The Dutch Tax and Customs Administration, the National Library of the Netherlands and the Public Libraries this year joined hands to help citizens arrange their affairs with the government online, including taxes. At all 800 public libraries, computers with Internet access and printing facilities are available free of charge to citizens who want to make use of this service. Some libraries offered the service already, and others will follow over the next few months.
In addition to computers and printers, courses will be offered to the public to teach them the practical ins and outs of arranging affairs with the government online. Social organisations will also be invited to offer consultation hours to assist people with questions about taxes and benefits at various library locations, eventually numbering 150. The Tax and Customs Administration will train the organisations for this purpose. Today, the parties signed a covenant stating the terms of the training.
Help for the public in a digitising world
Digitisation is happening all around us. The Dutch are managing their business and government affairs online more and more, from requesting benefits to making travel arrangements, and from taking out insurance to searching for jobs. Services can therefore become more personalised and efficient. For example, 96% of tax returns are currently filed online, thanks to improved services.
However, for some, computer access and use is not a given, and entering a digitised world can be daunting. The Tax and Customs Administration has always offered help to those who have difficulty arranging their tax or benefit affairs themselves, with services including personal assistance, help desks and a tax advice hotline. In response to expanding digitisation, the Tax and Customs Administration is partnering with an increasing number of social organisations, and has adopted a 'preparer policy' to support them. Based on a 'help the helpers' principle, the tax authorities provide these organisations with the information, training and resources they need to assist the public.
The tax authorities will continue to monitor the precise (and evolving) needs of these diverse organisations, with the help of the University of Twente, among others. Negotiations are underway with various social organisations and service providers, including the Public Libraries, to provide this assistance on an as-needed basis.
Distance and costs
At an average distance of only 1.8 kilometres, the library is easy to reach for many households. In addition to providing free access to computers, Internet and printers for arranging tax and benefit matters, nearly all library branches also offer free computer skills courses, including training in the use of e-overheid, the Dutch government's public platform. Between 2016 and 2019, more and more libraries will also invite social organisations to provide on-site tax consultation services to citizens who are insufficiently able to manage their own tax and benefits affairs digitally. Eventually, this service will be offered at 150 libraries. The initiative is being coordinated by the National Library of the Netherlands, which is using a €1.9 million grant from the Tax and Customs Administration to implement and oversee compliance with the covenant.
Press Release from the website of Rijksoverheid, Ministerie van Financiën from 18-02-2016