New rules on smoking and healthcare
5 January 2004, AMSTERDAM – Important legal changes and price rises come into force in the Netherlands in 2004, affecting a range of issues from your healthcare package, smoking at work and in trains, to mortgage tax relief.
5 January 2004
AMSTERDAM – Important legal changes and price rises come into force in the Netherlands in 2004, affecting a range of issues from your healthcare package, smoking at work and in trains, to mortgage tax relief.
Most of the new regulations herald higher costs for the consumer and one of the few positive aspects will be that employers will once again be able to give their staff a tax-free Christmas present, or kerstpakket, in December.
Non-smokers or people wishing to "kick the butt" in 2004 will be pleased with the implementation of the new anti-smoking law, or rookvrijewet, which came into force on 1 January. Committed smokers, in contrast, will be hard put upon.
The new anti-smoking law is designed to protect non-smokers from the fumes and smoke produced by the 25-30 percent of the Dutch population who smoke cigarettes, cigars or pipes.
From January, everyone has the legal right to a "smoke-free workplace", according to the Dutch government, with the exception of those who work in specialist tobacco shops and staff involved in international and foreign public transport.
After a storm of protest and claims a ban would cost 50,000 jobs and millions of euros in annual revenue for the café, bar and restaurants sector, the Cabinet bowed to the pressure and agreed to exempt the industry for a period of 12 months.
Within that time, the hospitality sector — collectively known in Dutch as the horeca industry — must come up with its own suggestions for measures to protect customers and staff from unwanted smoke.
An employer may establish a smoking room, which is isolated from the main work or canteen area, but this is not obligatory.
Passengers now have an absolute right to "smoke-free travel" on all forms of public transport from taxis, buses to trains.
Smoking is banned and punishable by a EUR 500 fine on all passenger trains operated by Dutch Rail NS. Many NS services have already been "smoke-free" since late 2003 in anticipation of regulations and the ash trays in smokers' carriages were sealed.
The right to smoke in train stations is now limited, with passengers only allowed to light up on open-air train platforms.
Details of the new smoking regulations can be found in Dutch at www.rokenendewet.nl.
Separately, the excise duty on cigarettes has increased by EUR 0.55 per packet.
The New Year also sees cuts to the public healthcare system, or ziekenfonds. Reimbursements for several treatments, including the contraceptive pill, dentistry and physiotherapy are no longer covered in the standard public healthcare insurance package. Additional coverage can usually be arranged for an additional fee or consumers may opt for a private health insurance package.
Your insurer should have informed you of changes to your policy, but you may wish to ask for a synopsis in English.
Starting this year, all women in the 12th week of pregnancy will be offered a standard test for HIV, the condition which can lead to AIDS. The health authorities hope this measure will help drastically decrease the transmission of the potentially-fatal virus to babies, the government website regering.nl says.
From 1 January, parents of children born from artificial insemination can obtain the details of the medical, physical and social history of the donor. The child has the right to request this information from the age of 11.
Information can only be stored about people who donated sperm or egg cells from 1 January 2004 onwards, or in early cases in which the donor has no objection to providing the data.
Limiting mortgage relief
House owners trading up by buying a new home must use the profit made from the sale of the first property to buy the new one. The mortgage interest for the new house is tax deductible for as far as the mortgage is necessary beyond the profit of the sale of the first property.
Employment and tax
To help stimulate the employment of young and more senior people, the cabinet has introduced financial incentives for businesses.
Under the new regulations, businesses will receive a EUR 1,500 tax exemption for each young unemployed person hired.
Employers no longer have to pay the basis premium to cover employees, aged 55 and over, for the WAO disability pension scheme. Businesses will also be exempted from the employer's portion of the WAO premium for new workers, aged 50 and above, who are taken on.
On the other hand, employers are now obliged to pay 70 percent of an ill or disabled staff member's last wage for two years. Up to the end of 2003, employers only had to pay this level of wages to a non-active ill worker for 12 months.
A new social security law also came into operation at the start of the year, giving municipal authorities around the country responsibility, also financial, for the operation of the system and encouraging people to return to the workforce.
Workers aged 57.5 and older made redundant from 1 January onwards are obliged to actively seek work and to send job applications to companies. People aged 57.5 and older and who have been in receipt of a WW benefit payment before 1 January 2004 are exempted from this requirement, if they have been unemployed for less than 12 months.
The requirement to seek work does not apply to people who were made redundant before 1 January 2004 and were 57.5 or older on 1 May 1999.
Under new regulations which came into force at the start of the year, travelling between home and work is regarded as business travel. The maximum tax-free compensation for business travel is fixed at EUR 0.18 per kilometre, regardless of the mode of transport.
This means, according to regering.nl, that from 2004 onwards, every kilometre of business travel, including travelling between home and work, can be reimbursed to a maximum of 18 euro cents per kilometre.
Under new safety regulations, children older than three may no longer share a seat in a car or bus with another person.
A ban on radar detectors — devices which motorists use to detect police speed cameras — also came into force on 1 January.
The maximum tariff for passport and identity paper applications has increased by about EUR 2 per document in 2004.
The Dutch government has established a special stability fund to boost development assistance in conflict regions around the world. The aim of the fund is allow speedy and more flexible support for activities contributing to stabilising and increasing security in war-torn regions around the world.
A European Arrest Warrant came into affect on 1 January to speed the extradition of criminal suspects between member states of the EU.
Following the massive public disapproval of the taxation imposed on companies that gave workers the traditional Dutch Christmas gift hamper, or kerstpakket, in 2003, the government has relented. From this year onwards, businesses can give their staff members a present, or cadeaupakket, once a year tax free as long as the goodies don't cost more than EUR 35.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news + legal changes in 2004