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Decision in case 2175/2017/NF on the European Personnel Selection Office’s rule on granting an accommodation allowance to candidates who attend the assessment centre stage in a selection procedure for EU civil servants

Dostupni jezici: en
  • Slučaj: 2175/2017/NF
    Otvoren 2018.05.23 - Odluka donesena 2018.05.23
  • Predmetna/e institucija/e: Europski ured za odabir osoblja

The case concerned the European Personnel Selection Office’s (EPSO) contribution to the travel and subsistence expenses of candidates travelling to attend tests in the context of a selection procedure for EU civil servants. The complainant asked to be granted an accommodation allowance for three nights: the night before the test started, the night between the two test days and the night after the test ended. However, EPSO granted her the accommodation allowance for one night only.

The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and found that EPSO had applied the rule in question correctly. There was thus no maladministration in EPSO’s decision to grant the complainant an accommodation allowance for one night only. However, given that the wording of the applicable rule is not as clear as it could be, the Ombudsman suggested that EPSO add a sentence to the rule spelling out that no accommodation allowance is paid for the night before a test starts, nor for the night after the test ends.

Background to the complaint

1. The complainant, resident in Slovakia, took part in a selection procedure for recruiting EU civil servants, which was organised by the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO)[1]. She was invited to take part in the assessment centre phase[2] of the selection procedure.

2. The assessment centre took place in Brussels on two consecutive days in June 2017.

3. In light of the available flight schedules, the complainant decided to travel to Brussels two nights prior to the first day of the assessment centre. She also decided to book her return flight only for the day following the final day of the assessment centre. The complainant thus spent a total of four nights in a hotel in Brussels.

4. The complainant asked EPSO to reimburse her a sum of EUR 555 as a contribution to her travel expenses, consisting of a flat-rate amount of EUR 255 for the distance travelled[3] and an accommodation allowance of EUR 300 for three nights spent in a hotel[4] (the night right before the first day of the assessment centre, the night in between the two days of the assessment centre, and the night following the final day of the assessment centre).

5. EPSO paid the complainant an amount of EUR 355.

6. The complainant then asked EPSO for an explanation on why the reimbursement was EUR 200 lower than the amount she had claimed. She also asked EPSO to reimburse her the additional EUR 200.

7. EPSO explained that the reimbursed amount of EUR 355 consisted of a flat-rate amount of EUR 255 for the distance the complainant had to travel to come to Brussels and an accommodation allowance of EUR 100 for the night she had spent in a hotel in between the two consecutive days of the assessment centre. EPSO also informed the complainant that it could not grant her any additional accommodation allowance.

8. Dissatisfied with EPSO’s reply, the complainant turned to the Ombudsman in December 2017.

The inquiry

9. The Ombudsman opened an inquiry into the complainant’s position that EPSO was wrong to grant her the accommodation allowance for one night only, instead of three nights, for attending a test that took place over two consecutive days.

10. In the course of the inquiry, the Ombudsman duly considered the information provided in the complaint and the complainant’s further correspondence.

 Arguments made by the parties

11. The complainant stated that, when reading the rules on the contribution to travel and subsistence expenses of candidates, she understood that she could claim a maximum amount of EUR 100 per night for a maximum duration of three nights, and thus that the maximum accommodation allowance was EUR 300.

12. Further, the complainant had considered it reasonable to stay in Brussels for at least three nights as her test had started early on the first day and finished late on the second day.

13. Although she had actually stayed in a hotel for more than three nights and her related expenses had exceeded EUR 100 per night, the complainant claimed an accommodation allowance of EUR 300, which she believed to be in line with the applicable rule.

14. EPSO explained that it does not reimburse the actual costs a candidate incurs when travelling to Brussels to sit a test. Rather, it grants a contribution to travel and subsistence expenses based on the applicable rules.

