The law of 27 December 2006 has introduced the possibility to establish a social ruling committee in Belgium. Only recently (11 February 2013) the Royal Decrees were issued, which rendered the committee operational.
The start of a ruling practice in social matters is a milestone in the development of Belgian social law and has been a long awaited matter. The applicable legislation is highly complex and often extremely severe penalties are applied in case errors are made in this area. At the occasion of audits, the authorities are also very strict and unforgiving. For these reasons, there is a high need for up front legal certainty is this area.
The actual start of the ruling practice in social matters is very careful and still very restricted. Indeed, contrary to taxation matters, where rulings are possible in all matters, the scope of activity of the social ruling committee is still very limited. A ruling can at this stage only be requested on the topic of the qualification of a professional working relationship, which can either be an employment relationship or an agreement for self employed service delivery.
The request does not have to cover new agreements, but can also relate to existing professional relationships. Recently, specific criteria to make a distinction between an employment contract and a self employed activity have been issued. This system is, however, only applicable for a limited number of sectors of activity (more sectors can adopt the system in the future). A ruling request can also relate to the application of these sector qualification rules.
A self employed person or an employee can take the initiative to request a ruling on the qualification of his professional relationship. He can do this at the moment of the start of the activity, the affiliation with a self employed social insurance fund or within a term of one year after the start of the professional relationship with a third party.
The decision of the ruling committee is made for an undefined period of time or for a period of 3 years, after which renewal of the decision is possible.
In case the ruling committee has made a decision, this will be binding for the related competent authorities and for the social insurance authorities. They can, however, file a request with the labour court in case they would disagree with the committee.
The cautious start of a ruling practice in social matters is an important development in the Belgian legal landscape and hopefully also other issues will in the future become subject of a ruling request.