UWV paid out millions of STAP budget to phantom students

The UWV disbursed millions from the STAP budget to phantom students, BNR reported on Friday. Their report showed that the benefit agency has yet to reclaim 2.6 million euros from these students.

The STAP budget is an allowance of 1,000 euros intended to help people increase their chances in the labor market through retraining or additional training. Anyone aged 18 or older can apply, provided they’re not receiving a state pension.

The government launched the scheme in March 2022, and it proved extremely popular. A total of 170 million euros is available for about 200,000 people this year. There are five application rounds. The second one of the year started on May 1.

The generous allowance has been widely criticized, as it soon became apparent that some were abusing it. The money is intended to improve the recipients’ position in the labor market, however, people applied for the subsidy for courses unrelated to their work, which can include beer tasting, horse coaching, or reiki massage. Investigations also showed that course providers increased their course prices to collect more STAP money.

It has now emerged that the UWV paid 2.6 million euros for course participants who failed to attend, or barely attended their courses. To complete the course, students must either acquire a certificate or attend at least 80% of the sessions; otherwise, they have to reimburse the 1,000 euros themselves.

Course providers have to notify the UWV if a participant does not complete their training. However, the UWV has not requested any reimbursement from these individuals to date.

The UWV said it has been “lenient” with STAP students to avoid burdening them with debt. They also justified this by saying the scheme was new, and many course participants may not have been fully aware of the terms. The UWV also remarked that some STAP recipients might have been unable to fully participate in the course due to personal circumstances.

According to the benefits agency, 94 percent of all subsidized courses were successfully completed. However, BNR raised doubts about these figures, as they largely depend on the course providers’ self-reported data. BNR cited an instance where a student received a diploma even before completing the course.

SP Member of Parliament Bart van Kent said he plans to raise questions in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch Parliament, regarding this issue, stating that this report is proof that the STAP budget is “a huge waste of money” that should never have existed. He urged Minister Karien van Gennip of Social Affairs and Employment to clarify the situation and propose potential solutions.

In the spring update to the national budget, the government announced cuts to the STAP budget. The coming round of subsidies, starting July 3, will only have 20 million euros available instead of the initially planned 34 million euros. In 2024, the scheme will no longer be available.

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