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How to deal with the coronavirus as a self-employed person

Reinhardt Haverans
19 March 2020

Are you self-employed and experiencing difficulties due to the coronavirus? The Belgian government has developed a number of measures to help you. We’ve summarized them for you below. If at all possible to work from home, feel free to browse our tips for setting up an efficient home office.

Most documents mentioned in the text that you will need during this difficult time, are not (yet) available in English. You can turn to the National Fund with any and all questions regarding the measures taken to benefit the self-employed. You can call them every working day between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. at the free phone number 0800 12 018.

You’ve fallen ill yourself

A self-employed person who has been sick for at least 8 days is entitled to health insurance benefits from the first day of illness. To get it, you have to fill out a certificate of incapacity for work along with your doctor. You can obtain this document from your health insurance fund.

Note: do not just visit your doctor’s office for this. Call your doctor first and discuss how you can best arrange this. Do this as soon as possible, since the benefit can be paid at the earliest from the date on which the doctor signs this document.

Will you be out for a long time? Then ask your social security fund whether you qualify for the equivalence due to illness. During this equated period, you will no longer have to pay social security contributions. If the social security contributions remain due, you can request a postponement of payment, reduction or exemption. You will find more information on how to handle this below.

Finally, you are insured in the same way as an employee with regard to reimbursement of health care (such as doctor's costs).

You are not ill yourself, but your turnover is falling and/or you can no longer carry out your independent activity

Those who are not ill will still be affected by the coronavirus. For example, it is possible for you to be placed under a pre-emptive quarantine or that you cannot yet return from abroad, forcing you to interrupt your independent activity. You might get fewer customers, which in turn causes a turnover drop. The government has taken the following measures for situations like that:

Delay of payment

The self-employed experiencing difficulties due to the coronavirus can request payment deferment for the provisional social security contributions for the first two quarters of 2020 and for the final bill to be paid by 31 March 2020. This measure does not apply to contributions already paid or to a final statement.

To benefit from this measure, submit your application to your social security fund before June 15, 2020. The fastest way to do so is by email. You will find their contact details on your social contribution statement.

Be sure to make your email as clear and succinct as possible to aid your social security office in processing all applications as quickly as possible.

  • in the subject of your email: “Coronavirus payment suspension request”;
  • your customer number (you will find this on your statement);
  • your name, first name and place of residence;
  • your company number;
  • the name and registered address of your company.
  • argumentation to support how you were affected by the coronavirus (e.g. illness, quarantine, closure, drop in turnover...).

If your request is granted, you will receive a one-year extension for payment. That means:

  • the contribution for the first quarter of 2020 must be paid by March 31, 2021;
  • the contribution for the second quarter of 2020 must be paid by 30 June 2021.

During the extension period, you will retain your social benefits (child benefit, health insurance…), provided that you pay the contributions within the extended period. Failure to do so will result in the usual late fees (3% quarterly increase and 7% annual increase). In addition, unduly received benefits will be reclaimed. Finally, your VAPZ-premium (the Dutch abbreviation for your pension plan) for 2020 will not be tax-deductible.

Reduction of provisional social contributions

If your current income is below the provisional basis for calculating the social contributions, you can have your provisional social contributions reduced. You will need to demonstrate that you are affected by the coronavirus (such as a drop in turnover) and that your estimated professional income is below the legal threshold.

You can request a reduction of your provisional social contributions yourself, by contacting your social security office.

Please note: if your final income is higher than the chosen threshold, you will need to make up for the difference. You can avoid this by making sufficient additional payments in the rest of the contribution year.

Application for exemption from contributions

You can request an exemption from social security contributions altogether. If you want to request it for the first two quarters of 2020, you will have to wait until you have received the second quarter statement. An application for future quarters is not possible.

You can visit the government portal for the request form, or you can use the application form provided by your social security fund. If necessary, ask them for a copy in English or to assist you in filling out the form if an English one is not available.

Send the application by registered mail, along with the necessary supporting documents. The NISSE will then process it.

Moreover, all contract work currently planned for the Belgian government that is proven to be affected by the virus, will be exempt from fees or other sanctions.

The right of bypassing

It is also possible that a self-employed person has to interrupt their activity because of the coronavirus. For example:

  • the self-employed person must be quarantined;
  • employees are quarantined, affecting the business;
  • deliveries are interrupted;
  • there is a decrease in activity (drop in reservations, decrease in occupancy, increase in cancellations...), causing the activity to halt.

If you are not effectively ill yourself and cannot benefit from disability benefits, you can invoke the bridging right (forced termination - event with an economic impact). Currently, as an entrepreneur, you must interrupt all activity for at least one full month.

To benefit from the bridging right, you need to submit an application before the end of the second quarter after the interruption or cessation. Send the form by registered mail, along with the necessary supporting documents.

Crisis safeguard

Belgium’s government has set aside €100 million as a crisis safeguard. The sum will protect companies with outstanding debt in the form of a bridging credit in addition to the existing safeguards for investment credits and working capital.

This measure will effectively support entrepreneurs at risk of not being able to pay the basic costs that keep their business afloat without getting a loan.

Legislative amendment on the way

Theoretically, the interruption period must last at least one full month for these measures to be available to you. The government is currently investigating whether a benefit can still be granted for all forced terminations lasting at least 7 days.

The benefit would then vary between 25% and 100% of the amount of the monthly benefit, depending on the number of periods of 7 consecutive calendar days that the self-employed person is forced to interrupt:

Days of interruption

Without dependents

With dependents

7 - 13

€322,92

€403,53

14 - 20

€645,84

€807,05

21 - 27

€968,77

€1.210,58

28 +

€1.291,69

€1.614,10

 

The new regulation would come into effect for all forced interruptions from March 1, 2020 onward.

The Belgian government is working hard on keeping us updated about developments regarding COVID-19. Stay informed about the coronavirus here.

Corona hindrance premium

The Flemish government provides a hindrance premium for companies that are obligated to close due to the coronavirus.

  • For complete closure, a one-off premium of €4,000 is provided. If the business has to remain closed after 21 days, there is a fee of €160 per day. Restaurants that do not close completely but switch to take-away will also get this. The same goes for the chip shop that has to close the dining area.
  • For the weekend closure, a one-off premium of €2,000 is provided. If the business has to remain closed after 21 days, there is a fee of €160 per day.

Want to know more?

You can find a lot of information online:

This article was largely based on a Dutch-language article published by social security office Acerta. Read the original article in Dutch here.


 

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