Belgian residents working abroad, e.g. in Luxembourg, may have a company car registered in their country of employment. The Belgian regional tax administrations exercise checks to verify whether the user of the company car complies with regional vehicle tax rules allowing an exemption from registration of the car in Belgium and from Belgian vehicle taxes. Especially in the Walloon Region this has given rise to a lot of litigation in recent years, especially regarding Luxembourg workers residing in Belgium.

Belgian vehicle registration rules stipulate that the user of the car must have on board of the car a copy of his employment contract as well as a document drawn up by the foreign employer showing that the latter had put the vehicle at the employee’s disposal. If the driver cannot produce these documents, he is supposed by the Walloon tax administration to have violated the legal obligation to register the car in Belgium and to pay Belgian vehicle taxes.

The consequences are severe. In addition to the vehicle taxes, the driver must pay a hefty fine. Failing to pay these large amounts (often more than EUR 3,000.-) on site at the time of the road check, the authorities withhold the on-board documents of the car, which results in the immobilization of the car.

The Walloon tax administration, initially, did not pay back the vehicle taxes even if it was proven afterwards that the conditions of the exemptions of registration in Belgium and Belgian vehicle taxes were met. At first, the tax administration claimed that the vehicle taxes remained due if the employee showed the required documents only afterwards to the competent authorities. The position of the Walloon tax administration was that the employee must be able to produce the required documents on the spot during the check to be exempted from registration and vehicle taxes in Belgium.

In a recent reasoned order, the European Court of Justice (‘ECJ’) confirmed that this harsh position by the Walloon tax administration was in violation of the freedom of movement for workers. A reasoned order is issued by the ECJ a.o. where a question referred to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling is identical to a question on which the ECJ has previously ruled or where the answer to the question referred for a preliminary ruling admits of no reasonable doubt.

In other words, the ECJ confirms that the requirement to have the abovementioned documents permanently on board of the vehicle to be exempted from Belgian registration and Belgian vehicle taxes is manifestly disproportionate and thus a violation of the freedom of movement for workers.

From a practical perspective, this ruling confirms that an employee resident in Belgium but working in another member state does not have to pay the Belgian vehicle taxes (or is entitled to be paid back) if he demonstrates after the check that he met the conditions to be exempted from registration and vehicle taxes in Belgium.

ECJ (Reasoned order) 26 September 2019, nr. C.315/19.

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