'I find the Participation Act very interesting'

  • Student stories
Brenda spaling.jpg

Together with three fellow students, Social Legal Services student Brenda Spaling conducted research into the minimum income policy of the municipality of Groningen.

People on low incomes live at or just above social assistance benefit level. They often need all their income to make ends meet and have nothing left to save. The allowances and schemes in place in the municipality of Groningen allow people on low incomes to participate in society more and reduce their financial worries. Brenda explains that her research was prompted by the changes the municipality of Groningen is currently making to its minimum income policy. 'The municipality is operating more than 50 schemes at the moment. It wants to drastically reduce the number of schemes to improve its minimum income policy and make it more efficient.'

Research studied 1,200 decisions and applications 

Brenda and her fellow students studied a total of 1,200 decisions and rejections as part of their research. Four hundred of the decisions were made in relation to the white goods scheme and the other 800 to the individual income supplement (an annual amount paid to people on low incomes, which these individuals are free to spend as they choose). Why are so many of the applications for this scheme and supplement being rejected? 'One important reason is that people are submitting applications before they actually qualify for the payment in question', the researchers explain. 'People on low incomes can apply for a payment for a new refrigerator or television once every eight years and for second-hand ones once every four years. However, some applications are received before these eight and four years are up. The same applies for the individual income supplement, which can be applied for once every 12 months.' Another reason for the high level of rejections is the amount of income applicants have. 'When an application is submitted for the individual income supplement, the municipality checks whether the applicant’s income has been equal to or less than social assistance benefit level in the past 24 months. So, someone who has a low income now but was earning more in the past may not be eligible. We also found that people with a Wajong benefit - which is paid to people who become incapacitated for work before they reach the age of 18 - now suddenly have an income that is a little above the benefit level. This is because the benefit amount they receive has increased slightly in comparison with the social assistance benefit level. Sometimes, they’re just 21 cents over the maximum.' 


The report written by the four Social Legal Services students also contains several recommendations. 'Further research will need to be done to establish why many payments are being applied for too early. Is communication the problem? Is the policy unclear? We did notice that policy information on the municipality of Groningen's website is not always up to date. This gave some people the impression that they were entitled to a higher amount. Perhaps the municipality could generate an automatic notification in cases where people are trying to apply for a payment too early. This would avoid applications having to go through the entire system unnecessarily.' 

A look behind the scenes 

The students really enjoyed doing their research and found it fascinating too. When asked if they would like to work for the municipality in the future, the answer was a resounding yes. 'The Participation Act very interesting', Brenda says. 'We learnt a lot from the inside look at the systems.' Dorien agrees with her. 'We were given a unique look behind the scenes. I now have a much better idea of the work you can do for a municipality.' 

This story has been taken from the Rechtstreeks magazine, which is published by the School of Law (SIRE). If you would like a copy of the magazine, please contact Selma Veltens at [email protected].