Student cities call on Cabinet to help students living in energy poverty
Ten student cities, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Groningen, urgently called on the government to help students with their energy bills. Many students are living in cold homes and facing the difficult choice between studying and working extra hours, while the solution the Cabinet presented on Budget Day is almost impossible to implement for municipalities, the Volkskrant reports.
The Cabinet initially decided that students cannot claim the energy allowance of 1,300 euros for low-income households, saying that not all students need it. A Nijmegen student took the matter to court, which ruled that the government can’t just exclude students and must at least offer a “reasonable alternative.”
On Budget Day, the Cabinet made 35 million euros available for students with serious financial problems. They can apply for individual special assistance at their municipality, provided they meet certain conditions. Again the Cabinet said that not all students need support, so it is up to the municipality to determine whether someone is eligible.
But municipalities do not have the capacity to check every student’s income and expenses to figure out whether they are eligible, the ten student cities said in a letter to Minister Carola Schouten for Poverty Policy. They want her to devise a better solution to prevent struggling students from living without heating while municipalities work to assess every application.
Student union LSVb received dozens of reports daily over the past weeks from students in financial distress, chairman Joram van Velzen said to the Volkskrant. “Many students are faced with the choice: incur high debts or work more in addition to a full-time study. Some can ask their parents for help. But we also speak to many parents who say: We just can’t.”
According to Van Velzen, the current situation is “a mess” and “very confusing.” The policies vary greatly between municipalities. Some, like Nijmegen, Tilburg, and Den Bosch, allow students to apply for the 1,300 euros energy allowance. Others don’t.
The six residents of a student house in Eindhoven find that very unfair. Their energy bill increased from 262 to 817 euros per month, Thuy Le (22) said to the newspaper. In addition to her studies in technical business administration, she works as a cashier and a tutor and is looking for more ways to make money. “Tilburg students 30 kilometers away are entitled to an allowance. If we, six women in a poorly insulated house in Eindhoven, submit a request, it will be rejected,” she said.
Le and her housemates drew up rules to keep the energy usage as low as possible. They turned down the central heating boiler from 80 to 60 degrees, turned off all devices not in active use, and barely turned on heating in their home. “We are now in warm clothes at home and have bought extra blankets,” Le said. “If you shampoo your hair, you turn off the shower tap.”
Max Meere (24) and Thomas van Esch (24) share a house in Rotterdam-West. Their energy bill increased from 120 to 410 euros per month, and both are looking for more work. “Although this year I actually wanted to fully concentrate on completing my master’s degree,” said Van Esch.
A Groningen student house with eleven residents saw their energy bill rise from 500 to 1,800 euros per month, Lennard Dijkstra (20) said to the newspaper. “Last year, we dealt with gas quite embarrassingly. The heating was always on, with the windows open. Without thinking, we tossed our laundry in the dryer, and all 11 of us had a fridge in our room.” They’ve now gotten rid of most of the fridges, dry their laundry on racks, and haven’t turned on the heating yet. “I am almost short of money already,” Dijkstra said with winter still ahead. “Several roommates started looking for part-time jobs.”