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We talk to Helena Raulus of the UK Law Societies, Chair of our Single Market Task Force and member of the EU – UK Future Relations Committee

What are your biggest priorities at the moment?

As Head of the UK Law Societies’ Brussels Office, my daily work revolves mainly around Brexit right now. I have a particular expertise on the different forms of EU cooperation in judicial matters and the functioning of mutual recognition within the Single Market. Of course this has a special relevance now , as the UK and EU are currently in the act of re-defining the structure of their relationship.

The discussions in the Single Market Task Force support my work, as many of the EU internal market developments will still be of great relevance to UK lawyers and their clients who operate in the EU.

What single market issues are on the table now?

The tax transparency and fairness, and the anti-money laundering initiatives are of particular interest to the legal profession, and to businesses operating in a cross-border context. Both the EU and the UK will try to maintain an open and well-regulated digital economy, which means that there will be further proposals on data transfers, data localisation or blockchain technology.

What should we be looking out for?

Both sides will have to examine how to regulate the platforms of the sharing economy: are these really new forms of doing business? Or are they just extensions of a franchise-type of activity where the same mechanisms of employment or the provision of services for money take place? If so, how can the current regulations apply to these new businesses?

Given that these challenges are the same both for the EU and the UK, and that it is foreseeable that the EU and the UK economies will be linked for the coming decades (regardless of the shape of the ultimate deal), it is useful for me to participate not only in the Brexit discussions, but to be aware of the developments in the single market more generally. This is something that the Task Force provides me with, as I have access to its members’ broad expertise.

How do task forces work? How can members get the most out of them?

The job of the chair and vice-chairs is help ensure that the chamber’s meeting programme is really valuable to members. We advise on the priority issues for business, who are the key players and what are the key points in the decision-making process. That way we can say who members need to talk to, about what, and when.

Any member can influence our programme by letting us know what’s important to them. Drop us a line here, or talk to me or a member of the chamber team!

Our Tax, Finance & Legal Task Force is in search of a new chair. The task force consists of experts from member companies – in the fields of tax, finance, and legal matters – and aims to help chamber members understand the practical issues of doing business in Belgium, including new regulatory developments.

As our President Thomas Spiller highlighted a few weeks ago, the benefits of sitting in a leadership role outside of your organisation are multiple and potentially highly impactful; not only will it increase visibility for your company, it will also raise your personal profile and extend your network even further. As the chair of the Tax, Finance & Legal Task Force, which plans 8-10 seminars per year, you have a substantial direct influence when it comes to shaping the chamber’s programme of business events. Furthermore, you will have a seat on the chamber’s Business Development Committee where the high-level planning of 40-50 chamber events takes place annually.

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Under the steady stewardship of incumbent chair Marc Quaghebeur (De Broeck Van Laere & Partners), the task force has consistently delivered high-quality seminars on a variety of practical aspects of doing business in Belgium. Recent seminar topics have included ‘Antitrust law for trade associations’, ‘International mobility’, ‘Commercial real estate’, ‘Pensions for the self-employed, ‘Data protection law’, ‘Belgian tax shift and international exchange of information’, ‘Managing a flexible workforce’, and ‘Brexit: what would it mean for my business?’ Furthermore, the task force launched the Expat Financial Affairs exhibition, now in its fourth annual edition, as a new flagship event for the British Chamber.

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The task force consists of experts from member companies in the fields of tax, finance, and legal matters – current members represented include: De Boeck Van Laere & Partners, The Fry Group Belgium, BDO, ING, White & Case, Eryv, PwC, BNP Paribas Fortis, Santa Fe Relocation Services, and Claeys & Engels.

Applications will close on 24 June, so if you think this role might be the next leadership step for you, please do get in touch with me at glenn@britishchamber.be for an informal conversation about the chair role and the selection process.

Britcham_Financial_Event_2014 (286 of 382)Banner 5As one of our presenters at this year’s Expat Financial Affairs, Tim Carnewal of Berquin Notaries took the time to take part in a radio interview to tell us about what a notary does and how they can help you as an expat living in Brussels. He also tells us about the insights he’ll be offering during his session at the event on October 3rd. Listen to the full interview at Radio X

Some people might not be as familiar with what you do because it is not a role that is as common in every country. So specifically in Belgium, when might you need to see or want to see a notary?

You’re absolutely right, our profession was not invented but institutionalised by Napoleon, and the Belgian legislature gives us quite an important role. We assist our clients in civil law matters, real estate transactions, for example, when somebody moves into Belgium and wants to purchase a house in Brussels, Flanders or the Walloon region, he will mandatorily have to pass before a notary who will then pass the transfer deed.

