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Crackdown on welfare fraud counterproductive

University of Groningen research presentation
25 June 2018

A tough approach to welfare fraud, characterized by fines and sanctions, proves to be counterproductive in practice. It is much less effective than often assumed and damages the relationship between benefits recipients and implementing bodies. In addition, staff of the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) and social services in their daily work often diverge from the strict rules involved in this approach. These are the main conclusions of a four-year study conducted at the University of Groningen, with financial support from the Gak Institute. The study will be presented in the Nieuwspoort Press Centre in The Hague on 28 June.

Slimme handhaving

Between 2014 and 2018, a University of Groningen research team, led by Marc Hertogh , Professor in Sociology of Law, studied the enforcement of social security legislation. The study included a national survey of over one thousand benefits recipients, as well as interviews and observations conducted at the UWV and social services. It shows that most benefits recipients properly meet the obligations associated with receiving benefits. They nevertheless feel that their relevant implementing bodies often ‘police’ rather than coach them, imposing penalties in the event of non-compliance with the rules, rather than helping them meet their obligations. The study establishes no demonstrable link between repressive enforcement and compliance. In addition, the continued adoption of a tough stance towards a large group of benevolent benefits recipients widens the gap between citizens and implementing bodies and may, in time, lead to reduced rather than increased, compliance with the rules among benefits recipients. The study also shows that the staff of the implementing bodies often bend or circumvent the rules, causing large differences between the UWV and social services, as well as between and within several branch offices of these bodies.

The researchers conclude that social security compliance rates benefit not so much from more as from smarter enforcement. The effectiveness of enforcement in social security is not only determined by the toughness or softness of measures, but also by the extent to which the enforcement style is attuned to the specific backgrounds and expectations of the benefits recipients.

The report can be downloaded at Instituut Gak.


This article was published by the Faculty of Law.

Last modified:12 August 2019 08.50 a.m.
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