When you decide you want to settle down in Ghent, you will probably start looking for a property to buy. With the housing prices in Ghent city growing steadily over the past few years, chances are you have to choose between two options: downsizing from your original expectations or buying something that needs to be redone.
If you go for the second option, you should be aware that Belgium and its many government levels are supporting homeowners with different subsidies. Some are aimed at improving the energy efficiency of your home, as Flanders is set to go nearly zero-energy in housing by 2021. Others help make your home safer to live in (e.g. redoing your ancient electricity installation) or more accessible to people with disabilities.
This article avoids references to specific sums because the exact amounts are more along the line of “it depends”. Additionally, sums, income limits and other conditions change often, sometimes even during the year. In general, however, you can expect: the subsidies are calculated as a certain percentage of the final invoice and are capped at a certain amount. The maximum sums are on average between 500 and 1,500 EUR, but for higher investments can be as high as 10,000 EUR.
In effect, the subsidies are meant to guide citizens towards making the renovation choices that the government has deemed as right and important: improving the living conditions for everyone (e.g. making sure everyone has central heating in their home), decreasing the country’s carbon footprint (e.g. energy efficiency measures), making homes safer for those with reduced mobility (seniors and handicapped).
Note that there are several factors influencing your eligibility for subsidies:
- Type of works: check the specifications for subsidised works in advance (for example, a certain thickness of roof insulation etc.)
- Your financial situation: people earning over a certain amount are not eligible. This amount is based on your taxable income over the past 2-3 years and is viewed per household, including anyone over 18 living at the same address. This means that for married and cohabiting partners and their grown-up children their joint income will be checked. The tax statement forms (aanslagbiljetten) are among the most important pieces of papers for all types of subsidies (besides the complete invoice from your contractor, of course), so make sure you find it asap.
- If you have lost your aanslagbiljetten, you can always ask for a copy at the local tax authority (in Ghent that’s at Zuidertoren).
- Note that you will need to present this paper even if you have not had any taxable income in Belgium in the past 3 years.
- Your location: some of the subsidies are meant to stimulate the development of certain city neighbourhoods. Currently (2017), renovating a home in the Rabot or Dampoort neighbourhoods could bring you some extra support from the city. Obviously, the city of Ghent subsidies are only available for property within the city limits. If you live in neighbouring communities (e.g. Merelbeke, Wachtebeke, Sint-Martens-Latem …) check with your local authorities about available subsidies.
- Other relevant factors: people with a disability and people in a precarious financial situation have access to more subsidies.
- Your status: some of the subsidies can be claimed by either the owners or the tenants of an apartment (i.e. whoever pays for the investment), but this is not always the case. If you are renting a place and are considering investing in it, check this in advance to avoid disappointment.
- Contractor: for most subsidies you will need to work with a registered contractor and have a complete invoice detailing the types of works carried out and including the company’s VAT number. Some subsidies allow people to do their own work (e.g. roof insulation), however, you will still need to provide proof of purchase of the materials used.
This being Belgium, there is no centralised subsidies services: you will need to check who to contact about needed forms and where to send them. The dates for application also differ, but be aware that it is best to ask for financial support right after the works have been done.
The city of Ghent is well aware of the fact that citizens don’t always have the patience or time to sift through different sources in search of government support. That is why the Housing Service (Dienst Wonen) is providing free advice about available subsidies.
Every year they also publish a guide of all available subsidies with short descriptions and information about who to contact for questions and application. This guide is usually published in February each year, but often it gets updated later in the year, since rules and regulations change fast.
The Flemish region also has its East Flanders contact office in Ghent, specifically for questions relating to construction and renovation in Flanders. It is situated next to the main train station Gent-Sint-Pieters.
The federal government (or rather its Flemish ‘representative’) supports investments into your home by allowing you to claim tax benefits (belastingvermindering) for paid investments. They mostly operate with an annual maximum, but allow spreading the full cost of investment over several years.
Sometimes certain very detailed conditions apply to this type of support, so do check in advance. For example, you might need a special declaration from your contractor about the types of works they carried out. Since you will be filing your tax declaration in the year after your renovation works, check out the needed papers in advance, so you don’t need to chase after the contractor a year after the works have been done.
Flemish region subsidies
The Flemish region supports better housing for everyone by subsidising:
- Full-scale renovation and measures for improving existing installations
- Renovation/installation of electrical installation, plumbing, central heating
- Home improvement: prevention of humidity, roof renovation, electricity & plumbing improvements, reducing risks of CO poisoning
- Home adaptation measures for people over 65 years of age
- Restoration of heritage buildings and costs of any additional research needed in the context of this restoration
- Energy efficient newly built homes are eligible for reduced annual real estate tax advance
- Investments into energy efficiency are also eligible for attractive energy-efficiency loans
You can find more information about these subsidies at Dienst Wonen of the city of Ghent (Gent Zuid) or at Wonen Oost-Vlaanderen, the regional contact office of the Flemish region, located at Gent-Sint-Pieters.
The city of Ghent subsidies
The city of Ghent has a full list of subsidies that ensure:
- Basic amenities and safe housing for everyone (heating, water and electricity installation, solving humidity problems)
- Free advice for measures improving energy efficiency (this can be asked by the tenants as well). An expert will come to your home and provide advice about how to improve energy savings
- Energy efficiency subsidies: the advantage of these subsidies is that you can combine them with support by other authorities, as the city of Ghent wants its inhabitants to be extra ‘green’
- Support for installing a green roof: having vegetation growing on your flat roof contributes to a better environment in the city and energy savings for your home
- Renovation of old houses that are important for the city but are not on the heritage list
The fourth large group of subsidies comes from the electricity and gas network operator Eandis. As you can expect, their subsidies are aimed at measures for improving energy efficiency (insulation of walls, roof, floors; double- and triple-glazed windows; ventilation system; solar water heating systems; air source heat pumps).
In my experience, their subsidy system is the most user friendly, both in terms of clarity of their forms and the application process. They also promise faster payment of the subsidy if you submit your application online.
How to apply
You will need to check the exact application procedure for each subsidy separately. For tax benefits, you will need to enter the corresponding amounts in the correct line of your tax return. You can ask for help from your local tax office, but don’t wait until end of May when they are super busy for this.
Eandis allows you to request their subsidies online. The city and regional ones can be asked on paper or electronically. Always check the deadlines to be sure you don’t miss it because your application got stuck in the mail.
The world of renovation subsidies in Belgium may seem daunting at first, but if you are venturing into a major refurbishment of your home the effort is really worth it. It will take you some time to figure out all the necessary papers, fill out all the different forms and send them to the right addresses in time, but there is something deeply satisfying once the payments start arriving. And with all the support that the city of Ghent is providing in this regard, it would be a shame not to do it. Finally, you will be getting back some of the money you’ve been so diligently paying into the Belgian tax pot!