Large debts, no income, mental problems… In a letter about the ‘human dimension’ and student loans, Minister Dijkgraaf writes that the Education Executive Agency (DUO) already often applies tailor-made solutions if citizens get into difficulties.

But things still go wrong occasionally and citizens are disproportionately affected. Dijkgraaf’s view is “that there are more steps we can take”. One of his intentions is to take a close look at the ‘loan forgiveness policy’.

Currently, DUO can forgive a debt only if someone is in a coma, terminally ill or in a hopeless situation because of a mental disorder. And even then, some students fall between two stools.


Dijkgraaf gives the example of ‘Manuel’, a former student with an autistic disorder. He lives abroad and has been declared unfit for work, but every year he has to explain once again to DUO that he has no income. It gives rise to stress and bureaucratic hassle.

Debt forgiveness is apparently impossible. So, Dijkgraaf wants to see if he can relax the rules. He believes it ought to be possible to make an exception in such cases.

Other former students have repayment problems too. They then risk finding a bailiff on their doorstep. Since 2018, DUO has been trying to prevent that through the ‘personalised collection’ approach, Dijkgraaf says. Through targeted letters and personal contact, employees endeavour to arrive at a tailor-made payment schedule.

But he still wants to improve the ‘service’. “This could relate to the way in which DUO gets in contact with present/former students, as well as to whether the processes are set up to take account of the capabilities of the students concerned.” In other words, is the communication clear and are the rules simple enough?

Amending the law

For some of the problems, Dijkgraaf or one of his cabinet colleagues will have to amend the law. For example, what is the precise meaning of ‘means-test income’ (toetsingsinkomen)? The definition is quite rigid at the moment, so former students sometimes have to pay off large sums that they are unable to afford.

Dijkgraaf quotes the example of ‘Moniek’, who had trouble with her welfare benefit, partner alimony, and allowances that had not been granted. On paper she had sufficient income to pay off 300 euros per month, but in practice she had the same amount of money as someone in a debt rescheduling process.

“Everyone is left with a bad feeling”, Dijkgraaf writes. “Something needs to be done about it, but the law doesn’t permit it.” Only after an amendment to the law was DUO able to reduce her repayments to 70 euros per month.

Case by case

Another legal amendment will soon take effect that provides more options for the application of the ‘hardship clause’. “But that doesn’t mean that DUO is going to deviate from the law on a large scale”, the Minister asserts. “That will be done only if a decision results in disproportionate consequences and there are no other solutions. DUO will look at it on a case-by-case basis and will give reasons for making or not making an exception.”

Nevertheless, Dijkgraaf is aware that not everything has yet been resolved. At the end of his letter, he gives a sort of profit warning: “Devising tailor-made solutions and deviating from rules can be complicated, so mistakes will sometimes be made.”

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