Irene de Kruif
Irene de Kruif
The Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) fears that it will take years before those affected by the benefits affair are fully compensated. In conversation with Nieuwsuur, director Peter Heijkoop says: “If you look very soberly, then you really go towards 2030 for victims to have clarity.”
Heijkoop hopes that the Ministry of Finance can call in extra staff to speed up the process. Victims now have to go through all kinds of steps to be compensated. After a short assessment, they already received a compensation of 30,000 euros. But anyone who thinks they are entitled to more will receive an extensive integral assessment. If people are still not sufficiently compensated by then, they must go to the Actual Damage Committee.
The municipalities believe that the process of integral assessment will last until 2026. And the Actual Damage Committee, which must then assess whether people have suffered additional damage due to, for example, losing a house or a job, will probably continue until 2030. “I think that’s the honest story,” says Heijkoop.
Of surcharge affair revolves around thousands of parents who were wrongly labeled fraudsters by the tax authorities, and sometimes had to pay sky-high fines. In 2019, State Secretary of Finance Menno Snel resigned because of the issue. After the full parliamentary inquiry committee came to firm conclusions a year later, the Rutte III cabinet submitted its resignation.
It is two years ago this week that the cabinet promised a “generous compensation” for victims of the surcharge affair. But lawyer Narda Teke-Bozkurt now mainly sees how parents become entangled in a web of regulations. None of the eighty benefit parents she assists has yet been fully compensated.
Cabinet members initially met every month in a specially appointed ministerial committee to monitor the progress of the recovery operation. But now that committee, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, has not met for months. The Ministry of Finance confirms this to Nieuwsuur. According to a spokesman, the committee is only convened when necessary.
Black lacquered files
Victims en masse enlist the services of a lawyer, because they cannot solve the problem themselves. Figures requested from the Legal Aid Board show that nearly 8,000 benefit parents now have a lawyer. A year ago that was less than half.
But even that doesn’t speed up the process. A survey by the Legal Aid Board shows that more than half of the lawyers feel that they cannot help their clients properly. As a reason, they cite, for example, the lack of, or incomplete, access to files. Lawyer Teke-Bozkurt knows all about it: so far she has received one file from the tax authorities, and it was painted black.
In addition, the lawyers indicate that about 96 percent of their cases have not yet been completed. Janet Ramesar, one of the very first victims to publicize her case, is also still waiting: “I’m at a standstill with my file. I was partially paid at the end of 2020. Then I lodged an objection and nothing has been done to this day happened to.”
It’s like an annoying mosquito that flies around you all the time, those surcharges.
Janet Ramesar, duped benefits affair
The Ministry of Finance acknowledges in its latest report that there are “bottlenecks”. There is “insufficient capacity” to assess all applications “within the legal period”.
According to the latest figures, 20,000 parents have now had an assessment. That amounts to a third of the number of registrations. But, according to lawyers, many victims still object afterwards.
Meanwhile, the Ministry is also concerned about the large number of people who apply, but are not entitled to compensation at all. Of the nearly 57,000 people who have registered so far, less than half passed the first test.
VNG director Heijkoop also sees it happening in the municipalities: “That is very sour for the victims. They now end up in a long queue, which also includes thousands of people who may not quite belong.”
Heijkoop is therefore critical: “All in all, it is a recipe for a stalled operation.” He therefore does not rule out a parliamentary inquiry into the recovery operation in the future. “So much has gone wrong here in dealing with citizens, but also in working with systems, agreements with governments, imaging. I think you should want to learn from that.”
Duped Janet Ramesar has now resumed her life. She has a job and works for the SP in the municipality of The Hague. But, she says: “It’s like that annoying mosquito that flies around you all the time, those supplements. If only it went away for once.”