Dutch committee issues scathing report into benefit system

FILE In this Sunday, July 19, 2020 file photo, Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels. A Dutch parliamentary commission issued a damning report Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020 into a scandal in which thousands of parents were wrongly labeled fraudsters by government officials assessing claims for child benefit payments. The report titled “Unprecedented Injustice” was issued following an investigation by a parliamentary committee and public questioning of officials up to and including Prime Minister Mark Rutte into the scandal. (John Thys, Pool Photo via AP, File)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch parliamentary commission issued a damning report Thursday into a scandal in which thousands of parents were wrongly labeled fraudsters by government officials assessing claims for child benefit payments.

The report titled “Unprecedented Injustice” was issued following an investigation by a parliamentary committee and public questioning of officials up to and including Prime Minister Mark Rutte into the scandal that already caused a government minister to quit last year.

“The Committee established that in the implementation of the child care allowance fundamental principles of the rule of law have been violated,” the report said. A fraud investigation could be triggered by something as simple as “an administrative error without malicious intent,” it added.

Over several years, thousands of parents had their child care benefit payments stopped or were ordered to repay money amid fraud investigations. In some cases, parents were plunged deep into debt after being wrongly accused of falsely claiming benefits.

Committee chairman Chris van Dam called the system “a mass process in which there was no room for nuance.”

It was the latest condemnation of efforts to root out fraud by parents claiming benefit. An earlier report found that the Dutch tax office unlawfully discriminated against citizens by targeting them for investigation based on the fact that they held double nationality.

The government already has in the past apologized for the tax office’s methods and in March earmarked 500 million euros to compensate more than 20,000 parents.

In May, the government also asked public prosecutors to investigate possible discrimination between 2013 and 2017. Prosecutors haven’t yet announced the outcome of their probe.

Thursday’s report is expected to be debated by lawmakers next year, with calls for the debate to be held before a general election scheduled for March 17.

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