We also intervene in donations, wills and marriage contracts; all contracts which are mandatorily passed before a notary. Aside from that, we also intervene in company law and the constitution of company law, modification of articles of association, restructuring of companies, mergers and demergers. These all must be overseen by a notary. We are there to see that the agreements are in perfect equilibrium and when they are not, we have to inform and advise are clients saying that clause X or Y is not in equilibrium that they should be careful signing that agreement or that contract for instance.

And this must be especially important if you don’t necessarily speak the national languages of Belgium. If you’re an English speaker moving here and buying a house there must be a potential for a lot of misunderstanding and that is where you come in?

Absolutely! Another thing is that the Belgian fiscal authorities are not very flexible from a languages perspective because deeds have to be registered at a register office who can only accept deeds that have been drawn up in Dutch, German or French; our official languages. This of course means that a lot of expat clients who don’t understand those languages, sign contracts in a language that they don’t really understand. Our role is to intervene and explain to our clients exactly what they are signing and hopefully they can trust that what we tell them is correct and that we direct them on the right course

In the example of buying a house, when should you seek advice from a notary? At the very beginning of a process? How long does it take for you guys to sort everything out?

When buying a house, in most cases, 2 steps are taken: we have the signing of the Compromis de Vente which is a private sales agreement and must occur within a maximum period of 4 months, the deal has to be signed in front of a notary. What we like to do is advise our clients from the beginning onwards. This being from when our clients sign the Compromis de Vente. In most cases the notary prepares the Compromis, sometimes a Realtor does it but in most cases a notary does it to ensure that everything is legally correct. Why do we feel that it is important that we intervene from the beginning? Of course, both parties are bound from the day that they sign the Compromis de Vente so if we do not intervene when this is signed and for instance clients contact us just to sign the deal, it may be too late because legislation has not been respected and our client may get in trouble, which is why we like to be by the side of our client from the start of the purchasing process.

Another important element of a notary’s work is on the issue of inheritance:

The European Commission and European Parliament adopted an inheritance regulation in 2012 and the regulation came into force on August 17th 2015. This is a very important regulation as it harmonises everything to do with inheritance law. For example, before the inheritance regulations we had our international private law code in Belgium. Part of this, for example, said that all immovable property was to be controlled by the state in which it was situated. This meant that if an Englishman dies in Belgium, has a bank account in Belgium and a house in Bristol. The bank account would in that case be ruled under Belgian law and the real estate would be ruled by UK law. This can turn out to be quite a complicated situation.

The EU wanted unity on inheritance. As another example, if a Dutchman dies in Belgium and has real estate in Rotterdam and Amsterdam, because of the lack of unity in this case, everything will fall under the hat of Belgian law. Why? Because the inheritance legislation says that the state in which the deceased will decide which law is applicable to his situation.

One small remark: the inheritance laws were adopted by every EU member state with the exception of Denmark, Ireland and the UK. That means that for a Brit dying in Belgium, all rules will be applicable, which is a pity but that’s the way it is.

What will you be discussing during your session at Expat Financial Affairs?

I’ll try to explain further about the EU regulations as there a lot of aspects I have not discussed, I will also point out some fiscal aspects which are important as in Belgium there are certain gift taxes and inheritance taxes, which can be quite a sensitive issue. I will also explain how making some civil choices, or bad civil choices, can sometimes give a nasty fiscal downside so I will be trying to offer some tips and tricks about that!

If people would like to get in touch with you for help with buying house or help with writing there will, how do they get in contact with you to talk about that?

The federation of Belgian notaries has a website you can access: http://www.notaris.be/ or https://www.notaire.be/ (In Dutch and French respectively). On that website you can search for your local commune and the website will show the names of the notaries in your commune.

If you would like to get personalised expert advice on a variety of areas relevant to your big life decisions as an expat in Belgium, please visit our Expat Financial Affairs website and register to join us on the 3rd of October at Vlerick Business School, Brussels. Sign up already now, and we will keep you updated on the event programme as it gets published and help you prepare for your visit in the best way possible.

Fake-Self Employed contractors – a well known issue in Belgium, but what’s in it today and how to avoid possible fines?

Sophie Maes, partner at Claeys & Engels, joined us to clarify the current rules and to highlight the recent changes that will go in practice as of 1 January 2013.
All the members who attended the seminar were either self-employed contractors or have one or more self employed contractors working for them. But one thing they all had in common, was to know whether they were at risk or not.

Sophie started with stating why so many companies hire self-employed contractors in stead of hiring them on an employee status.
Firstly because of social security fees, which form a very big chunk of employee charges in Belgium. As the person is not an employee, the company doesn’t have to pay the fees and the applicable fees are much lower for the self-employed contractor.
And secondly, because self-employed contractors offer a lot of flexibility to the companies as they’re not subject to the employee rules.
But the big treat is that the Belgian government sees those self-employed contractors as fake self-employed contractors, because their relationship between the company and the hired self-employed have too many employee relationship characteristics.
There are currently only 4 rules that define if a relationship between a contractor and a company is fake or not – see page 9 of the presentation.

