Belgian companies are very dissatisfied with the fiscal and parafiscal levies on salaries. In particular, they are frustrated with the high taxation on fixed and variable salaries and the approach to taxation of the mobility budget. Only the taxation of supplementary pensions can count on any support. With a view to the future, many companies are arguing for extensive reforms, with as the basic principle a downscaling of the profusion of fiscal and parafiscal schemes for non-statutory benefits in combination with lower levies on the fundamental elements, and in particular, the fixed and variable salaries.
These are the main findings of a detailed study on the taxation and social security of various remuneration tools by Vlerick Business School's Centre for Excellence in Strategic Rewards. As a result of the collaboration with the employers' organisations VBO and Voka, legal services provider Claeys & Engels, and HR services provider Hudson, no less than 293 companies participated in the study. The study covered three points, namely the satisfaction with the current income tax system, the obstacles companies are experiencing, and preferences for the future.
One of the survey’s main findings is that only 6% of the companies are satisfied with general payroll taxes from both a fiscal and parafiscal point of view, regardless of the size of the company. The respondents’ main criticisms related to the high taxes and advance levies on cash (including holiday pay and end-of-year bonus) and variable remuneration. They also pointed out that there are too many different systems—no less than 35 for various non-statutory benefits. Moreover, there is a difference in treatment in indirect taxation (personal income tax and corporation tax) and social security. There were also many specific criticisms about the mobility budget, such as its complexity, the impossibility of including the mobility budget in an overarching approach of flexible rewards, the absence of some mobility instruments in the mobility budget, and the fact that this scheme is much less attractive if the company is not located in an area that is easily accessible by public transport.
The study also looked at the tax treatment of 35 non-statutory benefits, examining how many companies are using them and how satisfied they are with them. The top 3 most commonly used and most appreciated benefits are company bicycles, hospitalisation insurance, and meal vouchers. At the other end of the spectrum, the researchers found that the schemes involving the reimbursement of contributions to the third pension pillar (known as pension savings schemes), share-related remuneration, private PC schemes, and intellectual property are used less and that the level of satisfaction with these is consistently below 50%.
As regards the preferences for the future, there is a clear need for extensive reforms, as only 3% of respondents want to retain the current payroll taxes. However, they are aware that these reforms cannot be straightforward reductions, and they are prepared to drop the favourable tax regime of many non-statutory benefits in exchange for lower taxation of fixed and variable salaries. Furthermore, there are loud calls to allow employees to make extras contributions to their pension plans (e.g. from their variable salaries). This would be a type of second pillar ‘plus’, under favourable conditions, and in any case more favourable than under the current scheme. Finally, the participating companies are cautiously enthusiastic about the system of unlimited social security contributions combined with limited benefits.
Xavier Baeten, Professor of Reward & Sustainability at Vlerick Business School, summarises it as follows: ‘Companies are very keen on simplifying the current income tax system. They understand that their call for a more favourable tax treatment of fixed and variable salaries must involve a downscaling of the profusion of special favourable tax regimes for various non-statutory benefits. If the government is going to reform the income tax system, which is clearly needed, it would be sensible to base the favourable tax and parafiscal regimes on various social priorities, such as sustainable mobility, financial well-being (e.g. pensions, health insurance), and support for working from home. It will be quite a job for the new government.’