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    2020: New Year brings major changes

    Neutral cigarette packages are already obligatory in France © EPA

    The New Year which arrives this coming Wednesday sees a wide range of changes in Belgium involving medicines, cigarette packets, postage stamps and more.

    Cigarette packets will have to be neutral (photo), without displaying any brand symbols, only a graphic photograph accompanying a health warning. The measure also applies to all tobacco and smoking-related products such as rolling and pipe tobacco, cigarette paper, filter and ready-made paper tubes. The greenish brown packages which will now be all that is displayed on the shelves are intended to be less attractive to young people.

    Average net wages will increase by €10 a month because of a change to the indexation of tax rates, SD Worx calculated. This is much less than the 2019 increase of 2.16%.

    Some 470,000 office workers, members of the parity committee 200, will see a 0.8% pay rise in January, the result of changes to the relation of salary to working age.

    In March social benefits including pensions will increase by 2%, as a result in changes to the index. The pay of government workers will go up a month later by the same amount.

    The benefits paid out for special leave will increase by 4.5% in January. This applies to parental leave, leave for medical accompaniment and palliative leave. But the increase in parental leave allowance applies only to single parents.

    Telecommunications company Proximus will increase some of its tariffs from 1 January. In particular, the packages Internet + TV, Tuttimus and Familus become more expensive, increasing by 1%, 1.5% and 1.5% respectively. Telephone tariffs are also expected to rise by an amount yet to be announced. Other telecoms operators have not announced any increase at this time.

    The National Bank (NBB) has asked commercial banks to be more prudent in granting mortgages in 2020, after the NBB and the EU detected some vulnerability in the mortgage market in Belgium. The bank has set a 90% maximum mortgage for properties bought to occupy, while for properties bought to let the ceiling goes down to 80% of the property’s value.

    The charges applied by retail banks to current accounts will increase by up to €10 a year for a professional account at ING, 50 cents a month for private accounts at BNP Paribas Fortis, and 50 cents for every cash withdrawal at Axa.

    The cost of postage stamps for inland mail will increase by an average of 5.1%, although the increase for a sheet of ten priority stamps goes up by more than 21% to €11.80. For non-priority stamps, a sheet of ten increases by 6.5% to €9.80.

    Smoke detectors become obligatory in all residences in Flanders, while ionisation smoke alarms are banned in all of Belgium.

    The new Belgian Corporate Governance Code comes into force, which aims to make company boards more diverse. Not only must one-third of all board seats be held by women, but boards must also be more diverse as to “competences, background, age and gender.

    The wages of working prisoners go up from 62-69 cents an hour to between 75 cents and €4. Prisoners will also be entitled to be paid even if they are prevented from working by a strike of prison staff.

    The use by the public of synthetic weedkillers is banned from 1 January. Any leftover product may no longer be used Police and local authorities have the job of enforcing the ban.

    A new system of child allowances comes into force in Brussels and Wallonia. Flanders introduced the new system in January 2019. The new basic allowance is €140 euros for children born before 1 January, and €150 for those born after. Supplements applied according to the family situation and income will also increase. There is also a one-time premium of €1,000 for a firstborn child, and €500 for a second child.

    The payment of legal experts including interpreters and forensic experts will be speeding up by a new administrative system introduced by justice minister Koen Geens. The average waiting time for payment in 2018 was 154 days, which Geens aims to cut to 60 days in 2019.

    A new code of conduct for pharmacists will be introduced by their professional order, allowing them to advertise, including on social media, as well as offer price reductions on non-pharmaceutical products. The Order was fined €225,000 earlier this year for the existing code banning the two practices.

    The road toll introduced for trucks in 2016 will be indexed by 0.2 cents per kilometre in Wallonia on 1 January, and in Flanders and Brussels six months later. At the same time, new sections of the toll-road network will be added, including sections of the N224, N246, N5, and N610.

    Related: Previous reports on changes to come in 2020

    Motorcycles and scooters to adopt European emissions standard Euro 5

    Water bills in Brussels set to increase slightly

    Doctor consultations costs to increase in 2020

    Will 2020 be the breakthrough year for electric vehicles?

    Flanders bans disposable cups at events

    Major Belgian brewers set to raise beer prices

    Flanders ends grant for electric cars

    226,000 more diesel cars banned from Brussels in 2020

    Several syrups against cough and cold to be withdrawn from shelves

    Electronic prescriptions mandatory from January

    The Brussels Times