Eindhoven continues to refuse students energy allowance
In January of this year, Cursor published an article about Ilana van den Akkerveken, master’s student of Human Technology Interaction, who contacted the media after the energy allowance wasn’t made available to students because of a loan that hadn’t been taken out. The calculation method for deciding whether or not someone is eligible for an energy allowance is a curious one, to say the least: the means test calculation was based on the presumption that students take out a maximum loan, and this interest-bearing loan was considered income. Van den Akkerveken decided to file an appeal, together with several other students. However, the hearings on Monday 20 March following that appeal brought about little change: the municipality refers to the Participation Act.
It became clear on Monday that a significant number of students filed an appeal against the municipality’s decision to exclude them from the energy allowance. “There were many stacks of letters,” Van den Akkerveken says. “Numerous students were heard that day.” Cursor received several emails these past few months from people who wanted to know how Van den Akkerveken’s case was progressing. She too received several messages from students who asked her for help or advice for their own appeals, or who wanted to know what the status was of her own case. In order to fully understand this article about the proceedings of Akkerveken’s case, it’s helpful to first read Cursor’s original article about the application and the appeal.
Van den Akkerveken brought a friend, Jeroen Vos (master’s student AI and Engineering Systems) to the follow-up interview, who finds himself in a similar situation. He too filed an appeal against the municipality’s calculation method. “We both had our hearings on Monday 20 March,” Van den Akkerveken says, “but nothing satisfactory came from it. The people from the municipality simply said ‘this is the law, that’s why we did it this way.’” Vos: “They say (at the municipality, ed.) that they understand our situation and that they find it regrettable, but that won’t pay our energy bills.”
Loan as income
Vos: “My letter of appeal mostly focused on the fact that the municipality considers an interest-bearing loan income. It’s not income, it’s a debt you have to repay with interest. It’s uncommon elsewhere in society to regard this as income. I looked for jurisprudence, with the help of a friend of mine who is a lawyer. But the municipality keeps referring to article 33, paragraph 2 of the Participation Act, which states that a loan needs to be regarded as income.”
Vos also felt that some neutrality was missing during the hearing. “The cases were handled by two municipal officers. Not by an impartial legal expert from outside. One of the two officers told me that I know already that I ‘won’t be getting’ the allowance, ‘and that the next step it to file a court case.’ We are still considering this. Going to court costs a lot of time and money, and that’s something many students don’t have. Perhaps we can file a case together if we get lots of students to join.”
Most recent year or month?
Calculations of the total income don’t follow the standard route either, by using an overview of the previous tax year’s income tax. Students were merely asked to submit the parental contribution, proof of energy cost payment from their own bank account, and their most recent pay slip at the time of submitting the appeal. This leads to a random situation: students who haven’t worked for a month are eligible for an energy allowance, but students who work and earned a minimum of 389,31 euros a month, aren’t.
Van den Akkerveken: “A friend of mine hadn’t a worked during the month prior to her application because she spent a semester abroad, and that is why she was eligible for the 1300-euro energy allowance.” Vos also finds the situation backward: a student who takes out a maximum loan and doesn’t work gets rewarded with 1300 euros. That allowance is intended for people with a minimum income (below 120% of the social minimum). “That applies to students. In addition, the municipality assumes that every student takes out a maximum loan. They tell you that you have that possibility on paper and that that sum counts as part of your income,” as in Van den Akkerveken’s case, even though she didn’t borrow money “but worked hard in order not to accumulate debt.”
Submit an appeal
Communication between the municipality and the students (which they shared with Cursor) doesn’t make things easier. The letters are legally highly complicated. “That doesn’t make it easier to continue with your case.” Students often ask Van den Akkerveken whether it still makes sense to write and submit a letter of appeal. “Yes, definitely,” she says. “You should do so! If you’ve already applied for an energy allowance (this is no longer possible, ed.), you still have until six weeks after the moment at which the municipality rejected your application to submit an appeal. Just do it, it shows that you don’t agree, and I know of a case where the municipality had made a mistake and had to give the objector her money after all. It also helps to appeal if you want to go to court at a later stage.”