The government expects energy prices to remain high in 2023. So it wants to give low-income households an energy allowance once again. An amendment to the Participation Act is needed for that; the government sent it to the Council of State last month for its advice.

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No students

The Council of State says that the as yet unpublished bill states explicitly that students are not eligible for the energy allowance. In 2022 that exception was not laid down in law, but only in the guidelines that the municipalities received from Minister for Poverty Policy Carola Schouten.

Consequently, most of the municipalities did not give students an energy allowance, but some did, if only to avoid legal disputes. A student in Nijmegen won a court case on the energy allowance.

The advisory department of the Council of State is critical of the new bill. It recognises that students live differently from most of the households that come under the minimum income policy. But that does not detract from the fact that students living away from home are faced with rising energy costs too. Especially if they have their own home.

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Overcompensation

The government’s argument that some students would get too much assistance applies not only to them, according to the advisory report. “It is not clear to the department why overcompensation is deemed to be a problem in the case of students but not for others on a minimum income. The fact that students are getting an increase in the basic student grant does not make them a special case: considerable measures relating to purchasing power have been taken for all minimum-income people.”

Moreover, because of the proposed statutory exclusion of students, municipalities can no longer chart their own course. They will soon no longer be allowed to pay out an energy allowance to particular groups of students, even if they wanted to. That will only be possible via individual special assistance, which also involves a lot of extra work.

Better justification

In short, the Council of State is not convinced that a categoric exclusion of students is appropriate. It advises the government to provide better justification for the exclusion of students ‘and to amend the bill on this issue if necessary’.

What the government does about the critical comments will become known when the definitive bill goes to the House of Representatives.

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