Research: Tax and Customs Administration/Benefits needs to improve communication with citizens
The Dutch Ministry of Finance commissioned the scientific institute for economic research SEO Amsterdam Economics to investigate to what extent the benefits system and the provision of services have been improved in recent years. The aim of the research project is to determine whether the legal framework, the execution, and the provision of services by the Tax and Customs Administration/Benefits are effective and functional.
6.3 million households received housing benefits, healthcare benefits, child-related budget, and/or childcare allowances in 2020. Out of those households, 1.4 million households were required to pay back part of their allowance, usually one year later. While 2.1 million households received subsequent payments. For most households having to repay part of their benefits was not problematic. It usually concerned limited amounts of money. For 130,000 households - approximately eight per cent of these households - however, it did prove to be problematic. A number of citizens who received subsequent payments also experienced problems because they had struggled to make ends meet during the year.
The research aims to provide insights on the effects of the benefits system from a citizen’s perspective. The main research question: How do citizens experience the benefits system, what are the most important causes, and how can the current benefits system be improved for citizens?
The results of the research show that the benefits system functions properly for the majority of benefits recipients, but for approximately 130,000 households each year having to pay back unduly received benefits is problematic. The benefits system is incomprehensible for a large group of citizens and requires a large ‘ability to take action’, for instance when it comes to having to change certain data. Clearer communication by the Tax and Customs Administration/Benefits and changes in the legislation could improve the comprehensibility for citizens.
The problems with refunding claims and subsequent payments are inherent to the current benefits system. The benefits affair has shown that recovering payments can have far-reaching consequences for citizens. Which is why the government intends to abolish the benefits system. This, however, is not a simple operation. It needs to be replaced with a system without the disadvantages of the benefits system, but which does have the advantages: targeted income support for people who need it. In the meantime, the current system needs to be improved.
The research was conducted based on a literature study, conversations with civil servants from various ministries, interviews with citizens and intermediaries, an inquiry sent out to approximately 1,000 citizens with benefits, and data that had been supplied by the Tax and Customs Administration/Benefits. Anne Meuwese of the Department of Constitutional and Administrative Law and Esther Huiskers of the Department of Tax Law participated in the project by answering specific questions related to law posed by the research team.