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Published on: 7 March 2024

Future of the disability system

Future of the disability system”. That is the title of the final report of the Independent Commission on the Future of Work Disability (Octas), which Minister van Gennip presented to the House of Representatives at the end of February. The committee was appointed to investigate how bottlenecks in the disability system can be addressed. Because right now, too much still goes wrong.

UWV waiting times

The most visible bottleneck is the waiting times for a WIA assessment. The UWV officially has eight weeks to decide whether an employee is eligible for WIA benefits, but due to backlogs, that assessment often runs up to nine months. Moreover, the system has become too complex for both incapacitated workers and implementing bodies.

A disabled employee in employment is entitled to continued payment of wages for two years. After two years of illness, employment may be terminated. Then the ball is in the UWV’s court. The UWV has the employee examined to assess how much earning capacity remains and whether the employee is eligible for WIA benefits. This is supposed to happen within eight weeks of applying for the benefit, but the UWV has so much work backlog that in practice it can take up to nine months.

Why is there such a long waiting period at the UWV?

The problem lies with a shortage of insurance doctors who have to assess how incapacitated an employee is. Once the UWV fails to meet the eight-week decision deadline, the employer and employee must be informed and the employee may receive an advance on benefits. If the UWV does not inform them in time, a penalty may be demanded.

In the meantime, the employer also has the obligation to prevent dormant employment and will want to terminate the employment after two years. But the sick employee then does not yet know whether he will receive benefits, and the employer may face a wage penalty afterwards. An uncertain and undesirable situation for both parties. If the employer is self-insured, the UWV will charge the employer for any advance payment granted until a decision is made by the UWV. Employers do not want that either.

‘More attention, trust and certainty’

That is the subtitle of the Octas committee’s report. Besides the mounting work arrears, the entire disability system has now become too complex, according to the committee. Laws and regulations are so detailed that people find it difficult to understand. This has a paralysing effect. Instead of becoming active in the labour market, people stay put for fear of losing their benefits. There is little trust in the government.

The committee makes three proposals. A first option is called “Current system better” and aims to make the current system simpler, easier to understand and more workable. The threshold should be lower so that more people qualify for WIA benefits. This does lead to higher costs for the state. The second option is “Work comes first”, which would require more and longer focus on prevention and reintegration to reduce long-term disability. The third variant is “Basis for working people” and is based on the idea of a basic insurance guaranteeing a minimum benefit for all working people with a supplement via an employer’s premium.

For the large backlog at the UWV, the committee also sees a solution. It suggests concentrating reintegration activities at one business unit of the UWV. This would then focus solely on reintegration. In this, the UWV should seek more intensive contact with employers in the region to support them. Finally, the committee recommends a higher quality of guidance and more intensive cooperation with all parties involved. The report emphasises that the current quality of guidance is below standard. However, the committee does not provide a ready-made concrete solution.

Criticism of the report

The FNV, in particular, strongly criticises the report. Therefor, the FNV considers the last two options a ‘run-up to poverty’. The FNV also misses an approach towards young disabled people and people with a chronic condition. This group is left out in the cold, according to the FNV. The FNV is also disappointed that no concrete recommendations previously put forward by the union have been made. So all in all, there is no concrete solution yet and the UWV backlogs are not just gone either.


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Articles by Judy Sliepen

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