Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Red Belgium

First I started a humorous post about the disastrous city of Antwerp. Then I wrote a draft about friendly bus drivers in Ghent. There was even another in the oft-deleted 'How to flirt with a feminist' series.

But what you're actually going to get today is another Rant.

I just spent the morning flitting among the crowded cubicles of PartenaMut. This is a health insurance entity which seems to sort out all sorts of things like social security for freelancers, health care, etc, etc. I just want to be able to go to the doctor, basically.

Now at the moment my business is registered in the UK, since that's been my home/business address for the past year or so. I have a tax ID there, I pay National Insurance, I even have an accountant of sorts (at least, I have a contact at Tax Assist, which is sort of the tax return equivalent of Easyjet). I'm not registered for VAT, because my business is literally worth about twelve grand a year and because my overheads barely reach a thousand pounds, so it would be an expensive and largely useless gesture which would result in my losing clients.

I fully intend to register myself in Belgium, but not before I have to.

Here's the thing: to interpret in Belgium, I have to have an address in Belgium, otherwise clients are obliged to pay my travel expenses to avoid unfair competition (and I'm in favour of this, since I think interpreters should have their travel expenses paid and this is all very right and good).
However, if I have an address in Belgium, that means that I have to live in Belgium (the police already came around to check) and subsequently pay taxes in Belgium. Since I'm already going to have to pay taxes this year in the UK, I'll end up in the kind of double-taxation situation that the good old U of E is supposed to prevent.

Social security, now there's an interesting concept. I am fed up with paying extortionate social security contributions in other European Union Member States when there's not even the faintest likelihood of my drawing a pension there (not that I'd want to, in Poland OAPs' weekly incomes are minute). Since I graduated in 2006 I've paid contributions in both France and Poland and it looks likely that I'll now have to pay in Belgium as well, and all for what exactly? I still have to pay into a mutual fund to get my prescriptions reimbursed. Call me when there's a pan-European transferable pension scheme and I'll be happy to pay you upwards of 600 Euros per quarter.

Because, yes, that's the lowest social security contribution here.

As a self-employed person in the UK, I currently pay around 30 GBP per quarter in National Insurance. And I can visit the doctor there without taking my credit card or a wad of cash.

In Belgium, the lowest income bracket (11,824.38 per year, don't ask me how they came to this figure), net of income tax, which corresponds roughly to my situation, pays 631.45 euros of social security per quarter - that's four times a year! That would leave that person with 92,98.58 euros in their pocket (have we already subtracted VAT?)!

I'm giving up work altogether. Why on earth do I bother working like stink and learning difficult Slavic languages and quite possibly incubating stress-related heart disease to emerge in my forties, when I might as well sit at home on my derrière and claim 900 euros a month in unemployment benefit? I could spend my days reading Polityka on the sofa, uninterrupted by phonecalls from tiresome translation companies!

I have never lived in a country less favourable to private enterprise (apart from France).

I see a twofold choice ahead of me: I move back to my parents' house and get a job in McDonalds (pray tell me, why did I take out a fortune in loans for an education that has turned out to be largely useless?) or... I move back to Krakow, continue working under my UK registered company and simply pay for cheap private healthcare in zloty...


Frances said...

Oh Christ, it's hellish, isn't it?

I'm here too, same job, if you want any help. Actually, my situation isn't, ahem, 100% correct, but I have a colleague who is registered as self-employed in the UK and told the commune, which then registered her address here too. This means she has a proper real address here, but all NI etc is done in UK. If you do that, all you pay here is about €80/year as a kind of council tax thing. They will send you a tax return, but you can tell them your situation and it's fine...

It's such a frigging pain int he arse, though...

pinolona said...

Yes! Yes!! Help would be great!
I've just spent the evening trying to calculate how much I have to invoice per month to end up with a liveable minimum after contributions, VAT, etc :s

Headaches all round.

To be fair, the commune doesn't seem to have a problem with me earning somewhere else, it's just with health insurance etc. that I start having problems. I wouldn't have bothered except I ended up in A&E one evening and it's going to cost me a fortune... bit of a long story there.

Are you a translator or interpreter or both?

Frances said...

I'm an interpreter. I didn't do the whole social security thing, but I was bothered about health insurance, so I got AXA PPP, which is expat Brits health insurance (about £800/year, for the whole world). Now my experience with them wasn't the best, but I think I was a bit unlucky, as have colleagues who swear by them. It's good if you don't want to get into the social security system, which I didn't.

Also, I tried to be very very legal, and came good and clean with the commune, and they accepted my private insurance, as there is no obligation to pay into social sec, you just have to prove you have health cover ('prove' for what, I'm not sure. It's not like they can deport us....)

pinolona said...

gosh that sounds like a bargain compared to social security - I'll have to look into that. Thanks for the tip!!

They're funny about all this proving aren't they? I was really worried I wouldn't get my label on the doorbell before the police came around...

Michael Dembinski said...

In Poland you can continue paying your NI contributions in the UK while working here. Why can't the Belgians accept such a principle? This case needs to go to Strasbourg.

You must leave Brussels! Your soul revolts against the place!

Return to Kraków! (And then Edinburgh's a lovely place to live and work)

pinolona said...

Thanks Michael!
I think I can continue with my UK registered company here, so long as I still have an address in the UK (which I do) and so long as I make it clear that I'm only here for a certain amount of time, for work.

Actually, I think in Poland I would probably eventually have to set up a działałność and pay ZUS etc. From what I've heard from znajomi tłumaczy, people are jolly pissed off about the loss of the flat-rate income tax on freelancers too...

My soul isn't exactly rebelling against Brussels: socially I think it's a pretty cool city to live in. I'm getting used to the klimat too (and it's nice to have autumn again). However my business brain is definitely reeling from all the bureaucracy!

I know Edinburgh is lovely: I saw your post already :) Plus my sister lives there, so I get to visit lots (ok, a couple of times a year). Not a huge demand for French/Italian/Polish interpreters in Scotland though...

Raf said...

It is tough, but it's a proven fact that communism works here in Belgium. We all love it. Long live the King! (King Albert II)

Michael Dembinski said...

In Poland, I do Umowa o Dzieło. You pay 50% of the tax rate of normal mortals (ie 9% up to the 85,528 PLN/a year threshold, then 16% thereafter). And NO ZUS. Which I pay in the UK. No wretched działalność gospodarcza, crawling on one's knees to urzędasy.

Umowa o Dzieło is brilliant - but only for writing, editing or translating - indeed anything with a creative (intellectual property) element.