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Decision concerning the European Commission’s refusal to grant a ‘double dependent child allowance’ to a staff member with a child with a disability (case 535/2021/VS)

Déardaoin | 23 Feabhra 2023

The case concerned the refusal by the European Commission to grant a staff member with a child with a disability a ‘double dependent child allowance’, which is provided for under the EU Staff Regulations for assisting with the care of children with disabilities. The Commission based its decision on internal rules agreed by the EU administration concerning the allowance, according to which children whose disabilities are deemed to be below a certain threshold are not considered eligible.

The Ombudsman took the view that using thresholds on the degree of disability to exclude certain children with disabilities automatically is at odds with the relevant provision in the Staff Regulations. The allowance is intended to cover cases involving ‘heavy expenditure’, and the Staff Regulations make no reference to the degree of disability. In addition, while setting thresholds on the degree of disability to determine eligibility for financial support may make matters more straightforward and predictable from an administrative perspective, it seems to be at odds with the EU administration’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).

In the course of the inquiry, the Ombudsman made a solution proposal to the Commission that it initiate the process to review the applicable rules, which will involve the other EU institutions. She also urged the Commission to reassess the complainant’s request for the double dependent child allowance, taking into account the above finding, that is, not rejecting it solely because of the degree of disability that his child has been deemed to have. As the process to revise the applicable rules may take some time, and to guarantee equal treatment, the Ombudsman also urged the Commission to take this inquiry into account when considering all pending and future requests for the double dependent child allowance. This implies assessing each application for the double dependent child allowance on a case-by-case basis, and not excluding any applications merely because the child’s disability is considered to be below a certain threshold.

In response to the solution proposal, the Commission has initiated a process to review the rules setting out the threshold approach, which could lead to their revision. The Ombudsman welcomes that the Commission has acted on this aspect of her solution proposal.

However, the Commission also stated that it would await the outcome of this process before reassessing the complainant’s request or other requests. Given that this may take some time, and given the findings of this inquiry, the Ombudsman remains dissatisfied on this aspect of the case. She asks the Commission once again to consider applying the rules more flexibly for requests from now on. The Ombudsman remains convinced that the rules in question should have been revised much sooner to give effect to the commitments the EU signed up to. The Ombudsman therefore asks the Commission to follow up within three months and intends to revisit the matter if the outcome of the revision is not appropriate or is taking too long. The Ombudsman will also draw the attention of the other institutions to her findings.