The municipal social aid agency (OCMW) in Antwerp has stopped using the services of private detectives to investigate aid claimants, following a decision by the organisation’s outgoing chair, Fons Duchateau. The detectives of the Dutch agency Soza Xpert were used to investigate whether claimants were in fact entitled to the aid they were claiming – for example if they owned property in another country which could be a source of revenue.
But according to federal minister for social integration Denis Ducarme, the use of the detectives was illegal and in breach of professional confidentiality in the relation between members of the public and the OCMW, Duchateau disagreed with the minister’s view but went ahead and put an end to the collaboration with Sosa Xpert all the same, before leaving his post to become a city councillor in charge of housing, tourism, animal welfare and health care.
“We have to fight social fraud effectively, but do so while remaining within the limits of the law,” Ducarme said. He had warned Duchateau he would take the matter to the public prosecutor if the practice of employing the detectives continued.
The question of what to do with the information the detectives have already gathered remains unresolved, however. According to Ducarme, because it was gathered illegally, the information cannot be legally exploited. However SP.A, which is now responsible for the issue in the new Antwerp coalition, sees things differently. “The federal government has this data already, and can use them for tax investigations,” said new socialist councillor Tom Meeuws. “We have to ensure they can also be used for social cases.” For coalition partner N-VA, meanwhile, the matter should be decided by the federal authorities.