The Dutch Disability Act

One of my goals this year was getting a good understanding how the General Disability Act applies to my situation. Specifically where it comes to my sculpting practice and my ability to turn clay sculptures into bronzes. And huzzah! I’ve succeeded! …. Sort of. Let’s just say that the Dutch Disability Act is hella complicated. In a: “We urge people to get back to work, but the financial consequences when they fail could be disastrous. And whoops. We totally forgot to mention that.” (Except, I’ve learned today, on the international website of the Employee Insurance Agency)

The past two months I’ve contacted medical benefits specialists, reintegration specialists and a few advisors. Most of the time, they told me they “couldn’t be of service, because my personal situation was outside their realm of expertise”. And the few that did offer advice, gave me contradictory information. Which, I’ve got to tell you, is less helpful than you might think.

These are experts. They know the General Disability Act inside and out! And yet, they couldn’t give me a clear answer.

It was time to put on my big-girl panties. I had to contact the Employee Insurance Agency that provides the medical benefits. This organization is, frankly, a nightmare to navigate, BUT I was able to get in touch with some kind people willing to put their answers for me on paper. Well, digital paper, but still: Black and white pixels. I love this for two reasons:
1. My brain does not remember things very well, so a phone call ends with me thinking: “Lovely chat! What did we talk about again?”
2. Having things in black and white means that if things go bonkers in the future, and I’m being told that I did not uphold the law, I can point towards this conversation.

Let’s Talk About Rules and Regulations

So this is my main question: I have no intention of selling art and making profit, because these two things are too stressful for me and undermine my fragile health. What I want is to just keep developing my skills. Showing my pieces in exhibitions would also be grand. For that, they need to be cast in bronze. How would I be able to do this, without crossing the rules.

And here’s where you need pull out a university degree! Because the Dutch disability benefits for adults (yes, we have a different one for those who became disabled as children) is called WIA. This is an overarching term though. Within WIA there are two main categories:

  1. IVA benefit: This pension is meant for those whose ability to work is severely limited and who won’t recover now, or in the future.
  2. WGA benefit: Is meant for those who are still able to work to some extent either now, or somewhere in the future.

Both benefits are based on a person’s last monthly wage. Meaning that if you did not earn any money prior to applying for WIA, you can’t be granted medical benefits. But instead, you’ll be redirected to welfare. It also means that how much money you will receive, depends on how much you earned prior to getting disabled. This wage also determines the next important thing.

Working While Receiving Benefit

Our government incentivizes working. The entire Disability Act is designed to get people back on their feet. But how much money you’re allowed to earn next to your benefit depends again on how much money you made prior to getting sick.

  1. If you receive an IVA benefit, you’re allowed to make up to 20% of your previous wage.
  2. For the WGA benefit, this is 100%.

If you make more for over a year, you will lose your benefit. In the case of IVA, this means that you will instead be given a WGA benefit. But in the case of WGA, the agency will consider you ‘healed’.

Of course, when your previous monthly wage was – say – €4000, there’s no issue here. But if a person’s benefits are based on an income of €800, there is no way this individual could survive in my country. They’ll be making less than half of minimum wage.

Those who receive an IVA are not required to work. It is strictly voluntary. But if you receive a WGA benefit, one of the main obligations is that you will look for ‘appropriate work’. If you do not work the hours the Employee Insurance Agency thinks you are able to, you’ll be stripped of your regular WGA benefit and given an ‘Earning Capacity Incentive Benefit’, only allowing you a percentage of minimum wage instead.

Back To My Situation

I am the lucky receiver of an IVA benefit. And my previous wage was so low that if I make barely any profit in a year, I will lose my pension.

Now, to be able to afford the bronze to cast my work, I will need to sell one of my sculptures. These ain’t cheap. it’s going to be really easy for me to cross the maximum amount of profit I’m allowed to make in a year.  

This doesn’t mean that the dream is over, mind you. It’s just that I’ll have to be really, really careful. Like I’m a tightrope dancer. Balancing above the lava. Holding a time bomb over my head. While someone is cheerfully cutting the rope.

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