Collection cases can be brought before the Belgian courts by way of summons notified to the debtor by the bailiff.
Mostly the case will be brought before the court of the district where the debtor is located.
For debt collection cases against companies or merchants the Commercial Court is competent, cases against private persons have to be brought before the Court of First Instance.
Small claims with a stake of less than 2.500, - EUR have to be treated before the local judge called ‘Juge de Paix’.
The subpoena costs vary between 200 and 500, - EUR court fees included.
In all proceedings started by summons a preliminary hearing in court is held, where the debtor is required to be present or must be represented by a lawyer.
In many cases the debtor doesn’t respond to the summons and the case is heard in absentia, after which a default judgment is pronounced within a short term.
However, if the claim is being contested by the debtor, who hires a counselor, the court will set a date for pleadings, as well as a calender for submission of written arguments.
When the debtor is convicted by the court to pay the debt, he is not only ordered to pay principal amount, but is also convicted to pay legal interest (8,50% per year for commercial debts) and damages for late payment, on average a compensation equalling 10% of the principal amount.
Also the court costs must be fully reimbursed by the debtor.
Not only the subpoena costs have to be reimbursed, but also a compensation for lawyers' fees has to be paid, which depends on the amount claimed and for which a statutory rate has been determined.
For instance, the legal compensation for lawyers’ fees for a claim of an amount between 10.000, - EUR 20.000, - is EUR 1.210, -. EUR. This amount has to compensate the plaintiff who has had to hire an attorney. .
Many companies use terms and conditions, foreseeing an interest rate in case of late payment and compensation for the costs of extrajudicial recovery.
Such contractual damages must be paid by the debtor, but they can be reduced by the court.
For example, a fixed compensation of 15% of the invoiced amount as compensation for late payment can be reduced by the court to 10%.
Moreover, most courts do not allow a late payment penalty of 10% of the principal amount to be added to the statutory compensation for legal costs.
Even if the supplier does not have general terms and conditions of sale, the client who fails to pay within 30 days will have to be legal interest, currently 8.5% per year for commercial transactions.