Why is the UWV so incapable?

In my last message I wrote how my contract with Neomax was anulled before the trial period even started and how I became unemployed. I mention the refusal of unemployment benefits by the UWV (the Dutch governmental organization responsible for unemployment benefits) and how appealing their decision made them approve my benefits after all. Because I’m so dissatisfied with the way the UWV treated my request I will elaborate on what happened.

When Neomax brought me the bad news they asked me to agree with moving the start date to 1 May, a month later. Otherwise they would annul the contract based on the trial period. I doubted whether this was a good idea. Because Neomax called me after 17:00 on the last workday before the start of the contract I didn’t have much time to figure this out. I quickly read the website of the UWV and read something about culpable unemployment. I thought the UWV could interpret my agreement with moving the start date as culpable unemployment and this could mean I would lose my rights to unemployment benefits. That’s why I declined the offer to move the start date. Neomax annulled the contract and then signed a new contract with 1 May as the start date a few days later.

I quickly started applying for jobs elsewhere and requested employment benefits on 7 April. On 8 April the UWV requested more information, such as the employment contracts with Neomax and my last employer, which I submitted to them soon. On 22 April I was informed of their decision: my benefits were refused because I had quit my last job and they considered that unnecessary. They considered it to be my fault, according to case officer P. of the UWV. The letter was signed with the full name of P., but I’m not so full of rancor that I want to publish that here to have her digitally pilloried on this weblog.

The case officer meant that I should not have quit my job at ID Ware International. I questioned whether this was relevant – I had signed a contract for seven months with Neomax after all – and called the UWV over the phone to explain the situation. In the conversation I told them that Neomax offered better working conditions, like more possibilities for education and career development, even though the salary was lower. I also mentioned the fact that I had signed a new contract with Neomax for 1 May and had thus done what was possible to avert unemployment. The employee I spoke with said that the new contract could change the situation and that I would be called back the same day. Directly after that conversation I sent the new contract to the UWV as evidence.

When I had not been called back on Friday 24 April I decided to call them again. I was promised that I would be called back the same day and this time the UWV made true on its promise. The employee who called me back told me that my request could not be granted though, because the salary offered by Neomax was lower than for my last job at ID Ware International. That other employment conditions than the salary were better at Neomax didn’t matter for them. If it were up to the UWV there would effectively be no mobility in the labor market for those who don’t want to loose their rights to unemployment benefits.

During my bachelor’s and master’s programs in Public Administration I learned a few things about law, but not labor law. Knowledge about labor law was not present in my network and I didn’t have insurance for legal assistance. Fortunately, there’s a lot of free legal advice and analysis to be found on the Internet. After a search I found this article (in Dutch) at Intermediair. It states that only the prospect of an employment contract of at least 26 weeks is sufficient to retain ones’ rights to unemployment benefits. Prospect in the sense that it doesn’t matter if the employment contract does not last for 26 weeks, for example if the employee is laid off in the trial period.

Elsewhere on the Internet there are comparable analyses and there are references to jurisprudence from 2009. For those who are not familiar with law, jurisprudence (or case law) is the body of existing rulings of judges which often create a precedent for future rulings. The ruling from 2009 shows many parallels with my case: the UWV blames a tailor for losing her right to unemployment benefits because she accepted a new job with a flexible contract and a salary which was not higher than at her previous job with a permanent contract. This employee was laid off shortly after her contract started. The Administrative High Court (‘Centrale Raad van Beroep’ in Dutch) dismissed the arguments of the UWV and ruled that only the 26 weeks criterium is relevant.

Armed with these legal analyses and jurisprudence I wrote an appeal to the UWV and submitted it on 28 April. On 18 May I was called by an UWV employee from the appeals department who agreed with my appeal. On 25 May I received a confirmation that my unemployment benefits were granted after all. On 11 June I received a letter with the message that my appeal was denied because it was already decided on 25 May to grant me unemployment benefits. Because the decision of 25 May was correct, my appeal was refused. My jaw dropped when I read this display of logic. The reasoning was ridiculous because I had filed an appeal against the decision of 22 April, not the one of 25 May. At first I interpreted this letter as childish mockery from an organization which didn’t want to admit its wrongdoing. Now I think it may have been an attempt to disguise the numbers on granted appeals, because the UWV might be using it as a performance indicator. Maybe those responsible within the UWV might want to avoid the negative consequences for them if it became clear that too many of their decisions would be appealed successfully.

In summary, the UWV knew about the 26 weeks criterium in 2009. Yet I still got three (!) UWV employees who used several different arguments that were not relevant for the question if I was entitled to unemployment benefits. The first employee mentioned my voluntary resignation from ID Ware, the second thought a new contract with Neomax might change things and then the third employee started about the lower salary of my new job. I don’t know about the other two, but I saw on LinkedIn that case officer P. had studied Communication at the University of Tilburg. I question why someone with a university degree would work at the UWV as a case officer for unemployment benefits, but she wouldn’t be lacking in intellectual capabilities.

My conclusion is that something is very wrong with the training and education of the employees of the UWV. Why was it relatively easy for me to find the jurisprudence that meant that I would be entitled to unemployment benefits while the UWV employees were not aware of it? What worries me most is that I’m highly educated, possess legal knowledge and have plenty of savings to weather a temporary lack of income, while many others who have to deal with the UWV don’t have that luxury. How many people would have been denied employment benefits on unfair grounds and didn’t have the knowledge to appeal the decision? My suspicion is that this number is way too high. It’s absolutely unacceptable that the UWV is so dysfunctional.

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