A legislative bill has been tabled to tackle heavy fines for customers who fail to pay their electricity or hospital invoices. The new legislation would implement a waiver for the first penalty.
In certain cases in Belgium, consumers are billed a hefty fine for an unpaid invoice, even if it is a mere mistake or oversight. This penalty is given from the first incident. This can in some cases be very expensive for a consumer, and the only way to contest the fine is by taking the matter to court, which only happens in a few cases.
Now, Federal Minister of Economy and Labour Pierre-Yves Dermagne has tabled a bill to reform the law on debt collection to no longer allow creditors to charge the first reminder in the event of unpaid bills, according to reports from De Standaard. The first reminder will then be sent free of charge.
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The bill would cover all consumer debts, including those for gas and electricity, but also hospital bills, as these usually amount to high costs. It could even include parking fines, however, court debts will not be covered by the change.
As part of the tabled bill, the amicable debt collection procedure will also have to start with a formal notice, after which no further amicable collection measures can be carried out for a certain period.
Additionally, all company debts, especially those owed to consumers, are covered by the bill. "Sometimes it's an obstacle course to obtain a refund for a citizen. We often see citizens who give up because they feel that the steps required to obtain a refund are disproportionate to the amount at stake."
All bailiffs and lawyers who are involved in debt collection will also be subject to economic inspection and therefore to possible sanctions if the bill passes in parliament.