Social Security Benefits

Understand the cover and entitlements of the Belgian social welfare system...

There are three social security systems which cater for salaried workers, civil servants and self-employed persons.

Essentially they provide benefits to replace income in the event of unemployment, retirement or inability to work through illness, work-related sickness or injury. They also provide financial support for childcare costs, new parents, healthcare and annual paid holidays. Payment frequency and method depends on the type of benefit awarded. Most benefits such as pensions or child benefit are paid direct by bank transfer at an agreed frequency – usually monthly. There is the option to receive some benefits by cheque posted to the beneficiary's address.

  • For comprehensive information concerning Belgian Social Security from the Belgian Federal Portal: Click here

The Federal Public Service Social Security website has a brochure "Everything you wanted to know about the Belgian social security system" which contains comprehensive information and addresses.

Healthcare

Belgium's healthcare system is a key tenet of the country's social welfare scheme. Once registered, all residents are covered for at least subsidised medical care (some residents qualify for fully funded medical treatment). Treatment is usually paid for by the patient at the point of care and then partially or fully refunded depending on the level of benefit for which the patient qualifies. Employees pay mandatory social security contributions and in addition are often required to join a health insurance scheme (mutuelle/mutualiteits) run by one of the private or mutual insurers. Some people choose to take out additional healthcare insurance to cover them for any amounts not refunded by their health insurance scheme.

For in depth information on Belgium's health system: Click here

Incapacity benefits

In the event of an individual being declared unfit for work as a result of an illness, there is a benefit to replace income. In most cases the employer pays a guaranteed income for 14 days for workers and 30 days for employees. At the end of this period, the benefit changes and is called a work incapacity benefit. Benefit is administered by the National Institute for Sickness and Invalidity Insurance (INAMI/RIZIV).

The amount which an individual receives depends on their salary and how long they are unable to work. Initially the benefit represents 60 percent of previous salary (subject to a maximum reference salary). However, it is adjusted downwards in some cases after the first 30 days. In all cases the amount paid from the first day of the seventh month of incapacity is reviewed and a minimum payment is made that takes into consideration an individual's family situation.

The self-employed are given a fixed sum in the event of illness or incapacity. Claimants should contact INASTI.

Occupational illnesses

The Belgian system has a list of disorders which are recognised as occupational illnesses and which normally entitle the sufferer to compensation. Workers and civil servants are covered by this benefit, but the self-employed are not. The funds are administered by the Fund for Professional Diseases (FBZ/FMP) who decide whether or not a claim is allowed.

Accidents in the workplace

Employers must have adequate insurance against accidents at work. Incidents on the way to or from work are classified as accidents at work and workers are therefore covered for these too. Employers handle any claims for benefits.

Civil servants are covered by a separate scheme. The self-employed are not insured against accidents at work. For more information consult the Fund for Accidents at Work (FAO/FAT) (in French, Dutch and German).

Benefits for families

There are several benefits in this category. Administration is handled by the National Office for Family Benefits for Salaried Persons (Office National d'Allocations Familiales pour Travailleurs Salariés/Rijksdienst voor Kinderbijslag voor Werknemers/Zentralanstalt Für Familienbeihilfen Für Arbeitnehmer, ONAFTS). They have offices in all the major cities including Brussels.

  • For further information: Click here (in French, Dutch & German)
  • To find a local office: Click here (in French, Dutch & German)

A birth grant is paid for each child (at the earliest two months before the birth) and there is also an adoption allowance paid where children are adopted. There is also conventional child benefit and additional benefits for children who are orphaned. Salaried workers, self-employed persons and civil servants can all benefit from these payments.

Other benefits exist to assist those with disabled children but these are handled by the Public Social Welfare Centre – CPAS.

Anyone who does not fall into one of the categories above can apply for a guaranteed family benefit via the social assistance scheme.

Maternity and paternity benefits

Women receive maternity benefit while on maternity leave. The benefit is equivalent to 82 percent of salary for the first 30 days and then drops to 75 percent, subject to a maximum salary.

Women may take up to 15 weeks maternity leave. At least eight weeks must be taken after the birth and at least one week must be taken before the date when the baby is due.

Following the birth of a child, the father has a right to ten days paternity leave, seven of which will be paid for by the social security system at 82 percent of salary (subject to a maximum).

There are similar benefits in the event of an adoption.

  • Administration of these benefits is handled by ONAFTS/RKW

Annual paid holidays

The Belgian system makes a distinction between workers and employees. Employees have their paid holidays provided for them by the employer.

Workers are entitled to paid holidays too, but the number of days depends on the number of days worked in Belgium during the previous calendar year. This means that there is no payment in the first year of working in Belgium and that for the second year of working it is proportional to the number of days worked in the first year.

Paid leave is usually a minimum of 20 days after one year's service.

Payment for workers comes from the National Holiday Allowance Office (Office National des Vacances Annuelles, ONVA/Rijksdienst voor Jaarlijkse Vakantie, RJV/Landesambt Für Jahresurlaub).

  • For information on local offices or to check entitlement and payment dates: Click here (in French and Dutch)

Unemployment benefit

Anyone who loses their job has a right to unemployment benefit as long as they fulfil certain criteria. They must have worked for a certain number of days within a given period and be able and available to work. New arrivals who have not yet worked in Belgium will normally be refused unemployment benefit.

Time Credits

Belgium has a scheme for those who want to work less or stop work completely for a period. It is designed to help those who wish to spend time with their children or who need to care for a sick person. Under the scheme workers receive an interruption allowance during the period of reduced hours or no work.

Not all employers offer this scheme and there are limits on the number of staff taking advantage of this scheme at any one time. Separate rules also apply to those over 50. New arrivals in Belgium will have to build up entitlement before they can take advantage of this scheme.

Pre-retirement pension and pensions

Another scheme, which is now being scaled down, is the pre-retirement pension. Under this arrangement companies found it easier to lay off older workers as they received additional compensation (the pre-retirement pension) as well as standard unemployment benefit.

The retirement age in Belgium is 65 for men and was 60 for women. However, this has gradually been increasing and by 2009 the retirement age for women will be 65 as well.

There is a statutory pension paid on retirement (at the official age or older). Entitlement to the statutory pension is acquired by working. Anyone spending time in Belgium and working builds up their entitlement under the Belgian system. Widows and widowers are also entitled to an amount following the death of a spouse who was entitled to a pension. Payment of a pension can be quite complex as there are different schemes depending on employment status at the time of retirement e.g. employee, civil servant or self-employed.

Most people also take out supplementary plans. Some of these individual and group schemes have tax advantages for workers and are government supervised. The self-employed can also take out supplementary pensions with either social insurance funds or with private companies.

Social Assistance Benefits

These benefits are available to those who are not included in the social security system outlined above. They are financed by taxation revenue.

Social assistance is dealt with by the Public Social Welfare Centre (CPAS/OMCW) present in each municipality. It is there to provide everyone with a minimum income which will enable their integration in society. It also deals with guaranteed incomes for families, the elderly and the disabled.

Transferring Benefits

In certain circumstances benefits can be transferred to Belgium from another country. Contact the local social security office in your home country before departure to see if any existing benefits can be transferred to Belgium.

Pension benefits are transferable for EEA citizens. Where an EEA citizen has worked in two or more EEA countries they can combine state pension contributions paid in each country in order to qualify for a level of benefit.

Further Information