Belgium Unlocked

Drink-driving crackdown, purchasing power premium: What changes on 1 June?

Drink-driving crackdown, purchasing power premium: What changes on 1 June?
Credit: Belga

In Belgium, a new month means new laws. In June, these include the introduction of a purchasing power premium, stricter punishment for driving under the influence and more expensive consumer loans.

Stricter punishment for drink-driving

From 1 June onwards, drivers who have more than 1.2 per mille of alcohol (0.012) – down from the current 1.5 per mille (0.015) – in their blood will have to give up their licences for 15 days.

From 0.5 per mille of alcohol in the blood and up to the threshold for immediate withdrawal of the driving licence, drink-drivers receive at least a temporary driving ban of three or six hours and a fine.

The latest decision has been welcomed by the road safety institute Vias and the Flemish Foundation for Traffic Knowledge. However, the Association of Parents of Accidented Children (OVK) criticised the measure as "incomprehensible," stating that this gives drivers the impression that having a few drinks and getting behind the wheel is still acceptable. It instead called for zero tolerance.

Purchasing power premium

Companies based in Belgium that made high profits last year can now grant their employees a so-called "purchasing power premium," designed to protect workers against the cost of living crisis, proposed as a way of offsetting the lack of any wage rises in 2023 and 2024.

The bonus will amount to a maximum of €500 on top of an employee's regular salary for profitable companies that have, and a maximum of €750 for those working for companies that have made exceptionally high profits, an amount that will be granted in the form of meal and eco-vouchers.

This bonus can be awarded between 1 June 2023 and 31 December 2023 and will be valid until the end of 2024. However, as it is not compulsory, it remains to be seen how many premiums will be granted.

Converting combustion engine

A legal framework has now been put into place allowing those who want to convert a car with a combustion engine into an electric vehicle — so-called "retrofitting" — to do so. With this change, the Federal Public Service (FPS) Mobility wants to make this ecological solution more accessible to people.

In the past absence of a legal framework, modified vehicles had to be approved abroad and then technically approved in Belgium, making it a "complicated, lengthy and costly procedure that discouraged the most motivated companies and citizens," the FPS said.

The new royal decree now stipulates that fuel tanks may be removed and lists a number of further technical requirements. For instance, the power, original dimensions and permissible mass of the vehicle may not change. The regions' approval authorities for use on public roads must now publish their own rules on retrofitting.

Costly consumer loans

The credit costs that may be charged on consumer credit, expressed as the legal statutory maximum annual percentage rates of charge (APRs) will be raised again from 1 June, the FPS Economy announced.

The APRs for credit openings, including so-called "credit cards" with spread repayment and the ability to go below zero on current accounts, will increase by 1.5 percentage points if they have a variable borrowing rate and the APR is towards the maximum, which is often the case.

The maximum APRs for instalment loans and sales — a credit with periodic payments, without the possibility of borrowing again — as well as finance leases — an agreement where an asset is rented and can be bought at the end of the lease term — up to €1,250 will rise by 2.5 percentage points and those over €1,250 by 2 percentage points.

The new ceilings only apply to new credit contracts and current contracts with a variable borrowing rate, meaning they are not applicable to current contracts with a fixed borrowing rate.

Changes to childcare credit

Those who want to take time credit to care for a child, which differs from parental leave, will only be entitled to benefits from 1 June if they have been with the same employer for at least three years, rather than from the previous two-year period. This new seniority condition will apply for full-time, part-time and one-fifth periods of caring.

It will still be possible to request leave from the employer with less than 36 months of seniority, but it will not be accompanied by benefits.

The time credit system was already tightened in February of this year when career breaks in the public sector (full-time or part-time) were limited to a maximum of 48 months when caring for a child, while benefits end after the child turned five.

Only in Flanders

In East Flanders, from 1 June, visitors will have to present their identity card when they go swimming in a provincial domain.

Those who misbehave will now be denied access to the domains, according to a new swimming regulation, which was introduced following a series of incidents at several recreational parks. A blacklist will also be introduced so anyone who is banned from entering will also be refused entry at the other domains.

Finally, a new Flemish government agency will see the light of day: the Department of Care.

It arises from the merger of the Department of Welfare, Public Health and Family and the Agency for Care and Health and will unite the region's competent authorities around care and welfare. For staff, not much will change.

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