Debt collection in Belgium – some rules of thumb
How to collect debt in Belgium
By ETIENNE VAN DER VAEREN
July 25, 2018
HEVERLEE, Belgium (TCM NEWSROOM) – Debt collection in Belgium can be a worryingly complex affair, yet with adherence to clear rules of thumb and with careful guidance, your life is made easier.
As a member of the European Union, Belgium is listed among the relatively rich countries of the world. Moreover, it has a reliable legal system and is a signatory to most of the international treaties that facilitate equity in international trade. And yet these things do not ensure that all debts get paid on time.
Avoid difficult situations through documentation
The main way to limit bad debtors is to maintain strong supporting documentation. Doing so will reduce possible misunderstanding, deter possible ill-will, and boost your chances should you need to go to court. Here are some clear guidelines:
- Don’t deliver if you don’t have a signed contract or order form. If you are in possession of an order form, ensure that your general sales conditions are accepted (i.e. signed) by your client.
- Determine which courts and legal system will apply in case of a dispute. Whether you choose your own country’s or Belgium’s system will depend in large part on the laws and regulations of your country. If your country is an EU member, then favour your own country’s system. In numerous cases and in many circumstances, sticking to your own country’s laws and courts is an optimal solution as it limits costs and offers excellent protection. Generally, you can enforce foreign judgements in Belgium, especially if these judgements originate from OECD countries.
- If your client is a company, check its solvency before delivery. In an age of online transparency and accessibility, this is easy to do. It is also essential.
- For more guidelines, see our quick guide to credit management.
You delivered but they don’t pay
Your invoices should carry a clear payment due date. International payments can take up to three days and in exceptional circumstances another three days. If you don’t have the money in your bank account after this time, you should act. Do so promptly, as successful debt collection in Belgium depends greatly on prompt action.
The first step is probably to phone your client and then confirm that your conversation took place, and its content, in an email thereafter. But if you have large volumes of small invoices, you will need to cap expenses, waive the phone call, and send reminders.
The phone conversation should tell you why your invoice hasn’t been paid - if not in plain clear words, then in what is understood between the lines. If there is a valid dispute on your performance, find an immediate solution for any outstanding item, even if it is relatively insignificant. Otherwise get a promise of payment and get it in writing.
They promise payment, but they don’t live up to it
The common practice in Belgium is to pay debts on time and to live up to promises. That said, about 3% to 5% of invoices remain unpaid. For 80% of these, the problem is not even financial as the debtor has the means to pay but doesn’t for various reasons.
At that stage, you probably need help from collection specialists located in Belgium. Indeed, Belgium is a complex country with three official languages (NL, FR, DE) depending on the region and has elaborate and changing laws that make a significant distinction between consumer and business debts. The list on Belgium’s complexity goes on.
How to choose your debt collector
You choice is wide and varied, as Belgium has a debt collectors association and about 20,000 attorneys at law. If you don’t want to go through the lengthy selection process, you can address TCM Belgium, TCM Group’s local office.
Mr. Etienne van der Vaeren is CEO of TCM Belgium and one of TCM Group’s honourable and distinguished directors.