15. The rule on the accommodation allowance has to be understood as follows: “[W]hen the assessment centre takes place only on one day, no accommodation allowance applies even if candidates have to come one day before the [assessment centre] and depart one day after the day of the assessment centre. In the case of an assessment centre spread over two consecutive days, EPSO contributes to the night between these two days only, not the night before or after.”[5]

16. Accordingly, EPSO granted the complainant an accommodation allowance of EUR 100, given that the assessment centre took place over two consecutive days. Thus, she was entitled to an allowance for the night between the two consecutive days of the assessment centre.

The Ombudsman's assessment

17. It is clear that EPSO does not reimburse the actual costs incurred by candidates for attending an assessment centre. Rather, the rules on the contribution to travel and subsistence expenses provide that, under certain conditions, EPSO makes a financial contribution to help candidates cover their travel and subsistence expenses. As a general rule, candidates receive a flat-rate contribution depending on the distance of travel. It is only in ‘specific cases’ that EPSO pays candidates an accommodation allowance on top of the flat-rate contribution. The rule on specific cases (‘the rule’)[6], reads as follows:

An accommodation allowance is foreseen for candidates who are invited to an assessment centre session lasting longer than one day for organizational reasons: if the different parts of the assessment centre session are spread over two consecutive days or separated by an interval of a maximum of 3 days, thus obliging a candidate to spend one or more nights at the venue, an accommodation allowance of EUR 100 per night shall be paid upon presentation of supporting documents, in the form of a formal receipt for hotel accommodation.

This allowance shall only be paid to candidates who by virtue of Article 2 are entitled to receive travel expenses.

The total amount of the accommodation allowance paid shall not exceed EUR 300.

If the candidate decides instead to travel on both occasions or if the tests are organised with an interval of over 3 days, he/she shall be entitled to twice the contribution calculated according to Article 2 but not to an accommodation allowance.

18. It is clear that no accommodation allowance is granted if the assessment centre takes place on one single day. It can further be read out from the rule that assessment centre sessions separated by an interval of 3 days will give right to the maximum amount of EUR 300 (EUR 100 per night for 3 nights). From this, it can be deduced that the accommodation allowance does not cover the night before the first day of the assessment centre, nor the night following the last day of the assessment centre. It can thus also be deduced from the rule that the rationale behind the accommodation allowance is linked to the number of days over which the assessment centre sessions are spread and that travel itineraries and the like are not taken into account.

19. EPSO’s application of the rule on the accommodation allowance in the complainant’s case was thus correct and reasonable.

20. On the very day the complainant asked for clarifications regarding the reimbursement, EPSO explained in detail how it had made the calculation.

21. There was thus no maladministration by EPSO in deciding to grant the complainant the accommodation allowance for one night only.

22. However, given that the wording of the rules on the contribution to travel and subsistence expenses is not as clear as it could be, the Ombudsman will make a suggestion in this regard (see below).

Conclusion

Based on the inquiry, the Ombudsman closes this case with the following conclusion:

There was no maladministration by EPSO.

The complainant and EPSO will be informed of this decision.

Suggestion for improvement

The Ombudsman suggests that EPSO amend Article 6 of its rules on the contribution to travel and subsistence expenses by adding a sentence that clarifies that no accommodation allowance is paid for the night before the first day of the assessment centre, nor the night following the last day of the assessment centre.

 

Emily O'Reilly

European Ombudsman

Strasbourg, 23/05/2018

 

[1] Selection procedure EUIPO/AST/02/17 - AST 3; the notice of competition is available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ:C:2017:009A:FULL&from=EN.

[2] The assessment centre comprised a series of computer-based multiple choice question tests and competency based tests.

[3] In accordance with Article 2 of the Rules on the Contribution to Travel and Subsistence expenses of candidates invited to sit tests in a selection procedure organised by EPSO (The Rules on the Contribution), available at: http://europa.eu/epso/doc/travel_01_06_2015_en.pdf.

[4] In accordance with Article 6 of the Rules on the Contribution.

[5] Quote taken from an e-mail that EPSO sent to the complainant.

[6] Article 6 of the Rules on the Contribution.