking at their individual circumstances. "Based on the law that is absolutely not the intention", she told NOS. According to her, anyone who approaches the municipality for help should be treated individually. If this does not happen, Klijnsma advises those affected to turn to the city council or ombudsman. They can help people with financial problems to force municipalities to look at their circumstances individually. "The city council, the ombudsman, the courts: these are all routes that can be taken."

With the decentralization of care responsibilities, the national government gave municipalities a lot of space to formulate their own social policies. Many municipalities opted for providing aid through multidisciplinary community teams, which do not always include specialized debt relief. Financial problems are therefore often the responsibility of other care providers.

According to Joke de Kock of NVVK, the trade association for debt relief, this is not always successful. "The knowledge you need for this, is very specific", he said according to NOS. "It involves legal knowledge, tax knowledge, knowledge about creditors and financial arrangements. Many care providers dealing with health problems or relationship problems, do not have this knowledge. So people go from bad to worse, despite all the good intentions."

The Association of Dutch Municipalities state that the intention is that the municipality will look at each application for debt relief on a case by case basis. But the association could not say to what extent that actually happens in practice.


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