Benefits scandal may topple Dutch govt

Annette Birschel
·1-min read

A scandal in which the government harassed families to repay child benefits that were, in large, properly received, pushing some people into debt, is threatening to cause the Dutch government to collapse weeks before March elections.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the cabinet will meet to review the case on Friday.

He did not rule out dissolving the government.

At issue is a recently released parliamentary report that details how government agencies accused 20,000 parents of fraud before court and forced them to repay child benefits.

However, in many cases the fraud amounted to little more than improperly completed paperwork.

In other cases, families received more than they were entitled to, due to fluctuations in their income.

Worse for the families, repayment was demanded swiftly, pushing some poor families that had already spent the money close to bankruptcy.

Victims were turned down by the courts when they sought to appeal.

The government has since apologised and offered compensation of about 30,000 euros ($A47,205) per family.

"The basic principles of a state ruled by law were damaged," read the report, noting that the poor treatment of many parents was unprecedented in the country.

The cabinet debated the report early into Wednesday morning.

It seems unlikely that a collapse of the government will affect Rutte, who is leading strongly in the polls with his People's Party for Freedom and Democracy.

Opposition members and the families affected by the scandal have called for the government to step down.

The decision on whether to let the government fall will depend mostly on Rutte's coalition partners.

Rutte has said he is against stepping down, arguing that the country needs stability amid the pandemic.