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'Stalinist' rule: problems for welfare recipients

3 September 2008 - The welfare agency frequently suspends or terminates social assistance benefits without investigating whether such a drastic measure is justified, concludes the Ombudsman after an analysis of over fifty complaints.

Benefits can be suspended or terminated when recipients fail to show up for a meeting with their case manager or when they fail to submit their monthly income statement. As a result, they may plunge into debts and their gas and electricity may be disconnected.

The Ombudsman says the sanctions are often too drastic and fail to take into account social and psychiatric problems welfare recipients may have. In many cases, the decision to suspend a benefit is made by a computer rather than the case manager.

Piet van der Lende of welfare recipients' organisation Bijstandsbond confirms the analysis of the Ombudsman. Last year for example, a woman with a borderline syndrome who had 'let things drift' came to the office . She had not received any income for three months and had stopped paying her rent and gas and electricity bills. By Christmas, her brother had to pay her bills in order to avert a crisis.

A common source of problems are the monthly income statements. "The form consists of a series of questions. If you check any boxes in the wrong column, the computer will spit your form out. If you add any comments, the same happens. That's were things can go wrong", Van der Lende says.

Frequently, welfare recipients claim they have sent in their income statements, but the welfare agency denies having received it. In June, the welfare agency sent 290 social assistance recipients an apology because it had threatened to cut their benefits. Their income statements had gone missing because the welfare agency had moved to a new regional office.

The Client Advisory Council has suggested abolishing the monthly income statements, as other municipalities have done. For example, Enschede decided to abolish the 'Stalinist' rule in 2005. Clients only have to fill in a form once a year or when their personal circumstances have changed.

Alderman Freek Ossel told het Parool that he will act on the Ombudsman's recommendations 'as far as possible'.


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