Advice expertise centre ITEM

‘Foreign PhD scholarship students should receive childcare allowance'

Are foreign researchers entitled to childcare benefit in the Netherlands? Two PhD students at Maastricht University come from outside the EU, but work in the Netherlands. They are married and have a child together. To combine their parenting and research in the Netherlands, they make use of childcare. Therefore, they have applied for childcare benefit. However, the Dutch tax authorities believe that the couple are not entitled to this, because their work can’t be regarded as employment according to Dutch law. The ITEM Expertise Centre of Maastricht University investigated this case and concluded that the tax authorities don’t take sufficient account of European rules in the matter. ITEM has filed the case with the court, which is expected to rule soon.

Initially, the couple were granted childcare allowance, but this was later reclaimed. Dutch law requires the applicant to perform work in order to receive childcare benefit. Dutch tax authorities state that the two researchers, who receive a research grant from abroad, don’t meet the conditions because they have not filed an income tax return.

Violation of EU law
ITEM claims that the decision of the tax authorities is contradictory to the applicable law of the European Union. In an EU directive, the right to equal treatment is granted to all holders of a residence permit. This applies to all branches of social security, including childcare allowance. In order to attract more researchers from third countries, the European legislator has deliberately chosen to equate the social and economic rights of researchers from third countries with those of researchers within the EU.

An open labour market for researchers from both the EU and from third countries is an important objective of the European Research Area (ERA). A situation in which the tax authorities are allowed to exclude researchers from childcare allowance frustrates the purpose of the European Research Area as a unified space with free movement for researchers, scientific knowledge and technology, ITEM states.

ITEM concludes that researchers should be put on an equal footing with one of the existing categories eligible for childcare allowance. At the request of the researchers, the centre of expertise has prepared a test case and filed the case with the court.

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