In 2006 the Dutch tax administration found itself at the centre of a media storm when a single mother was not paid the correct amount of child benefit, leaving her and her family in serious need. That story made the front page of more than one national newspaper. Nor was it the first of its kind; in fact there had been a crescendo of complaints about missing, inaccurate or late payments from the Dutch social security system to the millions of households who depend on it.
The income-dependant allowances system in the Netherlands has become stable, with very few problems and better quality for the citizen. That’s quite a contrast with the past.
The transformation of the allowances system shows government exploiting the online channel for efficiency, processing information automatically, and joining up data from multiple agencies to serve the customer more effectively. But it also shows a move towards greater integration of tax & welfare operations within government. They are after all two sides of the same coin: collecting money that is owed to government, and paying citizens the money that government owes them.
While in the UK billions of pounds worth of benefits go unclaimed, here in the Netherlands the attitude is that people are entitled to certain allowances from the state, and need them in order to get by, and so we must ensure they get the money they need.
All of this explains the difficulty of making any changes to the system. There was no margin for error. Since 2003 the government had been bringing together different allowances under the Belastingdienst, the tax and customs administration. The change made a lot of sense, given that the allowances in question were income-dependent. But on assuming responsibility for the allowances the Belastingdienst struggled with the technology necessary to process so many payments. Whereas tax information tended to be processed retrospectively, claims for allowances had to be turned around quickly, using current data to establish each person’s eligibility. A new approach was called for.
The resulting system, deployed by the Belastingdienst with Capgemini’s help, marks the beginning of a process of regaining citizens’ confidence. We collaborated with the Belastingdienst in the areas of process, technology and expertise to achieve this. It’s a system built around the customer, which works efficiently because it is geared towards the customer’s needs rather than internal information or processing silos, and allows people to self-serve via the internet in the way that they are used to when interacting with retailers or other private sector organizations.
The new system brings social welfare up to date by processing entitlements near real-time, allowing citizens to input new information about their circumstances online, and drawing together data from all available sources. It can even process changes to your benefits when you get married or divorced, or when you move house without you having to tell the Belastingdienst proactively. Automatic processing of more complex cases is usually completed within 24 hours. It is working well and, alongside the processing of traditional childcare, healthcare and housing allowances, the organization responsible for student loans wants to use the concept. Citizens are being paid what they are owed, on time.
For more about the Toeslagen project, see our video and success story.