Those receiving Dutch student grant not entitled to energy allowance

Ilana van den Akkerveken, master’s student of Human Technology Interaction at TU/e, is one of the students that hoped to receive the energy allowance the municipality of Eindhoven had promised them. She didn’t, however, because she was found to earn too much. This is because the municipality sees the option of borrowing money from DUO (the national education executive agency) as income. Even if you haven’t actually taken out this loan, like Van den Akkerveken.

photo Vejaa / iStock

It appears the energy allowance, first said not to be intended for students before some municipalities changed their minds, will not be paid out to many students in Eindhoven after all. The reason is one that has surprised Van den Akkerveken and her fellow students: the municipality of Eindhoven assumes everyone is borrowing 932.87 euros and considers this amount income. Add to this the salary from a side job or an internship allowance, and students’ incomes are likely to exceed 120 percent of the social minimum, the threshold for receiving the energy allowance. However, Van den Akkerveken isn’t borrowing any money from DUO. Besides, it raises eyebrows that such a loan – whether actually taken out or not – is seen as income at all. It is, after all, a debt that must be paid back (with interest).

Loan considered income

“I live in an independent studio (another precondition to receiving the energy allowance, ed.),” Van den Akkerveken says. “Given the high energy rates I could sure use the money, so I applied for it early on. And I expected to get it, as my income is below the 120 percent threshold, because I was only getting in an internship allowance and the little bit that I was making on the side.” Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for Van den Akkerveken to receive a rejection notice from the municipality of Eindhoven.

“In December 2022 I received a letter saying I make too much to get the energy allowance. The specification of my income listed the DUO student grant of 932.87 euros, including the supplementary grant (to which not even all students are entitled, ed.). But I’m not borrowing anything. I try to make ends meet with my internship allowance and money earned by working hard, precisely to avoid getting into debt. So I called the municipality to say the specification wasn’t correct, but they told me it was a national-level decision to include the optionally borrowed money when determining someone’s income. That’s not income, that’s debt! The lady from the municipality didn’t want to get into an argument with me and told me to file an appeal if I disagreed.” So that’s what Van den Akkerveken did, together with other students who also received rejection notices.  

The energy allowance the students are missing out on amounts to 1,300 euros. “That’s a lot of money, especially for a student. To make matters worse, now that my internship has ended I would definitely be below the threshold, but I’m not allowed to re-apply. Incidentally, a friend of mine does borrow some money, because in his case there’s simply no other way. I would think people in these kinds of situations, where you need to borrow money to make ends meet, are exactly the ones in need of this energy allowance.”

Based on Participation Act

A fellow ‘objector’ tried to reach out to Mieke Verhees, alderperson for housing, districts, space and services (who incidentally doesn't have the energy allowance in her portfolio), but the municipality of Eindhoven won’t allow this. The students did get an email (which they shared with Cursor) on behalf of all of the municipality’s spokespeople, which details how the negative decision was reached: “Allocation of the energy allowance is based on the Participation Act. To determine if a student is eligible for the energy allowance, we look at the maximum total of financial means they have at their disposal to make a living. This includes the possibility of taking out a student loan.”

Other allowance

Van den Akkerveken thinks this doesn’t add up if you look at how other schemes, such as for rent and healthcare allowance, are administered. “When applying for those, you always have to indicate whether you are receiving a student grant or whether you’re entitled to one. If you indicate you do, it is expressly stated that a student grant does not count towards the means test income. So if they’re excluding it in the calculation of your income for those allowances, why would it be different for this one?” Van den Akkerveken wonders. She and her fellow students will move forward with their appeals and Cursor will continue to follow their cases.

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