Covid-19 ׀ Lockdown in Belgium: what are the consequences and support measures for your business?

Written on 23 Jun 2020

Following the World Health Organisation's announcement on 12 March 2020 that Covid-19 constituted a pandemic, several states have gradually introduced control measures and ordered the closure or submission of companies to strict labour regulations. Belgium has taken measures in two phases, having implemented a partial lockdown on 13 March 2020, followed by a full lockdown on 18 March 2020. In order to limit the impact on the economy to some extent, the government is intervening with a number of support measures for affected businesses. 

This is the updated version of our original article of 5 May 2020

At the time of writing, most businesses offering goods and services to consumers are allowed again to open to the public, subject to certain conditions depending on their sector in order to guarantee the safety. All businesses are still encouraged to use teleworking and have to respect the rules of social distancing. The following businesses are still closed and will be allowed to open on a later date:

  • As from 1 July: Event halls, theaters, cinemas, amusement parks, concert halls, casinos, wellness centres and public pools.
  • As from 1 September: Dance halls, nightclubs and large events such as festivals.

While the reopening of businesses will have a positive impact on the economy, many enterprises will need exceptional support and guidance in the coming months. The government is trying to respond as rapidly as possible to the shifting needs of the nation and it is likely that some of the measures discussed here will be extended or adapted beyond the initial time frame.

Support measures

In order to limit the impact on the economy to some extent, the government is intervening with a number of support measures for the affected businesses.

Wallonia

In Wallonia, a compensatory premium of €5,000 has been provided for small and very small businesses or natural persons engaged in a self-employed activity as a main or secondary occupation, as well as for businesses closed as a result of the measures and operating in certain sectors (hotels and catering, accommodation, retail trade, recreational and sporting activities, travel agencies and related activities). The allowance can be granted only once per undertaking. In addition, a system of loans and guarantees was set up for bridging loans of up to €200,000.

The Walloon region has furthermore provided for an additional allowance of €2,500 for self-employed persons and enterprises which (i) have had to interrupt their activity substantially in March and April 2020 and did not benefit from a COVID-19 compensatory premium. Self-employed persons must have benefited from the full bridge entitlement for the months of March and April and enterprises must have put the majority of their employees on temporary unemployment due to coronavirus.

Flanders

In Flanders, the "corona nuisance premium" amounts to €4,000 per company that was forced to close down. In case there are several operating sites, this allowance can be granted a maximum of five times. As from 6 April 2020, an additional compensation of €160 per day is automatically granted to companies that received compensation on 5 April 2020, for each additional day of closure (insofar as it corresponds to an opening day in normal times) until the end of the special measures.

In addition, a premium of €3,000 is provided for companies that are not obliged to close but are affected to a large extent by the corona crisis. A loss of turnover of at least 60% must have been suffered for the period from 15 March to 30 April 2020 compared to the same period last year. If the company has several points of sale, this compensation can be multiplied by the number of points of sale (maximum five).

Businesses can also claim an additional compensation premium of €2,000 in case they face a loss of turnover of 60 percent in the period of 1 month after reopening compared to the same period last year. For shops this is the period from 11 May until 11 June. For HORECA this is the period from 8 June until 8 July. This additional premium can be claimed by all businesses that were eligible for the first compensation premium, as well as by all businesses that were eligible for the corona nuisance premium, on condition that the loss of turnover can be proven and that the business effectively reopens and restarts activities.

On top of this, businesses with commercial leases in Flanders can apply for a special loan that will cover one or two months of rent to a maximum of €35,000, on the condition that the lessor waives the same period of rent. The money is sent directly to the lessor and the lessee will pay off the loan over a maximum of two years. In addition to commercial leases, the loan can be obtained for all legally equivalent structures, such as usufruct, superficies or brewery contracts.

Brussels

In Brussels, a compensation of €4,000 is provided to each company forced to close down, and belonging to certain sectors (hospitality, accommodation, retail, recreational and sports activities, travel agencies and related activities), on the condition that it does not employ more than 50 full-time employees. In the event of more than one operating site, this compensation may be granted a maximum of five times.

In addition, self-employed persons and enterprises that have at least one operating site in Brussels and which are not obliged to close down but which experienced a significant drop in their activities due to the measures taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are able to claim compensation of €2,000, on the condition that (i) they do not employ more than five full-time employees (ii) they did not ask for any coronavirus compensation , (iii) pursue an economic and commercial purpose and (iv) did not receive more than €200,000 of 'de minimis' aid during the current financial year and during the last two financial years. Furthermore self-employed persons or the self-employed manager of the enterprise must have benefited from the full bridge entitlement for the month of March or April. If the manager is an employee of the enterprise, the majority of the enterprise's employees must have been in temporary unemployment due to the coronavirus in March or April.

Recognised businesses with social activities that are not eligible for the other measures by the Brussels region, can apply for a separate compensation premium of €2,000.

The Brussels Region has also launched a new emergency loan (the 'RECOVER loan') in order to promote the restart and development of economic activities impacted by the Covid-19 crisis by helping self-employed workers, very small enterprises and social enterprises to reduce the cash flow tensions. Therefore this loan must be used for the reconstitution of working capital, the acquisition of inventory and the payment of arrears. The conditions of eligibility of this loan differ according to whether the enterprise has been constituted more or less than two years ago but basically the enterprise must prove that it was in good financial health before the crisis.

Federal

At the federal level, there is an agreement with banks to allow postponement for (residential) loans and credits up to a maximum of six months, until 31 October 2020 at the latest. Income must have been diminished (or completely eliminated), there may be no overdue payments since 1 February 2020, it must be a loan linked to the only residence that is considered as the main residence and one may not have more than €25,000 savings in the current and savings account (incl. Investment portfolio). Depending on the applicant's net salary (< €1,700 ), it may be decided not to charge interest for the deferral.

It is also stipulated that businesses permanently established in Belgium may postpone the repayment of their loans (only for loans with a fixed repayment plan, cash loans or fixed advances) for a maximum of six months, if the coronavirus crisis is causing payment difficulties due to a fall in turnover, temporary or total unemployment or compulsory closure. In addition, the company must not have overdue payments on 1 February 2020 for outstanding credits, taxes or social security contributions or, in case there are overdue payments, less than 30 days in overdue payments on 29 February 2020 and it must have met all its contractual credit obligations with all banks in the last 12 months before 31 January 2020 and must not be subject to active credit restructuring.

Furthermore, on 24 April 2020, a temporary moratorium on businesses has been put in place until 17 May 2020: any company experiencing difficulties as a result of the Covid-19 crisis but which was healthy on 18 March will be protected from seizures, bankruptcy or judicial dissolution requested by its creditors and its contracts may not be terminated for non-payment of invoices. The moratorium was extended until 17 June 2020 but, at the time of the writing, the moratorium has just expired.