Culture of fear at tax office meant citizens were ignored, neglected

Belastingdienst Amsterdam
Belastingdienst AmsterdamBICWikimedia CommonsCC-BY-SA

For years the Tax Authority ignored internal reports and complaints about the way it treats citizens. The service wrongly demanded money back from tens of thousands of people, without handling their complaints about it, and ignored former tax official Pierre Niessen when he reported this to the highest level, Niessen said in a letter sent to parliament, RTL Nieuws, and Trouw.

There is a culture of fear within the Tax Authority, Niessen said, resulting in his colleagues being afraid to report issues to their managers. 

According to Niessen, these involved complaints about actions that violated the law or the rights of citizens. The Tax Authority demanded money back from at least 40 thousand people, despite the fact that they were entitled to deferred payment. When these citizens objected to this repayment, the objections were classified as a 'request for information' and the recovery of the money was put through. 

Among these victims were parents whose childcare allowance was unjustly halted, according to Niessen. When the unjust cessation of this allowance for hundreds of parents made headlines earlier this year, Niessen decided to also tell his story. He worked in the Tax Authority's Recovery/Allowance department between 2014 and 2016. 

"People have been wronged here, I am convinced of that. Well, if that is the case, then I can not be stopped", Niessen said to RTL Nieuws. He reported abuses in the treatment of citizens to colleagues, managers, the Tax Authority's lawyers, a confidential advisor, senior management, and finally the head of the Tax Authority, he said. "I ran into walls." He still hasn't received answers to his questions, he said.

The Tax Authority would not tell RTL Nieuws whether the law was knowingly violated in recovering payments from 40 thousand citizens, despite their deferred payments. A spokesperson told the broadcaster that the service "constantly strives" to comply with the rules. According to the spokesperson, there were multiple conversations with Niessen and his objections were reported to the involved departments. 

The spokesperson also pointed out that a report on how the cancellations of childcare allowances was handled is expected to be published on Thursday. "The handling of objections is also expected to receive attention."