The human dimension at the UWV

Audit of the implementation and impact of the employee incapacity insurance scheme

Many people are trapped by government rules. One cause is the complexity of the regulations they have to deal with and government bodies have to implement. The Netherlands Court of Audit has therefore issued guidance to help parliament, ministries and implementing bodies consider the human dimension in policy and service provision.

Guidance on the human dimension

Figuur rapport UWV

A woman was re-assessed and ordered to repay €5,000 in incapacity benefits to the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV). Because she had been overpaid incapacity benefit, however, she had already had to repay some of her surviving dependant’s benefit. The Tax Administration was also demanding that she pay salaries tax on both benefit payments. At the end of the day, she did not have €5,000 extra but €1,0000 less.

Parliamentary inquiries into the benefits scandal, Unprecedented Injustice, and into fraud policy, Blind to People and Law, concluded that the government had lost sight of the human dimension. The Court of Audit’s mission is to improve the performance and operation of central government, particularly in its dealings with the public. It has therefore developed this guidance to help government bodies improve their service provision.

Based on an audit of the incapacity insurance scheme

The Court has based its guidance on an audit of the WIA incapacity insurance scheme administered by the UWV. In 2023, the scheme cost €9.3 billion excluding implementation costs. The audit found that it did not have the intended effect for some of the claimants. Some people were unsure about their income. Every year, 5% of the benefit claimants had to repay more than €2,000 on average if, for instance, income had to be deducted from the benefit payments. The complex tangle of benefit, allowance and tax rules creates uncertainty and insecurity among claimants.


The guidance is made up of a series of concrete questions that members of parliament, ministers, civil servants, implementers and regulators can ask themselves. They cover, for instance, the discretion implementers have to tailor their services, prevent citizens getting into difficulties and explain their decisions clearly. The human dimension also means that innocent errors in benefit claims can be corrected and rights and duties are clearly explained and understood so as to prevent errors. These and other questions will give government bodies more control over the human dimension.

Guidance not a tick box exercise.

Ewout Irrgang of the Court’s Board explains how the guidance should be applied, ‘It’s a helpful tool, not a tick box exercise or a set of instructions. The human dimension is a way of working in which implementers can sometimes depart from the letter of the law in order to help people according to the spirit of the law. The guidance must help improve the government’s performance and strengthen its learning capacity so that laws do not have unintended harmful consequences. This is important, because the consequences for citizens and businesses can be enormous.’

Obstacles getting back to work

The complex accumulation of rules means the partially incapacitated cannot foresee what their income will be if they go back to work or work longer hours. This prevents them from re-joining the labour market. Financial incentives do not have the desired effect. Where people are unintentionally disadvantaged, tailored solutions can be offered in specific cases. But not always. Tailoring, moreover, is relatively expensive, sometimes arbitrary and does not resolve structural problems that are the unintended consequences of complex regulations.

It would be wrong to think the human dimension is a silver bullet to cure all implementation problems. The answer lies in better laws that obviate the need for tailoring. There will always be situations in which a law does not have its intended effect and tailoring will be necessary in a limited number of individual cases, not as a solution but as a stopgap. That is what the guidance intends to promote.

The Independent Committee on the Future of the Disability Benefits System (OCTAS) concluded that the biggest problem was the complexity of the incapacity insurance scheme and presented 3 variants to simplify the system. In other policy fields, such as allowances and taxation, too, the Court of Audit believes complex laws can have unintended consequences that would be alleviated by allowing for the human dimension. The Court is convinced that the guidance can also be used more widely outside the field of social security.

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