Thousands of students demanding energy allowance in court
Thousands of students are taking municipalities throughout the Netherlands to court this year to demand that they be entitled to the once-off energy allowance of 1,300 euros, the Volkskrant reports. Legal Advice Wanted is preparing 2,500 cases, Amsterdam student union Asva 460, and national student union LSVb and FNV Young & United 75.
The government implemented the once-off allowance last year to help low-income households with their suddenly very high energy bills. But Minister Carola Schouten for Poverty Policy explicitly excluded students from the scheme, saying that their living situations differ too much.
And that had significant consequences for many students, LSVb chairman Joram van Velzen told the Volkskrant. “Some students shivered in their rooms through the winter because they had turned off their heating. Or they had to move back in with their parents, which means they have longer commutes and their social lives have been severely curtailed.”
LSVb and FNV Young & United sent Schouten and Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf of Education a letter on Tuesday asking to discuss the energy allowance with them. This many lawsuits will unnecessarily burden the legal system, and that “cannot be the intention,” Van Velzen said to the newspaper.
The first court rulings in cases brought by students had encouraging results. Courts in Nijmegen, Arnhem, and Amsterdam ruled that students can’t be excluded as a group because it leads to unequal treatment in similar cases. Young people starting in the housing- and labor markets often have similar living conditions as students, but they’re entitled to the energy allowance, for example.
The municipality of Arnhem adjusted its policy so students can apply for the allowance. Amsterdam, Wageningen, and Tilburg now allow students to apply under certain conditions, for example, if they live alone or have an energy contract in their own name.
Daan Swildens of Legal Advice Wanted called it disappointing that municipalities only adjust their policy after a reprimand from the judge. “Moreover, many municipalities are extending the decision period in order to delay legal proceedings. As a result,s students end up in the administrative law mill.”
According to the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG), municipalities aren’t excluding students from the energy allowance out of unwillingness but powerlessness. “We don’t know where all the students live because they are usually still registered under their parental home. An organization like DUO knows that, but it doesn’t want to take on this task,” a spokesperson told the Volkskrant.
The VNG also asked the government to take back control of the allowance scheme now that the crisis situation is over. According to the VNG, a “sustainable income policy” can also overcome the problem of different rules applying per student city because municipalities now have to use their own resources. “Some municipalities have the money to pay out to students, others don’t,” the spokesperson said.