This is really an incredible story and maybe the moment when I say Belgium is not the place I shall do business in the future – but let’s see how it plays out.
I moved back to Belgium in May 2012 after my time in Paris. I started to prepare for this and created my business Capsec Business Consulting in November 2010. I was told that I would have no charges to pay (other than the cost of setting up the business) before I started to trade.
In Belgium, as the director of the business, I am treated as an independent for personal tax and social security. This means that I pay social charges (based on salary) to one organisation (there are a number that perform this role) and also an annual payment to an organisation called INASTI (an organisation that looks after the rights of independent workers).
In May 2011 I get a bill from Inasti for 347Euro for 2011 and also another bill for 2010. I pay the bill for 2011 and explain that as I was not doing business the 2010 bill is in error. They agree.
In October 2011, I get a reminder from Inasti that the bill for 2010 has not been paid. We phone them up and explain again that this is not appropriate. They agree and will drop it but please could I pay their interest charges!!! As this was only 8Euro and for the peace I thought it would bring, I grudgingly paid.
This week, I received a bailiffs demand for the 347Euro plus a further 116Euro for their costs! We quickly phoned Inasti who said yes this was a mistake and that they would write to correct it. The following day I received a letter from Inasti accepting that the bill is erroneous but – guess what – would I pay the costs of the bailiffs.
Again we phoned Inasti and said this is not acceptable. A long telephone conversation ensued during which the director said that I should have gone personally to the VAT office to get a certificate from them to send to Inasti to prove that I had not traded in 2010. If that was the case, why did you accept and write to us saying that I did not need to pay? Answer; “because we could see on our screen that you had not been trading”!!!!!!!
So I was expected to spend my time going around to different government departments collecting papers so that another government department had proof of what they could already see on their computer screen and presumably print off if necessary. Orwell could not have made this up!
We pointed out the absurdity of what the director said and eventually he agreed that we should not pay the bailiffs charges.
The next day, the next bill arrives from the bailiffs. “We understand from Inasti that you should not pay their bill for 2010. Nevertheless you must pay our charges and THERE IS NO APPEAL AGAINST THIS JUDGEMENT!.
Now these bailiffs as in other countries do not mess around. I am demanded to pay their bill by 6th April or they will be around breaking down my door and taking what they want. There has been no legal process; no court judgement. It is simply Inasti, falsely telling the bailiffs that I owe them money and the bailiffs acting – perfectly legally. Now I am expected to pay 120Euro for a mistake made by a (quasi) government department which they admit to but cannot take responsibility for.
Belgium is a very friendly place to do business.
Now, as I understand it which is not very well, Inasti is a sort of trade union for independent workers – quasi governmental – that is there to protect my rights. This is what they say on their website. Ironic isn’t it?
I’ll try to remember to tell you what happens next.