Are doctoral researchers entitled to childcare allowance in the Netherlands?
Two PhD students from outside the EU but working in the Netherlands are married and have a child together. To combine their parenting and research activities in the Netherlands, they make use of childcare. They have applied for childcare benefit for this purpose. According to the Dutch tax authorities, however, they are not entitled to this benefit because according to the Dutch administration, the labour of the researchers cannot be regarded as an employment.
The ITEM expertise centre investigated this case and concluded that the tax authorities do not sufficiently take European rules in account here. A test case is being prepared, and a decision is expected soon.
Disputed recovery of childcare allowance to PhD students
The researchers are affiliated with Maastricht University. As contract PhD students, their main task is to carry out doctoral research. They receive a research grant from abroad to support them. In 2015, the couple had a child, who since then has enjoyed childcare. The childcare allowance is granted in the Netherlands to help parents in their care because there is a good reason why parents cannot always take care of their child themselves and that part of the care task is therefore outsourced.
The couple was initially granted the childcare allowance, but was later claimed back because the couple did not meet the conditions. Dutch law requires the applicant to perform work in order to receive childcare allowance. The tax authorities are of the opinion that the labour of the researchers cannot be regarded as an employment, as they have not filed an income tax return.
Violation of EU law
ITEM argues that the decision of the tax authorities is contrary to EU law. An EU directive grants the right to equal treatment to all holders of an EU residence permit. This applies to all branches of social security, including the childcare allowance. The European legislator has deliberately chosen to put the social and economic rights of researchers from third countries on an equal footing with those of researchers within the EU in order to attract more researchers from third countries.
An open labour market for researchers from the Union and from third countries is an important objective of the European Research Area. A situation where the tax authorities would be allowed to exclude researchers from the childcare allowance frustrates the aim of the European Research Area as a unified area with free movement for researchers, scientific knowledge and technology.
ITEM concludes that researchers should be put on an equal footing with one of the existing categories eligible for a childcare allowance. At the request of the researchers, the centre of expertise submitted the case to the court. Both parties still have to submit additional documents to the court before a decision can be made.
 Parliamentary documents (Kamerstukken) II 2001-2002, 28447, 3 (MvT), p. 2-3.
 Article 12 Directive 2005/71/EC.
 Preamble 15 Directive 2005/71/EC.
 Directive 2016/80, consideration 8.