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The Netherlands is seeing a large government shakeup after more than 20,000 families were wrongly accused of fraud. Here's what happened.

Is the Netherlands falsely accusing its citizens of committing fraud?

The Dutch government in the Netherlands resigned Friday because of the country’s child welfare benefits scandal. In the scandal, over 20,000 families were wrongly accused of fraud.

Although Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s administration stepped down, the current cabinet is set to stay in a caretaker capacity until a new coalition is voted in. That vote will happen at the upcoming general election in the Netherlands on March 17th. 

The cabinet’s resignation happened after a report by the Parliamentary Interrogation Committee on Childcare Allowance called “Unprecedented Injustice” was published in December. The parliamentary report said “fundamental principles of the rule of law had been violated”. The prime minister gave an address to announce the government’s resignation and described the report as “very tough, but fair.”

Rutte’s statements

Rutte held a press conference to give more details about what happened to his administration. “The government was not up to standard throughout this whole affair,” he said. “Mistakes were made at every level of the state, with the result that terrible injustice was done to thousands of parents.” 

He said that the current cabinet was responsible for what happened with the cabinet, and so the cabinet members decided unanimously they needed to resign. “Things cannot ever be allowed to go so terribly wrong again,” he added. If Rutte wins the election in the Netherlands again in March, he will have the opportunity to create a new administration. He’s been in power since 2010. 

On all levels throughout the political-administrative-legal system, mistakes have been made that have resulted in great injustice to thousands of parents,” he said. He also said the first thing that needs to happen is financial compensation for the families who were affected.

What is the scandal about?

Up to 26,000 parents in the Netherlands were falsely accused by tax authorities. They were accused of claiming child allowance when they weren’t supposed to. Up to 10,000 of those parents were required to pay tens of thousands of euros to the government.

Some of the families affected by the scandal lost their jobs, went through bankruptcies, and even got divorced from their spouses, according to The Guardian.

Many of the families accused of fraud came from an immigrant background. These people were wrongly sent into financial hardships. Last year, the tax authority said at least 11,000 families were affected simply because of their dual nationality or national origin.

More about what happened

The child welfare scandal in the Netherlands started in 2012. Since then, families who shouldn’t have been considered fraudsters by the tax authority got put on the government’s list anyway. After the cabinet was exposed, affected parents started coming forward about what happened.

According to BBC News, some of the parents have openly asked the government to resign. They cited the government’s failure to fix the system. One mom was demanded to pay 48,000 euros, the equivalent of nearly 58,000 U.S. dollars. BBC News said she tried to point the mistake out to the tax authority, but then officials began to withhold various benefits from her. 

It got to the point where she lost her job and couldn’t find another place to live. Since she was accused of fraud, no one would give her a place to stay. Additionally, the relationship she had with her child deteriorated.

Next steps

According to polls about the election in the Netherlands, Rutte’s party is doing well. He’s had three administrations since 2010 and could be leading more if he gets reelected.

Additionally, some of the victims of the child welfare scandal filed a formal complaint against some ministers responsible for what happened.

Sigrid Kaag, leader of the liberal D66 party in the Netherlands, said recently that it’s “important to be politically accountable and to take responsibility for the content of the report and for the injustice done to the parents”.

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