It has been a tough year for Rogier Fransen (21), who is studying Business Administration and Law. His energy and rental costs shot up by 70 euros a month at the start of this year, even though as a student he was only in a position to do paid work one day a week. Nevertheless, he did not receive the energy allowance of 1,300 euros due to the fact that students are not eligible. “I was just about able to manage”, says Rogier, who has put his studies on hold for two months in order to be able to do more paid work. “Many students are in the same situation as people on low incomes, but face more obstacles.”
Five hundred objections
For this reason, Rogier decided in August to lodge an objection with the municipality of Rotterdam. Almost five hundred students have now done so too. Four months later, Rogier is still waiting for a response. If his objection is dismissed, he will take the matter to court. “From my perspective, it’s about securing a systematic solution for students. If we need judicial intervention, then so be it, however much of a hassle that is.”
Students take legal action over energy allowance
Students in five municipalities are taking legal action to ensure they get the 1,300 euro…
One student in Nijmegen took his municipality to court back in August and won: the court ruled that students could not be excluded from the energy allowance, which led to the student receiving the money. Some municipalities subsequently changed their policies, but Rotterdam did not.
Minister for Poverty Policy, Participation and Pensions Carola Schouten continues to insist that not all students qualify for the energy allowance, as their housing situations vary considerably. For example, she suggests it would be unfair for the allowance to be paid to students who rent a small room and therefore enjoy low energy costs. The State Advocate argues that this position is tenable.
Law student Laura van Dijk (23) is not about to let the matter lie. She has seen her energy and rental costs rise by 100 euros a month in total this year. She did not act immediately when her application for the energy allowance was rejected, but decided to lodge an objection as soon as she heard about the court ruling. However, the municipality told her she was too late, as the deadline for appeals had already passed.
Laura decided to take the matter to court. “I wouldn’t have done so if soaring costs hadn’t forced me to”, she says. “My chances in court are slim, but I’m hoping that the municipality will see that they’re excluding a big group of people and will therefore reverse their decision.” There is no date for the hearing yet.
Students can apply for individual special assistance, a spokesperson for the municipality of Rotterdam points out. This entails calculating how much money a student is entitled to on the basis of his or her personal circumstances. The municipality has recently started trying to draw more attention to the special assistance scheme, as very few students have used it.
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“You’re entitled to a three-course meal, but they try and fob you off with the kids’ menu”, Rogier says of the special assistance. The most significant objection is that the municipality bases its calculation on the assumption that all university of applied sciences and research university students earn a minimum of 932.97 euros, which is the maximum loan amount. This assumption results in only a small group of students being entitled to the assistance. “Which is completely unjustified”, says Laura. “Anyone can apply for a loan from the bank. We’re entitled to a student loan, but the interest on that won’t be zero percent further down the line. We’ll still have to pay it all back.”
Not a priority
Moreover, a lot more bureaucracy is involved in applying for the special assistance, including the students having to provide account and income details. This is despite the fact that anyone under a certain income level automatically receives the energy allowance. “Students below that level of income don’t get the allowance purely because they’re students”, says Mina Morkoç, councillor for GroenLinks on Rotterdam’s municipal council and herself a law student at EUR. “Students already find it hard in general to ask for help, let alone when other parties are making it even harder for them to do so.”
The municipality of Rotterdam is not receiving any government funding to issue the energy allowance to students, says the council’s spokesperson. “We’re aware that we won’t be able to help each and every student, but we will be supporting those students who are in the most vulnerable circumstances financially through the special assistance scheme.” According to Morkoç, however, the municipality is actually in a position to fund the energy allowance. “The Municipal Executive only wheels out the argument that there’s no money when it doesn’t regard something as a priority”, she says.
Rogier has not lost hope of getting the energy allowance. “It’s not impossible if all students come together”, he says. He is using his LinkedIn profile and his website to call on other students to complain or to go to court. As a minimum, he wants to formulate a template letter of objection with them which everybody will be able to use. “That will make students’ lives a lot easier.”