The Belgian quality newspaper De Morgen published on 7 January 2020 an article with the title ‘One family of asylum seekers retroactively received more than 90,000 euros in child allowance’. In the article, Flemish Minister of Welfare Wouter Beke (CD&V) gives some numbers on the retroactive receipt of child allowance.
Is the number correct and used in the right context? De Morgen and Wouter Beke (CD&V) do not mention the source of the numbers about the retroactive receipt of child allowance. De Morgen writes only that the numbers are provisional data collected over the last five years.
Image: a screenshot from the article in daily newspaper De Morgen, published on 7 January 2020
A committee meeting on Welfare, Public Health, Family and Poverty Reduction on 7 January 2020 mentions the amount of 90.000 euros as it is discussed between different politicians.
The Flemish Minister Wouter Beke released the numbers following a statement by the Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon (N-VA). The latter claimed that he had heard a story about a family that was able to buy a house from the child allowance they received retroactively (afterwards). Jambon denounced the system whereby asylum seekers can collect the overdue children allowance when they are recognized as refugees. Several ministers reacted harshly to his statement, such as the chairwoman of Open VLD Gwendolyn Rutten.
Beke claimed that the families who received retroactively so much money were not mainly asylum seekers. According to a statement by the Minister of Welfare, De Morgen journalist Roel Wauters writes that also in other cases children allowance only can be paid out afterwards. It concerns, for example, a family that (temporarily) resided in another European member state and it took a while before these data were reconciled. Also, in families with children with disabilities children allowance can be paid out later due to administrative delays.
Beke was contacted by e-mail on Monday 13 January and his family policy adviser David Vits responded on Sunday 19 January. The e-mail states: “at the request of Beke the figures were provided in mutual coordination by an externally autonomous agency of the Flemish government designed under public law.” Because of a change within the Family Policy system (there have been mergers and now a new benefit act, as explained below) the websites of the organisations are not yet updated. Vits in his e-mail mentions ‘Opgroeien’ in which many organisations are merged but the website is not yet updated and states that figures will be available soon.
Old general child benefit act
In the meantime, this is no longer possible. Since the introduction of the new child benefit, the growth package, a family must have a residence card in order to be eligible for child benefit. The new Flemish government now wants to take a quick decision to no longer pay child benefit for the period of the asylum procedure, because asylum seekers will then already be entitled to material support. The example cited by Minister Beke is therefore only possible in the former federal legislation. It was in fact a federal competence until 1 September 2019.On the website of vlaanderen.be you can see that a lot has changed in the General Child Benefit Act.
Under the old General Child Benefit Act scheme, asylum seekers could receive child benefit retroactively for the entire period of their recognition procedure, from the moment of the application to the moment of recognition.The amount of child benefit the asylum seeker receives retroactively therefore depends on the duration of his recognition procedure. The website of the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS) aims that they take a decision within 2 months. If this does not succeed, the asylum procedure may take several months. At the beginning of 2018, however, there were 584 asylum seekers who would wait 5 years for their decision.
But the Act also states that the right to child benefit expires within a period of five years. So, asylum seekers can get their child benefit for a maximum of five years. Yves Coemans of the Gezinsbond also states that it’s a theoretical maximum scenario, because decisions usually do not take that long. “If an asylum seeker receives a refusal, it is in principle not the intention that he would receive child benefit until the date of his first application. At least that is the view of the Dutch-speaking judges. French-speaking judges, on the other hand, would be more flexible in dealing with these regulations and would rather go back to the original application date”. On top of that, you have to work another four years to receive the money retroactively.
Nobody knows exactly where the numbers that Minister Beke quoted in the Flemish Parliament come from. “It’s difficult to calculate Minister Beke’s numerical example exactly. After all, he’s talking about a family of an asylum seeker who has more than three children. He doesn’t mention the exact number”, says Yves Coemans of the Gezinsbond. Yves Coemans gives us an example where a family of asylum seekers could receive a maximum of 87,375 euros under the old legislation. In this example he speaks of five children older than 18 years. This age category is the category in which the parents receive the most child money.
In short, it is almost impossible for a family of asylum seekers to receive such a large sum of money. But since we don’t know exactly where Minister Wouter Beke got the numbers from, it’s difficult to say whether he’s right or not. It’s also true that every case in Belgium is handled differently, every family of asylum seekers is different. So, the other numbers may certainly be correct. He also emphasises that they are essentially not asylum seekers. But unfortunately, we are not sure about any of the numbers, possibly until Beke responds to our e-mail.
Leave your comments, thoughts and suggestions in the box below. Take note: your response is moderated.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Alice Schoutsen, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, NL