1. Loi De Croo (Belgie programmawet 2016021055)
On 1 July 2016 the Belgian government introduced Belgie programmawet 2016021055, or Loi De Croo (named after its initiator Alexander De Croo), a favourable tax regime at national level to create a more positive environment for new forms of work. It provides that platform workers will be taxed at a rate of 20% with 50% deduction and be exempt from VAT and social security contributions, if their income is below the threshold and all other conditions are met.
Separate legislation came into force in 2017, which allowed students to work as self-employed and which supported platforms in hiring workers on a part-time and freelance basis. Thus, companies such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo chose to rely on the De Croo-framework for contracting couriers (for more information on the responses to Deliveroo’s shift from trade union cooperation to self-employment see here). As of January 2018, the income limit was raised to 6130€ per year (€500 per month) and the taxation was lowered to 0%.
The motivation behind this Programme Law was to encourage the proliferation of the platform economy, by minimising the administrative burden for platforms and platform workers.
Scope of the initiative
Articles 35-39 and articles 40-43 of the law insert several changes to the 1992 Income Tax Code and the Value Added Tax code. Under the law, earnings obtained through platform work are classified as ‘miscellaneous income’ instead of ‘income from professional activities’ (Art. 90, 1°bis ITC 1992), and exempted from Value Added Tax, as long as the total income obtained from platform work remains below a maximum level (€5,000 per year in 2016, indexed) and certain other conditions are met. Those conditions are:
- services are provided exclusively by natural persons who are not acting in the context of their professional activity
- services are provided through platforms that are recognised by a public authority or have received an official accreditation
- fees related to platform work are only paid or granted to the worker by the platform.
When the above conditions are met, the income gained through platform work is taxed at a 10% rate instead of 33% as ‘miscellaneous income’ typically is. The 10% rate is calculated as follows: the 33% tax rate is reduced to a 20% tax rate to which a fixed cost deduction of 50% is applied. Platform workers who earn less than the threshold are not required to register as self-employed workers, pay VAT or social security contributions.
This Programme Law is accompanied by the Royal Decree of 12 January 2017, which sets the conditions that platforms need to meet to be able to apply for official accreditation. Importantly, although platforms must be accredited for their workers to use the favourable tax regime, this is not a prerequisite for platforms to operate in Belgium. Therefore, the list of officially accredited platforms held by the Federal Public Service Finance is none-exhaustive as regards to the total number of platforms operating in Belgium.
To be eligible for accreditation platforms must fulfil the following criteria:
- The platform is set up within a company or non-profit association established in accordance with the legislation of a Member State of the European Economic Area or a state whose companies must be treated in the same way as Belgian companies in Belgium pursuant to an international agreement.
- The company or non-profit association’s registered office, main establishment or seat of management or administration is located in the European Economic Area or in a state whose companies must be treated in the same way as Belgian companies in Belgium pursuant to an international agreement.
- The company or non-profit association is registered in the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises for that activity as a commercial or craft enterprise, or it is registered in the trade register in accordance with the legislation of the Member State of the European Economic Area or the state whose companies must be treated in the same way as Belgian companies in Belgium pursuant to an international agreement.
- The company or non-profit association has a company number assigned by the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises which counts as a VAT identification number and contains the letters BE, or, in the absence of such a company number, has a VAT identification number in the Member State of the European Economic Area or in the state whose companies must be treated in the same way as Belgian companies in Belgium pursuant to an international agreement.
In 2018, the government set up a revised scheme for platform work. The new legislation on ‘economic recovery and the strengthening of social cohesion’ of 18 July 2018 amended the 2016 law. Under this new scheme, platform workers can earn up to €6,000 annually (in 2018, indexed), fully exempt from taxes and social security contributions through platform work via an accredited platform. Services carried out within the terms of the scheme do not fall within the scope of general labour legislation and do not contribute to the acquisition of social rights.
The 2018 legislation was annulled by the Constitutional Court in Judgment no. 53/2020 of 23 April 2020, following a complaint launched by multiple trade unions, employers’ organisations, sectoral federations, and civil society organisations. The plaintiffs argued that the 2018 framework threatens regular jobs, creates unfair competition vis-à-vis the self-employed and is discriminatory in terms of labour legislation and social protection. The Constitutional Court followed this line of reasoning and nullified the legal framework.
The 2016 framework came back into force on 1 January 2021. The platform automatically deducts the taxes due from the amounts it deposits into the platform worker’s account. The platform pays the tax directly to the Federal Public Service Finance. The income gained through platform work will automatically appear in platform workers’ tax return as ‘sharing economy’. At the beginning of the year, platform workers receive the tax sheet 281.29 indicating their earnings from each platform they have worked for.
Scale of the initiative
As of 2019, 68 platforms have registered with the scheme, including well-known platforms such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats. The number of registered platforms has increased to 127 in 2020.
Strengths and weaknesses
This was one of the first initiatives implemented by a Member State to tackle taxation of income earned in the platform economy. Because tax is collected at the source with the participation of platforms, the initiative seems to be effective in reducing the administrative burden for workers.
Furthermore, the accreditation system for platforms enables the government to obtain an understanding of the number of platforms operating in the country. As the list of platforms is public, this information is also available to social partners, labour market actors and the general public. However, seeking accreditation is voluntary, which means that the list is not exhaustive, and that particularly during the inception phase, the list was not updated regularly and often featured platforms that had ceased to exist or had been taken over.
Social partners have taken a critical stance towards the initiative, arguing that the law overlooks critical issues impacting on workers (for example the unclear employment status of those earning less than the threshold, the lack of attention to working conditions or the lack of social protection coverage). Social partners also argued that the law unfair competition between self-employed workers and companies operating in the same sectors.
A much-discussed issue is that platforms such as Deliveroo and UberEats have received an accreditation, but the Federal Public Service Finance has argued that the income gained through these platforms would not fall under the legal framework because the services are provided for restaurants (not peer to peer).
Currently, the Belgian ministry of labour aims at establishing a uniform framework for all recognized platforms in Belgium, which would require them to employ their workers. As of November 2021, new legislation is being drafted and intended to be launched by the end of 2022. The drafting process is accompanied by a public consultation procedure via a citizen participation website, which gives workers, users, partner traders and the platforms themselves the opportunity to enter a dialogue and raise concerns.
- no specific sector focus