Of course Alex suspected that the 300 euros he received monthly in cash from his parents could influence the amount of his benefit. “I thought I might receive something, but I didn’t know exactly how much. 300 euros is of course quite a large amount. At that time, however, I was going through a difficult period with psychological problems, and let such things take their course.”
But in early 2017, someone tipped off the benefits agency. “Someone hooked me up and then I was invited for an interview. I honestly told the truth there. I might not do that now, because I’ve lost all faith in the government.”
repay 40,000 euros
Alex was told that he had to pay back about 40,000 euros in social assistance. In addition, he was fined 1200 euros, because he had not told the municipality about the income. That was the beginning of a period of years of poverty and legal battle.
“I have done everything to gain understanding, from objecting to the municipality to a lawsuit and an appeal. When I tell this story to ordinary people, they understand. But once you have to deal with civil servants, it is different They just strictly follow the rules. I haven’t encountered an ounce of humanity or compassion.”
Alex admits he was legally wrong. “I shouldn’t have done it like this. But with my parents’ money I have only done good things. I want to eat organic, because it is good for me and the world. That is now also apparent with all the attention for the environment But then you are dealt with as if you were a criminal.”
Yesterday, RTL Z reported that Alex has largely lost his appeal against the refund. The municipality lost on a few small points, which means that the claim is perhaps a few thousand euros lower. “But that’s not much use to me. I left Rotterdam and now have a job with a wage around social assistance level. I pay back 50 euros a month, for more than four years now. I can never repay the entire debt with that.”
The former Rotterdammer also says that he is weighed down by the hopelessness of the situation. “You only qualify for debt cancellation after ten years, and even that is not certain. I’ve also heard about people who have to pay back until after retirement.”
With the lost appeal, the legal battle has come to an end. “The lawsuits are over, but the issue is not for me. As long as I have that debt, I want to try everything to get rid of it. I hope to be able to talk personally with someone from the municipality, or even the mayor.”
Alex sometimes says out of anger that he considers stopping paying altogether. “But then I’ll probably sink even further into trouble. My debt could reach more than a hundred thousand, and I might end up in jail. I think it’s so outrageous what’s happening. The government is there to help people to help them, and not to kick them into the abyss and sentence them to ten years of poverty.”
The municipality of Rotterdam said in a response yesterday that it understands that it is annoying for Alex that he has to repay such a large amount. The municipality also emphasizes that it wants to use the ‘human measure’ in such cases. That is why, for the past two years, there has been a more flexible approach to social assistance recipients who receive incidental donations.
“But if someone on benefits receives extra income on a monthly basis and on a structural basis, that is of a different order,” said spokeswoman for Alderman Richard Moti of Work and Income. “With someone who works part-time, the amount he or she earns is also deducted from the benefit.”
Additional income? Possible lower assistance
In the Netherlands, someone can claim social assistance if his or her income is lower than the social assistance standard and the assets are not too large.
If benefit recipients receive additional income or new assets, for example in the form of an inheritance, they must report this. This allows the benefits agency to assess whether the benefit can be reduced or discontinued.
If benefit recipients violate the so-called ‘information obligation’ and there is nevertheless evidence of additional income or capital, the total amount of social assistance benefit can be reclaimed. The benefits agency can also impose a fine.