Dutch law provides access to social welfare for beneficiaries of international protection under the same conditions as nationals. There is no special legislation for beneficiaries of international protection beyond general legislation valid for every resident legally present in the Netherlands, except for asylum seekers whose rights are regulated by RVA. No distinction is made between refugees and subsidiary protection beneficiaries.
Types and conditions of social assistance
Beneficiaries of international protection between the age of 18 and 67 can apply for:
- Social benefit (algemene bijstand): The social benefit is meant to financially support people who are not able to cater for their own living and cannot rely on other social facilities until a job has been found;
- Benefits (toeslagen), which have a different aim from the social benefit; and
- Child benefit (kinderbijslag).
There are four types of Benefits (toeslagen), each contributing towards specific costs. Beneficiaries of international protection can apply for:
- Health care benefit;
- Rent benefit;
- Child care benefit;
- Supplementary child care benefit.
Municipalities are responsible for providing social benefits for their residents. The Tax Office provides the benefits and the Social Security Bank allocates the child benefit.
Since 1 January 2022, a new Civic Integration Act entered into force. Part of this new system entails that beneficiaries of international protection will no longer be entitled to the social benefit during the first six months of their legal stay in a Dutch municipality. Instead, the municipality will pay their costs for housing, the energy bills and the healthcare insurance, as far as the social benefits reaches. The beneficiaries will receive the rest of the amount as an allowance, besides the additional benefits, provided by the Tax Office and the Social Security Bank. The goal of this system is to support refugees by their start in the Netherlands so they can focus more on their integration in Dutch society. Municipalities are encouraged to provide trainings about Dutch financial systems and budget coaching so beneficiaries become more financially self-sufficient during the six months.
Conditions for obtaining social welfare
Apart from certain financial requirements, the beneficiary of international protection must also meet benefit-specific conditions:
- Childcare benefit: the person must: (a) have a paid job; or (b) attend a civic integration course, provided that the course is compulsory. In a judgment, the Council of State decided that, in exceptional cases, non-paid jobs could also suffice. If the beneficiary has a spouse, both persons have to meet one of the aforementioned conditions in order to be eligible for the child care benefit together.
- Rent benefit: The person concerned must: (a) rent a house; (b) have a signed rental contract; (b) be registered in the Persons Database (BRP) of the municipality where the property is located; and (d) have a rental contract of durable nature.
- Child benefit: The child benefit is not dependent on the income of the beneficiary. Each resident who is legally present in the Netherlands and has a child is in principle eligible. However, the person must demonstrate that there is a durable bond of personal nature between him or her and the Netherlands. This bond is presumed in the case of beneficiaries of international protection, but can be problematic for other foreigners who become eligible only after a certain period of time e.g. six months or one year.
The benefits and child benefit are not tied to a requirement to reside in a specific place or region. The social benefit as such is not bound by a requirement of residence either. However, the person concerned can only apply for a social benefit at the municipality in whose BRP he or she is registered.
Obstacles to accessing social assistance in practice
After the beneficiary has applied for the social benefit the processing time for the allocation and payment can run up to 8 weeks. Municipalities can grant an advance payment but this does not always cover the whole period. To prevent further delay, it is of upmost importance to apply for the social benefit timely. The processing time for the application is even longer for young adults below the age of 27, who are subject to a statutory waiting period of 4 weeks. In these 4 weeks the young adult has to try to find a paid job. If he or she is not successful in finding a job, the municipality starts processing the application. In this situation, after these 4 weeks, municipalities have 8 weeks to process the allocation and payment of the social benefit.
Issues related to social benefits in shared households
Another known problem is the situation of collective housing of multiple, unconnected, beneficiaries. Collective housing was an important instrument especially in 2016, in order to cope with high housing demand due to the large influx of arrivals. The so-called “kostendelersnorm” was introduced in the Participation Act in 2015 and applies to persons aged 21 to 67. Its aim is to prevent a stack of social benefits within one household. The rationale is that family, friends and/or roommates can share costs and that less social benefits are therefore needed. The “kostendelersnorm” also applies in the situation of the “logeerregeling”. However, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment agreed that municipalities may decide theirselves whether or not they apply the “kostendelersnorm” or not.
More concretely, this means that the group as a whole gets more social benefits, although the individual pro rata sum is lower. However, beneficiaries who do not have a link with one another do not share the costs in practice. This can lead to situations in which the income of beneficiaries is so low that its falls under the poverty line. Due to the current scarcity of houses in the Netherlands, this problem might be presenting again in the future. Since municipalities have more difficulties with housing beneficiaries, it is more likely that individuals will be placed together in one house, without having a link or sharing a household. Nevertheless, the ‘kostendelersnorm’ will be applied. .
Single parent allowances
Beneficiaries can also be confronted with the so-called “ALO-kopproblematiek”. The “ALO-kop” is part of the supplementary childcare benefit and can be seen as an additional financial compensation for single parents. In practice, problems arise when the spouse of the beneficiary is still living abroad awaiting family reunification. A spouse living abroad cannot be registered into the computer system of the Tax Office, because spouses and cannot be registered in the BRP of the municipality at that stage.
In order to obtain benefits, including the supplementary child benefit, the Tax Office thus proposes that beneficiaries register themselves as single parents. However, the supplementary childcare benefit and the ALO-kop are linked in the computer system of the Tax Office and cannot be granted separately. As a result, by applying for the supplementary childcare benefit, the beneficiary also automatically receives the ALO-kop, even though the beneficiary is not entitled to the ALO-kop. When the family reunification has been finalised and the spouse is registered into the BRP, the Tax Office will automatically be notified. The Tax Office is then legally obliged to recover the ALO-kop. It regularly occurs that the beneficiary becomes aware of this fact too late and has spent the ALO-kop. The Dutch Council for Refugees has addressed and continues to address this issue.
The Tax Office recognised the problem and decided in 2018 to adjust its computer system in order to grant the supplementary child care benefit separately from the ALO-kop. As a result, beneficiaries will no longer be confronted to a reclamation after the family reunification. Although the offered solution entails a significant improvement, practice shows that beneficiaries really need the additional ALO-kop. The Participation act makes it possible for some municipalities to compensate the lack of the ALO-kop by increasing the social benefit. However, due to the fact that this is not obligatory, differences in practice exist.
 Article 11(2) Participation Act.
 Articles 8-15 Rent Benefit Act.
 Articles 2-2a Healthcare Benefit Act.
 Article 2(1) Supplementary Child Care Act.
 Article 1.6(1)(g) Child Care Act.
 Stb 2021, nr. 38.
 Ministry of Social Affairs, KST II 2019/20, 35483, nr. 3.
 See Council of State, Decision No 201800817/1/A2, 12 December 2018.