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Doctors’ fees, criminal law reform, compulsory course for newcomers: What changes on 1 June

11:25 31/05/2022

The first of the new month marks the beginning of a series of changes in Belgium, including an indexation of doctors’ fees, reforms to sex crime laws and compulsory courses for foreigners in Brussels. These are the changes that kick-off on 1 June.

2% indexation of doctors' fees 

Fees for doctors will increase by 2%, in line with an indexation agreement approved following the negotiations of the 2022-2023 medical-mutual agreement. 

Following these negotiations between sector actors, Belgium’s Council of Ministers approved a one-off supplementary budget of €207 million to support health care providers during the sharp rise in inflation, of which €112 million is for doctors. This represents an interim indexation of their fees by 2% on 1 June 2022.

Reform of sexual criminal law

The reforms of sexual criminal law – the result of lengthy work in committee – will enter into force on 1 June. The changes are intended to take into account changes in society, placing the concept of consent at the heart of the new legislation. 

The penalty for rape will increase to a sentence of 15 to 20 years, compared to the previous five to 10 years. Penalties for voyeurism are being reduced, and in certain circumstances, a judge will be able to impose alternative sentences to prison for sexual offences.

The bill also nuances the age of sexual majority at 16, allowing a tolerance from the age of 14 so long as there is consent and a maximum age difference of three years. 

It also decriminalises prostitution, but not pimping, which will be punishable by imprisonment of one to five years and a fine of €500 to €25,000. Prostitution remains prohibited for minors, and advertising is prohibited with a few exceptions. 

Prior to now, sexual offences have been considered crimes and offences against family order and public morality, as laid down in legislation dating from 1867. From now on, sexual offences will be considered to be committed against individuals. 

Practically speaking, this means doing away with the notion of “indecent assault” and broadening the notions of rape and voyeurism. Incest is also finally mentioned in the law.

Brussels’ reception programme for foreigners becomes mandatory

The welcome course for newcomers, which has existed in the Brussels Region since 2015, will become compulsory from 1 June for anyone aged between 18 and 65.

A support programme for newcomers from outside the European Union, it's been available since 2015 in Brussels, although it was previously optional. It can also be followed by EU citizens if they wish.

The course applies to everyone who registers for the first time in the foreigners' register of a Brussels municipality. But it does not apply to those who have been a legal resident in Belgium for three years or more.

After receiving their residence permit, non-Belgians in Brussels will have six months to register at a reception office, whereupon they will then have 18 months to complete the welcome course. 

The reception programme includes support with socio-administrative procedures, language courses, information on the rights and duties of all persons living in Belgium (10-hour module), and citizenship training (50 hours). 

Visits are also organised to the Parliament, the municipal administrations, Actiris, the BelVue Museum and the Migration Museum.

Local Ukrainian currency hryvnia can be exchanged in Belgium

Ukrainian refugees registered in Belgium will be able to convert banknotes denominated in their local currency (hryvnias) into euros at the counters of the National Bank of Belgium (NBB) as well as at the branches of the banks Belfius, Beobank, BNP Paribas Fortis, CBC, ING, KBC and KBC Brussels.

A maximum amount of 10,000 hryvnias can be exchanged per adult and only 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 hryvnias notes will be accepted. Proof of refugee status will be required. 

Belgium is among the first EU member state to offer Ukrainian refugees the opportunity to exchange banknotes for euros.

Orange increases some of its tariffs

Orange Belgium will increase some of its tariffs from 1 June; however, customers will benefit from an increase in the amount of data and an extension of the multi-card discounts.

Specifically, the price of mobile subscriptions with Orange will increase by between €1 and €3, accompanied by an increase in data from 0.5 to 10 GB. The prices of fixed products will also increase. 

Tariffs for the out-of-pocket costs of mobile subscriptions, international calls and roaming will also increase. MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service, meaning images and video messages) will also be charged (€0.24), whereas previously they were free.

Further increase in civil service salaries

Civil service salaries will be adjusted to match the rising cost of living and therefore will increase by 2% on 1 June. 

The central index for social benefits and wages in the public sector was reached last April, and is expected to be reached again in October 2022 and again in February 2023, but then not again until 2024, according to the Federal Planning Bureau. 

Civil service wages had already risen by 2% in February and April.

Consumers better protected by warranties 

The burden of proof is being reversed when it comes to defects that appear after delivery of a product. 

Previously, customers had between six months and two years after a purchase date to prove that a defect appeared in the product. From now on, the seller must prove that the defect was not present at the time of delivery. 

For second-hand goods, sellers will only be able to specify a period of less than two years (with a minimum of one year) if they clearly and unambiguously inform the consumer about that period.

The new guarantee rules also apply to goods with digital elements, such as smartwatches. The supply of videos, audio recordings, video games and digital services such as video on demand are also covered by the new guarantee rules, which apply to products purchased after 31 May. 

This article was updated to specify that the compulsory course for newcomers to Brussels applies to citizens from outside the EU.

 

Written by Helen Lyons