Dutch benefit payments outside the Netherlands
Employee Insurance Agency’s implementation and control of the export of benefit payments
About 2% of all the benefits paid out by the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) every year are exported to people living outside the Netherlands. A small proportion of them (2%) are unemployment benefit payments. Incapacity benefits account for more than 88% of the total. The Netherlands Court of Audit concludes that the UWV has only limited opportunity to implement the benefit schemes and provide services abroad. Owing to lack of data, the perceived quality of the UWV’s services is not known.
Background to the audit
In principle, people who live outside the Netherlands and receive a Dutch employment-related benefit (e.g., unemployment benefit, incapacity benefit, etc.) have the same rights and duties as people who live in the Netherlands and receive the same benefit. Under EU regulations, however, it can sometimes be difficult for the UWV to provide the same services and checks as in the Netherlands. We audited whether the UWV’s services and checks were of appropriate quality. We also looked at the scale of benefit exports.
We found that, despite legal and practical barriers, the UWV worked constantly to provide and control benefit payments abroad, chiefly in Poland, Germany and Belgium. Furthermore, the UWV and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (SZW) try to supplement existing benefit conventions with additional agreements. The UWV, for instance, recently found an alternative to home visits in Poland. It has also made agreements with its Polish and Spanish counterparts regarding the recovery of excess payments and the exchange of information, and it has made agreements on job placements for unemployment benefit recipients even though it has no legal responsibility in this area. The UWV could step up its reintegration services, particularly to the partially incapacitated. In practice, the UWV restricts its reintegration services for the ill and the incapacitated mainly to the labour market in the Dutch border region and Poland.
Our audit also found that the UWV and the Minister of SZW do not have an insight into the quality of services and checks outside the Netherlands. The Ministry of SZW, for instance, has not concluded performance agreements or carried out client satisfaction surveys. Although an insight into quality is essential, services and checks abroad are hampered by the many divergent IT systems, national social security systems and the involvement of many organisations and UWV departments.
The Court of Audit recommends that the Minister of SZW and the UWV extend the reintegration services to more countries than just Belgium, Germany and Poland, that they gather information on the quality of the services abroad and consider employing multilingual staff.
Response of the Minister of SZW/UWV and the Court of Audit’s afterword
The minister observes that the UWV is currently taking steps to extend its reintegration services to more countries than just Belgium, Germany and Poland. Its efforts, however, are subject to a cost-benefit analysis. The UWV will study opportunities to employ interpreters or multilingual staff in more departments where advantageous. We welcome the intention of the minister and the UWV’s Executive Board to improve the provision of services abroad, in part through the employment of multilingual staff and the use of qualitative information from benefit recipients. Insight into quality, as the minister and UWV acknowledge, is of vital importance to improve the quality of services and checks outside the Netherlands, particularly in view of the many problems when implementing these tasks.
The minister notes in her response that an amendment of the relevant EU directive would increase benefit exports, although it is not yet clear to what extent. As we state in our report, the precise impact of the proposed amendment cannot be foreseen, but existing information suggests it will probably not be significant.