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Luxembourg’s faceless bureaucracy needs updating
The L Word

Luxembourg’s faceless bureaucracy needs updating

by Sarita RAO 5 min. 25.07.2021
Endless forms and ridiculously long turn-around-times. Why can't they digitise more state services, asks columnist Sarita Rao?
Photo credit: Shutterstock

I am feeling decidedly on the wrong end of Luxembourgish bureaucracy this month, in what seems like an impasse with several institutions from Post to the CNS and the visa agency.

When my kids were small, I jokingly bought them a stamper collection and told them if they wanted to work for the civil service in Luxembourg, they needed to get very good at stamping things – from school letters to residence certificates.

However in recent months I’ve been on the receiving end of this bureaucracy way too much. Having experienced a well-managed, digitised, fast and efficient Covid testing and vaccination system, plus a very impressive procedure to get a biometric ID card as a British citizen living in the Grand Duchy, I am surprised at the vast difference.

CNS claims not co-ordinated

First up the national health service, CNS. Undoubtedly the pandemic has put pressure on the CNS, but it hasn’t stopped the social security centre (CCSS) from billing me regularly. I took my children into the CCSS/CNS in 2019 and it has not been a smooth transition from EU Institutional insurance cover (an arcane system in its own right, but streets ahead given you can submit scanned copies of bills).

Asked to submit an RIB with every claim without any explanation
Asked to submit an RIB with every claim without any explanation
Poto: Chris Karaba

My first CNS reimbursements in February are only now being signed off. Despite the information on the CNS website that you only need to provide your banking information (RIB) for the first claim, every single one of my reimbursements has been sent back with an additional form and the need for yet another RIB to be attached. The time lag between me being sent this form (five to six weeks) and then the claim being processed (another five to six weeks) means it’s taking almost three months to get anything back.

This is not ideal for someone earning less than the minimum wage. I’ve already asked why self-employed people must pay 30% plus in contributions in a previous column. Given I hand over a third of my earnings in social security, I expect my children’s health bills to get reimbursed far quicker than three to four months.

The letters I receive with the additional forms seem to come from all over the place – Esch, Hollerich, and unnamed locations, but never with a signature or someone to call. I suspect that not one of my claims has touched the same hands, which is part of the problem of a paper system.

Army of civil servants

Luxembourg added 2,000 more government employees to its tally in 2020, taking the total at the start of this year to 31,000, which, pandemic aside, is a 20% increase from five years ago. Surely with all these extra hands (and stamps) things should be more efficient, not less?

Then there’s the visa application I made for my mother to travel here from the UK due to extenuating family circumstances (and believe me, they are).

Sent on 2 July via the commune (who had to stamp everything and input the form I’d already completed onto a computer system), I received a response (duly stamped) on 17 July asking me to provide more information on my social security contributions.

I have been sent a lot of CCSS documentation (enough to fill two ring binders in less than 15 months) but none of it includes what the visa agency wants. I’ve had to apply for these – taking another four days – before I can resubmit my visa application via the commune (to presumably seal it with wax this time). I can expect to wait another fortnight for an answer. Thank goodness I haven’t got a terminal illness with weeks left to live.  

No accountability at Post

In the same week, the country’s largest employer, Post, managed to mess things up too. My daughter received a birthday gift from her grandmother in the UK. A CN22 customs declaration was duly filled out and placed on the package, marked as a gift with contents to the value of £16. It arrived late (after the birthday) with a charge of €8,83 that I was asked to pay in cash on the doorstep, exact amount only, as Post employees aren’t allowed to carry cash or card machines.

Post have no idea why my gift is charged TVA and no department to ask
Post have no idea why my gift is charged TVA and no department to ask
Photo: dpa-tmn

The Post website states clearly that gifts from non-EU countries, sent from one individual to another, are not liable for import tax or VAT if they are valued at less than €45. So what went wrong? The guy behind the post office counter at Capellen looked through a very large file of contact details but couldn’t find a single person responsible. It’s not something to do with Post, he said. Surprising, given that my package VAT receipt is emblazoned with several Post logos.

Let’s get digital

Where am I going with all this complaining? Well, to the fact that the time has come to ask if the human system isn’t full of human errors. I am no fan of the outsourced call centre, where “Richard” deals with my queries using a script, as adopted in the UK to make things more efficient (read cut costs).

Yet surely Luxembourg can start moving with the times and replace the manual CNS system which relies on postal delivery and a lot of photocopying and forms, with something digital, where you can upload your claim and track it. And if there is a problem, even talk to a real person rather than encounter a faceless bureaucracy demanding endless RIBs.

The government has done a great job of digitising everything around the pandemic, from large-scale testing to booking your vaccination. Can’t they do this for visa applications? Does someone really need to check my passport, photocopy and sign it when my details are already registered with the state for my ID card?

I’m tempted to say that state employment in Luxembourg seems a bit like “jobs for the boys”, creating a huge layer of nonsense bureaucracy just to keep a large number of people (and their stampers) in employment.

Maybe it’s time to make processes more efficient and more transparent, so that those of us who do contribute monthly to the coffers of the Grand Duchy can get the services we deserve. 


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