Dutch watchdog: Tax office discriminated in fraud probes

An independent watchdog has concluded that the Dutch tax office unlawfully discriminated against citizens by targeting them for investigation based on the fact that they held double nationality

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- The Dutch tax office unlawfully discriminated against citizens by targeting them for investigation based on the fact that they held double nationality, an independent watchdog concluded Friday in the latest sharp criticism of a system designed to track down child benefit fraud.

An investigation by the Dutch Data Protection Authority showed that the benefits department of the Taxation Service “in different ways, on a large scale and for a long time saved and used data in a manner that is absolutely not tolerated,” the authority's chairman, Aleid Wolfsen, said in a statement.

“The whole system was set up and used in a discriminatory manner,” he added.

The authority said tax inspectors used data about claimants' double nationality in assessing childcare benefit claims and tackling organized fraud.

“Double nationality plays no role in the assessment of a request for childcare benefit,” the authority said.

In May, the government asked public prosecutors to investigate possible discrimination between 2013 and 2017 in the long-running scandal centered on civil servants trying to track down parents fraudulently claiming child care benefits. Prosecutors have not yet announced the outcome of their probe.

Thousands of parents had their child care benefit payments stopped or were ordered to repay money amid fraud investigations. In some cases, parents were plunged into financial problems after being wrongly accused of falsely claiming benefits.

The government already has in the past apologized for the tax office's methods and in March earmarked 500 million euros to compensate more than 20,000 parents.

State Secretary for Finance Alexandra van Huffelen apologized again following Friday's damning report.

“The ban on discrimination must be strictly respected,” Van Huffelen said.