Firm self-criticism, apologies, and the promise it will never happen again: in a report published on Friday the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Council of State goes deeply into the dust for its own role in the Allowance Affair. After an investigation, the highest administrative judge comes to the conclusion that the tax authorities have stepped on the brakes ‘too late’. “We have been stuck in the strict groove for too long and we are very sorry for that,” said Bart Jan van Ettekoven, chairman of the Administrative Jurisdiction Division, in an explanation of the report on Friday.
Until 2019, the Council of State endorsed the ‘all-or-nothing’ line of the tax authorities. In addition, even if relatively minor errors were made in forms, parents were forced to fully repay the childcare benefits they had received for years (sometimes in the tens of thousands of euros). Van Ettekoven: „We apologize to parents who have run into problems because we have applied the strict line for too long. We should have offered these parents better legal protection.”
Also read: After the Allowances affair, the administrative judge wants listen more to citizens
According to Van Ettekoven, there are structural causes for the Allowances affair. For example, the legislation was fragmented, citizens had to appeal separately against all decisions of the tax authorities. Judges – including the Administrative Jurisdiction Division – therefore also had a fragmented picture. “That didn’t help,” said Van Ettekoven.
From 2015, the Administrative Jurisdiction Division was increasingly confronted with cases in which citizens could not justify only part of the childcare allowance paid, but the Tax and Customs Administration nevertheless reclaimed all subsidy received. “The discrepancy between the identified shortcomings and the consequences for citizens was increasing,” said Van Ettekoven. “We have struggled with this internally, we have taken half measures, but we have not continued.”
During internal consultations, a minority pointed out that the ‘all-or-nothing line’ can lead to unjust situations, but a majority thought the unity of law (consistent rulings by different judges) was more important. “We swum into a legal trap,” said Van Ettekoven, “from which we came out badly.” The political climate of about ten years ago had an influence on this: “It all had to be strict, stricter, strictest.” The chairman takes extra charge of the fact that insufficient attention has been paid to the position of the Court of Rotterdam, which previously decided to abandon the ‘all-or-nothing line’.
Van Ettekoven pointed to the unfair relationships in the courtroom, because parents often could not afford a lawyer. “We have seen that only a very limited part of the parents came here with a lawyer.” The Administrative Jurisdiction Division should have compensated for this inequality, compared to the well-represented tax authorities, by asking more questions, according to Van Ettekoven: “The administrative judge must lend a helping hand.”
The report contains remarkable accusations against the tax authorities. Not only did the tax authorities withhold documents, but they also painted a much too rosy picture of the possible consequences for citizens who had to pay back everything. For example, judges were told that citizens could receive a payment arrangement of 100 euros per month and that after 24 months the rest of the debt would be forgiven. “That gave us the idea: the decision is a serious one, but the financial consequences are manageable,” said Van Ettekoven. It has now been established from conversations with lawyers that the practice often turned out very differently, and that the Tax and Customs Administration claimed back tens of thousands of euros. The Council of State had no idea about that, said Van Ettekoven, but “huge financial blows” were handed out there.
Van Ettekoven elaborated on the accusations that Aleid Wolfsen, chairman of the Dutch Data Protection Authority, made this week in news hour the Council of State accused of discrimination in the Benefits Affair. Van Ettekoven spoke of a “very strong and serious allegation”, which the Council of State “casts far from itself”. Van Ettekoven personally called Wolfsen about it, he said: “I was flabbergasted. I asked for an explanation, but it never came.”
#Council #State #apologizes #role #Allowances #affair