Victims of Belastingdienst profiling scandal often unable to get legal assistance

Many people who were the victims of the childcare benefits scandal at the Belastingdienst were unable to obtain sufficient legal assistance, the Ministry of Justice and Security’s research office, WODC, determined after an investigation. The researchers found that parents who thought they were falsely labeled as fraudsters by the tax office’s profiling method were often unable to receive a subsidy for a lawyer when they wanted to lodge an appeal against the decision.

This often happened even though there were legal avenues for the subsidy, and an available budget.

People with a low income can apply for a subsidy for the service of a lawyer. The Raad voor Rechtsbijstand examines requests for legal aid and makes decisions about eligibility. However, in the assessment of objection cases, it was often wrongly assumed that the parents were self-sufficient and therefore were refused a subsidy.

As a result, some of the parents were forced to face off against the Belastingdienst alone and without representation, or they decided not to file an appeal altogether. It was another blow to these parents, who had often already been misidentified as likely fruadsters by an algorithm used by the Belastingdienst. The tax office’s algorithm also included identifying information that led them to profile parents based on nationality, and possibly other details regarding their background and heritage.

According to the WODC, it was not noticed in time that the subsidized legal assistance in childcare benefit cases was not going well. Bottlenecks were not identified and were not recognized in time. The system has not functioned properly, the researchers concluded. The assessments did not sufficiently take into account, for example, the complexity of the cases and whether the parents were actually self-reliant.

At the same time, the legislation did provide scope to provide subsidized legal assistance in those cases. It was not utilized enoughm the researchers found. Social counselors who are present in municipalities and who can advise people on legal matters were also not available to the victims in every municipality.

The WODC said it is advocating for litigants to have access to low-threshold forms of socio-legal assistance at an early stage. It is also in favor of a more generous policy whereby subsidized legal aid is possible in more cases.

Reporting by ANP

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