Parents faced 'unprecedented injustice' for years in childcare subsidy scandal
Many parents have been done “unprecedented injustice” in what became known as the childcare allowance case. Fundamental principles of the rule of law have been violated in the implementation of childcare benefits. These were the harsh observations made in the final report by the parliamentary interrogation committee.
The case in a nutshell: from 2012 onwards, parents were regarded as fraudsters by the Tax Authorities if they had incorrectly filled out any documents in their supplement applications. This was also the case if they paid too little personal contributions. Dual nationality was a reason to be regarded as suspicious.
The victims lost their allowance without having been given any reasons. But even worse, benefits already received were reclaimed. Sometimes, this sum went up as high as many tens of thousands of euros, with significant financial and social problems as a result.
There have since been several interrogations in which ministries blame each other in this case of gross misconduct. In the final report that was released on Thursday, the committee found that Prime Minister Mark Rutte and former members of the government in the previous cabinet Lodewijk Asscher, Eric Wiebes, and Frans Weekers are all partly responsible in the case.
According to the committee, the injustice was unprecedented, partly because it took a long time before the scale and seriousness were recognized by politicians at the top. In addition, the information provided by the Tax and Customs Administration was limited. Moreover, the way in which parents were dealt with was disproportionate to what they were, often unjustifiably, accused of.
The committee calls it a fundamental principle of the rule of law that the people’s interests are taken into account as much as possible when implementing statutes. However, in the implementation of childcare benefits, so much emphasis was placed on efficiency and the desire to prevent fraud that little or no consideration was given to individual situations.
The report critically discusses the role of many of the current and former ministers involved. The harshest criticism seems to go to Eric Wiebes, Minister of Finance in the previous cabinet of Mark Rutte. He is now the Minister of Economic Affairs.
The report shows that Wiebes was “personally aware of the group approach, the inadequate legal protection, and the disproportionate consequences for parents of the fraud approach” since August 2017.
The cabinet and parliament can blame themselves for implementing an iron-clad law that could not do justice to individual situations. The committee argues that the Ministry of Finance implemented the childcare allowance as a mass process, with an “all-or-nothing” approach. In this system, parents often were falsely branded as fraudsters by the Tax Authorities.
The committee also reprimanded judges. It maintained the “iron-clad implementation of rules” that did not necessarily follow from the law. “Administrative law has thus neglected its important function of protecting individual citizens,” said Van Dam, head of the committee.
The final report was an investigation into the facts. The committee itself does not draw any conclusions or make any official recommendations. The Lower House of Parliament will hold a debate on the issue early next year. It is not yet known exactly when this meeting will be held, but it will at least take place before the March elections.