In an incendiary letter, Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen wrote on Wednesday that he wants a response from the Minister within two weeks. It’s the second time in just over a month that the ombudsman has sounded the alarm to alert Van Engelshoven regarding the situation at DUO.

An hour on hold

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House of Representatives: DUO needs to be quicker in answering phone calls

The new DUO system was supposed to improve the situation. So far, that’s not the case.

In his first letter he had already condemned the excessively long waiting times and wrote he had received numerous complaints from students who were put on hold for thirty minutes to an hour when calling DUO. The Lower House also demanded an explanation.

Minister Van Engelshoven’s response was clear: she would like to reduce caller waiting times, but currently lacks the funds to do so. She has plans in the spring to explore which measures are needed to effectively deal with DUO’s especially busy summer period.

Peak period not over yet

But that’s not good enough, according to the ombudsman. “You are apparently assuming that this recurring peak period in the number of callers is acceptable, because the waiting times will drop to acceptable levels on their own,” he writes in a response to Van Engelshoven’s answer.

He feels that the ‘traditional summer peak period’ should be over by mid-October, but this isn’t the case: he had his employees call DUO every day last week, and they were still put on hold for half an hour. He has also observed that there are a consistently high number of complaints from students who haven’t received appropriate assistance from DUO. These students often call seeking assistance for urgent matters. These include problems such as a public transport fine that is increasing because it remains unpaid, or students who are still waiting for a decision regarding their student loan.

Urgent problems

“In my opinion, your department’s financial limitations are not a reason for failing to offer help to students and former students with urgent problems,” writes Van Zutphen. He is concerned that waiting times will increase again when students enrol or deregister from their programmes at the start of next year. “That is why I must once again insist on immediate improvement as opposed to waiting until the spring of 2019.”

The Dutch National Student Association (DNSA) is pleased with the ombudsman’s follow-up letter. President Tom van den Brink doesn’t believe the number of students calling DUO will diminish on their own. Certainly not in light of the discussion that has once again flared up regarding student loan debt. “Raising the interest rate and the uncertainty surrounding obtaining a mortgage if you have a student loan debt will definitely have an impact.”