No job, no DUO money
Covid costs Europeans their Dutch student benefits
As a financially self-sufficient student, Tereza Kubistova from the Czech Republic knew that she had to work at least 56 hours per month to qualify for DUO benefits. So in addition to studying for her master’s degree in cultural geography, she had been working at a hotel 80 hours per month. But then the corona pandemic hit, and she lost both sources of income.
The hotel closed its doors at the start of the November lockdown, and since she had an on-call contract, that meant she didn’t get any salary. When her contract ended shortly afterwards, she also lost her student finance. Hoping DUO might be lenient because of the corona crisis, she reapplied for it. ‘They told me that I cannot ask for benefits if I don’t have a job and declined my request’, she says.
Residents of countries in the European Union, European Economic Area and Switzerland who study in the Netherlands are eligible for Dutch student finance, but they do have to meet the 56-hour work requirement despite the pandemic, DUO spokesperson Martijn Grimmius says.
In some cases, the government agency can be more flexible. ‘DUO will look at the hours worked before March 2020 and if afterwards they fall below the 56-hour limit due to corona, then the right to student finance will not lapse.’ Students do need to still have a work contract, though.
Because of these rules, Denitsa Prodanova from Bulgaria received student finance from March last year to the end of June. The journalism student had signed a four-month contract with a restaurant in early March. Just two weeks later, the restaurant had to shut down.
‘I was really worried about losing DUO benefits because I wouldn’t get paid by the restaurant’, says Denitsa. But even though she couldn’t work any hours, she could prove with a letter from her employer that she lost her job due to the pandemic.
In contrast, Tereza lost her benefits almost immediately, because her contract ended shortly after the hotel shut down. She had started her job before March and continuously worked more than 56 hours per month, but that didn’t make a difference. ‘It’s really annoying and confusing’, she says of her dealings with DUO. ‘I’ve had various answers to my questions and it feels like they are very disorganised.’
Tereza has been applying for other vacancies, but even with seven years of work experience, she’s had a hard time finding another part-time job. International students often work in hospitality and so are hit doubly by the shutdown. Tereza had to turn to her parents to be able to continue with her master’s degree.
Dealing with her money issues in addition to her studies has drained Tereza mentally, she says. She even worked with a broken arm to fulfill the required hours. ‘I was gobsmacked to learn that this is the standard students have to go through with DUO, even though they have been doing everything they can.’