But these are the theoretical rules, what does that mean in practice?
Sophie listed a lot of do’s and don’ts in her presentation, such as never say “you must” to a contractor, but “as agreed”, but what I learned is that it comes down to being self-employed in the first reason, having a certain freedom to manage your own work within the framework agreed between both parties. You deliver the work according to agreed standards and on the agreed time. How you get the work done is not the companies problem, but the self-employed contractor’s issue.
So working with a self-employed contractor must be seen as a commercial service contract, terms and conditions must be specified in the contract and that’s it, no further hassle for the company, it’s all up to the contractor to deliver the service as agreed.
A lot of questions came from the attendees on specific cases, their own or regarding the contractors they currently hire, and especially on management companies and acting as a secretary general in non-profits. A very tricky and often misinterpreted area.

Funnily enough, all the above was not new, these are the current rules… So then what will change as of January 2013?
The Belgian Government has issued some new rules, they will currently only be applicable to 4 sectors, but it is very likely that others will follow because of future political agreements or sector demand.
If you are a self-employed contractor in construction, transport, cleaning or security, please be warned. Nine new criteria have been drafted – see page 15 of the presentation – and the threat is that if 5 of these rules apply to your situation, you will be labelled as a fake-self employed contractor by the Belgian Government. Basically these rules have somewhat already been applied in case-law as interpretations of the current rules, but now they have been put on paper and this might seriously complicate things in future case-law. This is all new, so nobody knows or can predict how this will evolve or being ruled in new case law, we’ll have to wait another 2 years to find out. As the discussion went on more questions were asked, it seems – also again – that secretary generals of non-profits in the 4 related sectors could possibly face big trouble in the future, especially if they invoice from their management company. Sophie agreed to clarify this further and will write up an article for the November issue of the Tax, Finance an Legal News letter.

In the mean time you can make sure you’re if you ask for a temporarily ruling that will be valid for 3 years and reviewed after.

I hereby like to thank Sophie for this very interesting and revealing presentation as I’m sure all those present agree that it was most useful. I think all went home with at least one thing to do before the year end!

If you missed the presentation, you can find the presented data here.

I hope you found this interesting and that I can welcome you again very soon for another demystifying presentation on the chamber platform.

Topic of the discussion: One more step in the fight against so-called “fake self-employed status” – Amendment of the Belgian Act

Speaker: Sophie Maes, Partner – Claeys & Engels

Thursday, 26 October 2012

Best regards,
Petra

Claire Trotel from Snow Hill Legal, Christopher Thubron and Steve Wheeler from Moore Stephens and Marc Quaghebeur from De Broeck Van Laere & Partners, joined us for a seminar to demystify the necessity of a will. Not because they want part of your money, but because dying in Belgium could be a very costly experience for your heirs.

The intro of the seminar already indicated that the speakers would be demonstrating that Belgium is a good country to live in (a thing you probably all know), but due to inheritance tax could be a very expensive country to die in if you have a domicile in Belgium and in the U.K.

I learned that in the UK domicile and residence is not the same if you talk about inheritance. Contrary to residence, the place where you live most of the time, domicile of origin in the U.K. is a concept that stays with you even if you have lived in Belgium for a long time. If you plan on retiring outside the UK, you have to give up your domicile in the U.K. to avoid massive double inheritance taxation. Although I try to explain it in a very simplified way, this is actually specialist material and you should consult a specialist if you’re an expat in Belgium and you plan on staying here for ever.

If you are from the UK (or from anywhere elsewhere in the world), it seems very wise to me not only to consult a specialist who understands your “origin” situation, but also to consult a Belgian specialist as you will find out that inheritance law can be very different from country to country and this might actually result in having to draft not one will that covers all your assets but a will in each country where you have assets may be helpful.

Nobody plans on dying tomorrow, but if you are well prepared the exercise will not be as painful for those you leave behind and they will have something to take with them and not having to pay it all back to various governments…

As usual on this sort of subject, during the networking cocktail a lot of questions popped-up and were answered by our speakers and I am sure all present realised that being informed about these matters is key.

I would like to thank Claire, Steve, Christopher and Marc for clarifying the matters to us as brief and concisely as possible.

Furthermore I like to thank Moore Stephens FS (Brussels) for sponsoring this seminar.

Looking forward to meeting you all again at a future seminar

Best,

Petra

Topic of the discussion: Something you have to do before you die

Speakers: Christopher Thubron, Partner – Moore Stephens

                   – Marc Quaghebeur, Partner – De Broeck Van Laere & Partners

                   – Claire Trotel, Solicitor – Snow Hill Legal

                   – Steve Wheeler, Associate – Moore Stephens

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