Contributions are just over 16 per cent of gross income (split between employee and employer). Pension cover is continued while you’re on unemployment or other forms of income-replacement benefit, with the agency usually paying contributions on your behalf.
In order to claim an old age pension, you must have reached a certain age (normally 65) and have made contributions for a minimum period. Special conditions often apply to civil servants, miners, railway company employees and other groups. Under EU regulations, you must be given credit for contributions made to the state pension systems of other EU countries, and Belgium has social security treaties with some non-EU nations (e.g. the USA) that may allow you to receive full or partial credit for contributions made in those countries. Further information on EU pension regulations can be found in the ‘Dialogue with Citizens’ section of the EU website (www.europa.eu). Information on social security treaties with non-EU countries can be obtained from your embassy or consulate.
Old age pensions under the Belgian state system are based on retirement at 65 after 45 years of contributions (including periods on unemployment or disability benefits). Women are permitted to retire at 60, with 40 years’ contributions, but these limits are gradually being increased and will be the same as for men by the year 2009. It’s possible to apply for reduced early retirement benefit at the age of 60 under certain circumstances, although the government ‘encourages’ those needing or wishing to take early retirement to contribute to private ‘bridging pensions’ (NL: brugpensioen FR: prépensions conventionnelles).
The basic state pension is 75 per cent of average lifetime wages for those with a dependent spouse, and 60 per cent for all other retirees. You should apply to the administrative offices in the commune where you live around a year before you reach retirement age, as it can take this long to process the paperwork (this is Belgium!), especially if you’ve made contributions in other countries that need to be taken into account. Pensions are paid monthly by direct deposit into your bank account. You may continue to work after the age of 65, although your pension may be ‘adjusted’ (i.e. reduced) for earnings above certain levels.
Everyone enrolled in a health insurance plan in Belgium is automatically covered for invalidity, provided they’ve worked for at least 120 days in the six months immediately preceding the accident or illness causing the disability and are incapacitated by a minimum of 66.66 per cent. (Even disability is calculated to two decimal places in Belgium!) Benefits are equivalent to 65 per cent of previous earnings if you have dependants, or 45 or 40 per cent if you don’t (the lower figure applies if there’s other income in the household), and are payable until you reach the age of 65, when the standard old age pension replaces them.