Student - 1 maart 2011

Student grant fraud twice as serious as previously thought

The extent of fraud concerning the basic study grant for students who live away from home is more serious than first thought. This monkey business costs the government 40 to 55 million euros annually. An earlier estimate had placed this at 27 million euros.

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I am terribly appalled by this', says state secretary Halbe Zijlstra of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). 'Stricter regulations are needed to stem such misuse. This is for the good of the students, too, since they are the ones who will become the victims. Every euro which falls into the lap of cheats and charlatans will not be available for education.' Students who cheat claim that they have moved out but are in fact still living with their parents. The difference is 171 euros a month, because students who live away from home get a higher basic student grant. Zijlstra wants to modify the student grant law to crack down on fraud.
Controllers from the municipality and social detectives conducted spot checks at the residences of suspected students in various cities in the last few months. In total, checks were made on a thousand students, 28 percent of whom have been found to commit fraud: they are still living with their parents on the quiet. Another ten percent of the students visited (among whom are students from vocational institutes) did not live at the address registered at the local municipality, but the controllers could not find any proof that they were still living with their parents. In Zijlstra's plan, this second group of students will also lose their rights for a live-away grant. The new law makes it easier for the education implementation services department (DUO) to recover the basic student grant for live-away students and to impose a fine. DUO will soon need only to prove that the suspected student does not live at the address registered at the local municipality.
The students upon whom spot checks were made were picked out from characteristics which made them look suspicious. Some of them lived officially on the same street as their parents', while others appeared to have moved out promptly on the very day in which they turned eighteen. The former education minister, Ronald Plasterk of the Labour Party (PvdA), has tabled this issue and made an initial estimate of the extent of the fraud. He thought that this was 27 million euros. Zijlstra took over the plans from Plasterk and made them even stricter. He will submit a bill to the Dutch Lower House soon. Should a student be caught committing fraud, he has to pay back the extra amount of money received, plus a fifty percent fine. If he is caught again, he will lose his right to a study grant and be reported to the police.  

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