Dutch Tax: Me no English…

Endeavour VS. Belasting

Endeavour VS. Belasting

Dutch Tax refuses to speak English

To our regret, about two years ago, the Tax authorities in the Netherlands have taken the decision not speak any language than Dutch while speaking to local taxpayers. The decision includes all communication with taxpayers even and especially if the Tax employee is able to express himself in other language.

This one-sided harsh decision was coming as a surprise to most non Dutch speaking people in the Netherlands and has caused a major frustration among individual as well as companies.

The Netherlands is characterized by hosting hundreds of foreign firms and thousands of expatriates living and working locally. Some governmental authorities such as the NFIA are concentrating their efforts on attracting foreign firms to invest in the Netherlands.

Ironically, the same Tax authority that grants the ruling 30% as an incentive to expatriates, is the very same authority that refuses speaking even English with them.

With all the empathy we have towards the Dutch society, facing major immigration to the Netherlands with all its negative implications, we find this decision hurting the expatriates’ community that lives in the Netherlands, working and paying its taxes just like everyone else.

Naturally, these Expats would not expect the local authorities to invest in educating their employees to speak more languages, however, while employees are fluently speaking other languages and willing to help the calling expats, it does not make any sense to forbid usage of other languages in such strict way.

So, why did they take that decision? I am told that the Tax authorities could not guarantee given information’s accuracy and cannot be held responsible for any info it is generating unless it is in Dutch. Since this blog entry is only the beginning of the process, we will send the Tax authorities a letter requesting an explanation for the above mentioned decision and will publish their answer here.

For comparison purposes, let’s look west at the UK for a moment and see how their tax services deal with residents who cannot speak English. Surprisingly, the HM Revenue & Customs service publishes on its internet site that not only they are willing to assist taxpayers in other languages; the CRM team in Nottingham is holding a list detailing employees who are fluent in other languages than English. Impressive, isn’t it? It is especially kind since the Brits could easily claim that English is the only official international language and they are expecting everyone to speak it. As it appears, we would need our own Lady Godiva in the Netherlands in order to change the language decision.

We have other examples for English tolerance, this time in the Netherlands: the Dutch court is able to legalize English written papers without the need to translate it to Dutch. That is amazing, isn’t it? The court is dealing with official and accurate information, but can easily tolerate English in some levels and definitely allows its employees to use it when needed. Since the Dutch court is willing to speak other languages than just Dutch, the Tax claim for information accuracy looks more like an easy excuse than a real reason.

I can testify as for a positive experience I had regarding English tolerance in the Netherlands, when I needed to pay a small traffic fine to the CJIB the Dutch collecting agency. When I got their letter, l felt it was wrong and wrote them about it. I also paid the fine at the same time and when they rejected my appeal, I thought the case was closed.
Reminders were sent to me again and the fine amount was increased. At that time I wrote an English letter to the CJIB explaining the situation. A week later, I have received an official letter in English explaining me that I actually switched two digits on CJIB bank account hence the payment was never done. They gave me again their correct bank account and reduced the fine to its original amount. Now, doesn’t that worth a medal for good service? Someone there actually took the time and efforts to sort this issue in a language I understand. If the CJIB can, why the Tax can’t?
As for the decision itself:
Is it legal? We have no idea but we will surely have a local law office taking a look at it. If we are lucky, it conflicts with a higher law or civil servant standards and therefore vulnerable.
Is this a case of a governmental agency that “forgets” it is here to serve people, not the other way around? Doesn’t this agency adhere to common standards of civil-servant policies or simply can take controversial decisions such as this one only because technically they can?

In terms of management, it seems as if the solution to the precision and accountability issue is by far exaggerated. If this is the problem, the Tax authorities could state that the information they give in any other language, is general and only the Dutch version of the info is official. That would easily solve the problem. Easy.
In practice, most of taxpayers’ inquires are very simple and so are the answers. There is no need to make so many people affected negatively by such decision.

We are calling the Dutch Tax authorities to reconsider their decision forbidding their employees speaking any other language than Dutch.

We are calling everyone that identifies with our cause to support our quest by spreading it and linking to it. We might be able to change it.

David Dekel, CEO
Endeavour Enterprises N.V.

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