Parents with non-Dutch roots were much more likely to be treated strictly in child benefit fraud investigations than the native Dutch, the human rights institute College voor de Rechten van de Mens confirmed on Thursday.
The institute analysed all requests for child benefits made in 2014 and 2018, before the child benefit scandal broke, to try to establish if parents with foreign roots did face discrimination by tax office officials. Dozens of parents had made complaints about their treatment to the agency.
The institute found that in 2014, people with ethnic minority roots were twice as likely to be refused automatic payments as the native Dutch when making a request and eight more times likely to be selected for further check-ups than people of Dutch descent.
Parents with a foreign background were also seven times more likely to be classified as ‘intentional/gross negligence’, a label which prevents them from taking part in debt repayment schemes and more likely to face fines and sequestration orders.
The investigation, which is still ongoing, shows ‘there are sufficient indications to suspect that the parents who have submitted a complaint … have indeed been discriminated against on the basis of their origin,’ said institute chairwoman Jacobine Geel in a statement.
‘This has an important legal consequence: it means that the parents do not have to provide further evidence of discrimination, but that it is now up to the tax authorities to demonstrate in all those individual cases that it has not discriminated against those involved.’
Ministers have already admitted that the tax office did operate discriminatory practices but the new research is the first to highlight the impact of this discrimination on the people concerned.
In May Deputy finance minister Marnix van Rij acknowledged for the first time that institutional racism was a factor in the tax office’s treatment of ethnic minorities that led to excesses such as the childcare benefits scandal.
Tens of thousands of parents were incorrectly accused of fraud and unjustly ordered to pay back thousands of euros in childcare benefit.
Van Rij was responding to an analysis by PwC’s which found that the tax office picked people out for closer supervision on the basis of their age, nationality and other personal details, focusing on those with ‘non-Western’ nationalities.
PwC was called in after it emerged that the tax office kept a secret list of 270,000 suspected tax fraudsters, based on risk factors including having a second nationality, donating to mosques and submitting unusually high healthcare bills.
The privacy watchdog AP has also fined the tax office €2.75 million for breaching the rights of the people and said keeping records of second nationalities was illegal and discriminatory. The finance ministry was separately fined €3.7 million.
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