Tech & Rights

Belgium Starts Unannounced Home Visits to Fight Social Benefit Fraud

To fight social benefit fraud, the Belgian government has announced that it will begin unannounced home inspections of jobseekers and use energy usage data to target suspicious homes.

by Belgian League of Human Rights
Photo: Goran Zec - Flickr/CC content

The Belgian government has introduced unannounced inspections of jobseekers’ homes and has authorized the use of energy consumption data in order to fight against "home social fraud."

This backward step replaces the obligation of authorities to inform social beneficiaries of home visits at least 10 days in advance. This measure was not perfect—many people testified that very intrusive questions were asked during these visits, for example—but it respected the privacy of beneficiaries, at least according to procedure.

The financial crisis is now water under the bridge. While the impact of that crisis on employment should be exculpatory for job seekers, the government is still asking more and more of the growing number of citizens in precarious situations.

Stigmatizing the unemployed

The unemployed person is presented as responsible for their situation and, more broadly, as a leading contributor to the financial crisis and its impact on the budget. The unemployed are seen as de facto profiteers and potential fraudsters.

This approach to the victims of the crisis is unfairly stigmatizing. The new home inspection measure is particularly detrimental to the privacy of job seekers and disproportionate in its aim. At the same time, the National Employment Office admits that the current controls are, so far, functioning.

We have to conclude that it is always the same socioeconomic class that has its fundamental freedoms violated.

The authorization of the use of energy data for control purposes is especially adventurous in that it constitutes a further step, new and particularly dangerous, in the intrusiveness of government into the private lives of citizens.

'Glaring social injustice'

As noted by the SocialEnergie Support Center of the Federation of Social Services, in its press release of May 4, 2015, "[The use of energy consumption data] must be radically rejected. No average consumption standard can be established to allow comparison to suspicious consumption standards. Tracking the consumption of job seekers can only be stigmatizing and discriminatory. […] Such a practice of communicating private data would be contrary to legislation."

The Belgian League of Human Rights (LDH) supports these findings and conclusions.

LDH considers that if the fight against social fraud is itself a legitimate objective, it can't become a practice that ignores the fundamental privacy rights of citizens. More broadly, this legitimacy is threatened by the glaring social injustice represented in the inertia of the government with regard to the notorious and massive tax evasion committed by certain economic and financial players.

Lastly, LDH recalls its demands regarding the loss of status of cohabitation and the individualization of cohabitees' rights. This individualization prevents emotional and familial relations from being a factor in determining benefit size.

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