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Studenten op bezoek bij de Hoge Raad

'There is a lack of countervailing power within the Tax Administration'

Published on 08-06-2023 12:50
Mariam and Job Jelle are pursuing the Master's degree in tax law. For their thesis project, they are researching the introduction of accessible independent legal aid for tax in the Netherlands. They talk enthusiastically about the approach: 'It's more about helping people than digging in case law or articles. This is different from what we have been done so far in the study'.
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Together with 4 other students, Mariam and Job Jelle are researching the provision of accessible independent tax legal aid in the Netherlands. They are doing this as part of the 'Parliament and Science' programme at the request of the Goverments Standing Committee on Finance.

Job Jelle works at the Bond van Belastingbetalers in The Hague. There, he attended a seminar on low-threshold independent legal aid for tax (LOFR). This immediately struck him as an interesting topic for his thesis. Mariam too did not have to think long when she saw the post on Canvas for a thesis project on this topic. She now works in debt relief and sees the consequences of issues such as the Dutch childcare benefits on a daily basis.

Citizens against the Tax Administration

'The Dutch childcare benefits scandal shows that there is a counter-power missing within the Tax Administration,' says Job Jelle. 'There needs to be a body that can say on behalf of the citizen: "We are not going to do this, because otherwise this person will be evicted from his house." There is now too little attention to this within the Tax Administration.' That's why there's a need for an organisation that could intervene more quickly if the law goes wrong, both at individual and system level. You can now knock on the door of a legal aid office for advice. 'But if you as a citizen discover something that is wrong. What will you then do against the big Tax Office?', says Mariam. 'A legal shop can only help you with this to a limited extent. Moreover, because of the AVG and privacy laws, they can never assess the full situation.

Interviews at national and international bodies

Together with 4 other students, Mariam and Job Jelle are researching the provision of accessible independent tax legal aid in the Netherlands. They are doing this as part of the 'Parliament and Science' programme at the request of the Governments Standing Committee on Finance.

They are looking at how it is arranged in countries such as Australia, Canada, Belgium and the US, and what is needed in the Netherlands. Aspects they examine include whether this new legal aid body should be set up inside or outside the Tax Administration and how, for example, access to information from the Tax Administration can be arranged effectively. They will present their advice to the Dutch House of Representatives at the end of June. For the study, they are conducting interviews with national and international bodies. Job Jelle: 'It's cool to see how many people set aside time for us. From the inspector general of the Tax Administration and the National Ombudsman in the Netherlands to the US Taxpayer Advocate Service and the House of Representatives and Senate in America.'

Students at the Hoge Raad
From left to right: Aleid Merckens, Sander Smit, Mariam Pasveer, Simon Linnemans, Isabel Godwaldt en lecturer Romano Graves.

Some interviews were an eye-opener for Mariam. She spoke to the Inspector-General & Taxation Ombudsman in Australia. This showed that while the exchange of information with the Australian tax authorities was well regulated on paper, it did not always work well in practice. 'There are a lot of human aspects to the protocol. You are dependent on the goodwill of the Tax Office employee whether you receive the right information in time.'

Meaning something to society

The combination of the tax aspect, researching the Tax Administration and thereby meaning something for society really appeals to Mariam. 'It's cool to see that we really achieve something with it instead of the research ending up at the bottom of a dusty drawer,' adds Job Jelle. 'The topic is very tangible. It's not just about what the body should look like but also about practical things like access to systems. It is more about helping people than digging into case law or articles. That is different from what we have done so far in studies and that makes it fun.'

Collaboration and other soft skills

Mariam and Job Jelle are learning in all sorts of areas. In fact, this is the first time they are collaborating with other students in the programme. 'Writing the Bachelor's thesis was lonely. You can't brainstorm with others,' Job Jelle recalls. 'Now you learn from each other and get away from your own ideas,' Mariam says. Besides working together, other soft skills come into play, such as communicating effectively and conducting interviews. 'Because we did research abroad, you also look beyond Dutch law.'

What Mariam hopes this research will yield? 'An low-threshold independent legal aid for tax in the Netherlands, of course,' she exclaims. 'That citizens in the Netherlands no longer end up in a situation where they think: what should I do against the powerful Tax Authorities, but that they can knock on the door somewhere where they are really helped.'