Privacy laws sometimes hinder fight against poverty, Minister says
Privacy law sometimes gets in the way of helping people out of poverty, according to Minister Carola Schouten of Poverty Reduction. This is especially true if the government wants to reach people entitled to certain social arrangements but who do not make use of them. She wants to debate with parliament about weighing privacy rules against poverty reduction.
It is quite common that people with a small grant do not make use of schemes that are specially intended for them, an investigation by the Court of Audit showed.
As an example, Schouten mentioned the supplementary income provision for the elderly (AIO), intended for people who have not built up a full state pension. This scheme supplements their state pension up to the social assistance level. In this way, their income reaches the social minimum - the amount they need to make ends meet. In many cases, the Social Insurance Bank, responsible for implementing this scheme, knows who is entitled to AIO "but is not allowed to share the data under the privacy legislation."
Minister Schouten told parliament that she is working with the SVB, benefits agency UWV, and municipalities to find out "how we can approach people more specifically and say: you may be entitled to a supplement." She stressed that they are doing so within the framework of the privacy legislation. "But we run into this quite often. So I may go and look for a debate with you about what we consider more important at that time," she added.
According to Schouten, it is also logical that the privacy law is taken seriously because the government has violated privacy laws when tackling fraud. "But the annoying thing is that it also hinders us at the moment if we want to do the right things, to reach the right people," she said.
The same applies to preventing people from ending up in problematic debt. For example, the VVD noted that municipalities could barely share information internally about people behind on their municipal taxes. Defaulters often face financial problems, and municipalities - who also deal with debt assistance - would like to identify these people quickly to offer help before it is too late.
Schouten agreed that municipalities are facing similar problems. She hopes that the Cabinet can make this easier without creating situations where "really anyone can carry a letter saying that someone is in trouble."