Netherlands childcare benefits automation scandal
The Netherlands' childcare benefits scandal (kinderopvangtoeslagaffaire, or toeslagenaffaire) was a controversial scheme to automate the assessment and payment of childcare benefits by creating citizen risk profiles and predicting the likelihood of their committing fraud.
Termed (pdf) an 'unheard-of injustice' by a parliamentary inquiry, the system led to false accusations of fraud levelled at approximately 26,000 families by the country's Tax and Customs Administration, and resulted nn deep mental stress for many of those involved, financial ruination, and suicide. Over a thousand children had to be taken into foster care.
The scandal led to the collapse of the Dutch government has collapsed after a vote of no confidence called by opposition parties.
Racial profiling, discrimination
The scheme's shortcomings and failures had been exposed many times before the parliamentary inquiry. Examples of fraud against the system had emerged soon after its launch in 2013, closely followed by cases involving suspected fraud, a number of which proved unfounded.
Substantive allegations of racial and ethnic profiling were levied by broadcaster RTL Nieuws and the Trouw newspaper in September 2018. Dual nationality and low income seen as major risk indicators, as was having a 'non-western appearance'.
In 2020, it was revealed that the tax authorities had kept secret blacklists of potential fraudsters for two decades. Being on the blacklist resulted in a higher risk score in the childcare benefits system.
These allegations led to a damning Dutch Data Protection Authority report which found the system 'unlawful, discriminatory and improper', and a parliamentary inquiry.
The government promised to reimburse each family EUR 30,000, only for the tax authority to demand much of it back in taxes. Eventually, the government cancelled the debts of those families impacted.
Welfare seekers were not informed about the system, and had little scope to complain or appeal decisions. External parties such as researchers, journalists or investigators were not permitted to inspect it.
Operator: Tax and Customs Administration; Ministry of Social Affairs & Employment
Developer: Tax and Customs Administration; Ministry of Social Affairs & Employment
Sector: Govt - tax; Govt - welfare
Purpose: Detect compliance errors; Detect fraud; Assess & classify risk
Technology: Risk assessment/classification algorithm
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Bias/discrimination - race, nationality; Privacy
Transparency: Governance; Complaints/appeals; Black box
Wikipedia: Dutch child benefits scandal
Dutch Data Protection Authority; April 22, 2022: Boete Belastingdienst voor zwarte lijst FSV
Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal; December 17, 2020: Ongekend Onrecht (Unknown Injustice) (pdf)
Dutch Data Protection Authority; July 17, 2020: Werkwijze Belastingdienst in strijd met de wet en discriminerend
Donner Committee; March 12, 2020: Omzien in verwondering 2: Eindadvies Adviescommissie Uitvoering Toeslagen
National Ombudsman; August 9, 2017: No power play, but fair play
Amnesty International; October 25, 2021: Xenophobic Machines
Politico; March 29, 2022: Dutch scandal serves as a warning for Europe over risks of using algorithms
DutchNews.nl; October 26, 2021: Tax office algorithm led to racial profiling: Amnesty International
Vice; March 1, 2021: How a discriminatory algorithm wrongly accused thousands of families of fraud
Caribisch Network; February 1, 2022: Veel Caribische Nederlanders slachtoffer toeslagenaffaire
Trouw; January 26, 2021: Rekenkamer: te weinig aandacht voor discriminatie bij gebruik algoritmes door overheid
The Economist; January 23, 2021: A benefits scandal sinks the Dutch Government
AP; January 15, 2021: The buck stops here: Dutch govt quits over welfare scandal
The Guardian; January 14, 2021: Dutch government faces collapse over child benefits scandal
de Volksrant; October 19, 2021: Ruim 1.100 kinderen van gedupeerden toeslagenaffaire werden uit huis geplaatst
Trouw; November 27, 2021: Sibel werd ziek van de Toeslagenaffaire en kan en wil er niets meer over horen
Trouw; November 14, 2020: Wie wist wat in de toeslagenaffaire? De kluwen van hoofdrolspelers ontward
De Correspondent; November 13, 2020: Tienduizenden-gedupeerden-maar-geen-daders: Zo ontstond de tragedie achter de toeslagenaffaire
Trouw (collection): The allowance affair
Published: January 2021
Last updated: April 2022