PHS policies - Implementation and monitoring guide

Belgium – The Service voucher System

  Criteria Description
Description of the measure Measure Service Voucher System
Country Belgium
Managing Authority Federal Ministry of Employment till 2014; Regional Ministries of Employment from 2015
Legal Basis Law of 20 July 2001 promoting neighbourhood services and jobs
Launched in year 2004
Main objectives The service voucher system has several goals:
  • To create new jobs, especially for low-skilled workers.
  • To provide incentives to transform undeclared work to regular jobs in the sector.
  • To offer the unemployed the opportunity to move towards a regulated employee status.
  • To improve the work-life balance for users by making it easier to outsource domestic work.
Nature and type of public intervention The support acts both on the supply and the demand side and works through the voucher system. For every voucher a company receives, they can claim a payment equalling € 22.04 in 2013. This amount is made up of the price paid by the user (€ 8.5 or 9.5) and a subsidy from the regions (€ 13.54 or 12.54).

Additionally employers can also receive training support through a Federal training Fund (financed up to €7.6 million per year). They are also eligible for other regular employment support for low-skilled workers, long-term unemployed, etc..

Type of service providers and the competition between them The system allow both profit and non-profit organizations to be recognized as a service voucher company. In 2013 there were 2.577 companies active in the system. These included:
  • Commercial entities (49%)
  • Private employment agencies (1%)
  • ‘Insertion’ companies (special form of supported employment) (4%)
  • Non for profit organizations (11%)
  • Municipalities and local entities (11%)
  • ALE (special employment system for long term unemployed) (10%)
  • Physical persons (13%)

The market is characterized by an open competition. All companies can ask an accreditation and are eligible to compete.

The price level and price setting mechanism The price is set through a voucher system: one hour of work equals one voucher. In 2013 the price users paid for one voucher was € 8.5 for the first 400 vouchers and € 9.5 for the next vouchers. In 2014 the price increased to € 9 and € 10.

Users do receive a tax deduction on the service vouchers bought. The value of the tax deduction varies from one region to another. In Wallonia, the deduction amounts to 0.90 euro for each voucher, in Flanders and Brussels region the deduction goes up to 30% of the value of the voucher, but is limited to 1,400 euro per person per year.

Type of employment relations Service voucher workers have to be employed by a service vouchers company. After 3 months of fixed-term employment the company has to offer them a permanent contract.

The company then assigns them to offer services to users, but those latter are solely clients, not their employers.

The administrative framework and the role of the public authority The public authority is responsible of:
  • The recognition of PHS companies
  • The price-setting
  • The payment of PHS companies
  • The monitoring and evaluation of the measure
Type of services Multiple activities are allowed:
  • Cleaning and ironing (in-house)
  • Preparing meals (in-house)
  • Ironing (outhouse)
  • Transport for disabled persons
  • Shopping service
Target groups (users and workers)
  • Users:

The measure aimed at supporting working live, thus the working population. However over the years a large number of elderly persons have also started using the system.

  • Workers:

The measure aimed at creating job for the low-skilled. Jobs have been taken up primarily by low-skilled women.

Effects Employment The creation of employment is one of the most important goals of the service vouchers in Belgium. Throughout the year 2013, 149,782 workers or 97,156 full time equivalent workers were employed in the system. A significant share of these workers (around 35%) were unemployed before entering the system[1]. The total amount of jobs amounted to 160,793 in 2013, which represents 4.2% of all jobs in Belgium. It has been estimated that only around 5% of these jobs existed before (substitution of regular labour through the service voucher system)[2]. During each individual quarter, about 130.000 workers were active. At the end of 2013, 110,878 workers were still active in the system. The following key indicators provide information about the profile of the workers in 2013:
  • „The workers are predominantly women (97.4%).
  • Around 50% of the workers are more than 40 years old while 23% are older than 50.
  • Regarding education, 54% of the workers are low skilled workers while 4% are highly qualified.
  • Around 70% of the workers have a Belgian nationality and 20% of the workers come from the EU 27.
  • A survey conducted in 2011 indicates that 73.3% of the workers live with a partner. Among the workers living together, 87.2% of them have partner who is working.

In Belgium, the service voucher system created indirectly 4,595 additional management jobs within companies in 2013, which represents 3,152 FTE. These workers are employed to guide administratively service voucher workers. On average, 1 administrative staff is employed to guide 33 service voucher workers. A survey conducted in 2011 indicates that 26% of these workers were unemployed before entering the system.

A survey conducted in 2010 shows that the service voucher system allows users to work more hours or to start/continue working. Indeed, 10.6% of the users declared that they were able to increase their working time/employability as they delegate some tasks with the use of the service vouchers and 0.6% of the users declared that they could enter the labour market again as they can do a paid job instead of spending time on domestic work. Finally, 10.8% of the users declared that without service vouchers they would be obliged to reduce their working time.

For the users who declared being able to work more hours thanks to the system, the increase appears to be substantial: indeed, according to 60% of these users, services vouchers allow to work at least 1 additional day. Service vouchers also appear to have a significant impact on the hours worked by the partner.

As a consequence, when considering all users (and their partners), it was estimated that the total number of additional days of work amounted to 5 million, which represents 23 thousand additional full-time equivalent jobs.

Creation and/or fostering of PHS activities In 2013, 2,577 companies were active in the service voucher system. Some of them existed before (a limited number), and extended their activities, while others have been created after the introduction of the system.. In 2013, the following specific types of companies were active in the system:
  • Commercial entities (49% of all companies);
  • Private employment agencies (1%);
  • Insertion’ companies (special form of supported employment) (4%);
  • Not for profit organizations (11%);
  • Municipalities and local entities (11%);
  • ALE (special employment system for long term unemployed) (10%);
  • Physical persons (13%).

During the last years, a certain stabilisation of service voucher companies has been observed. This can be explained by the maturity of the system: the regulatory framework is more or less stable, the controls conducted by the social inspection services seem to grow tighter and the certified/recognized companies, getting larger and larger, are in a process of professionalising.

Reduction of undeclared work In Belgium, the introduction of the service vouchers has undoubtedly contributed to the reduction of undeclared labour. However, it is highly unclear how many workers exactly stepped out of the undeclared labour market for performing domestic services during the start-up phase of the system. Only 5% of the service voucher workers admit having worked in the undeclared economy before[3] and 17% of users admit having used the undeclared economy before[4]. Nevertheless, 45.8% of the interviewed service vouchers workers consider that working in the service voucher system is a way out of undeclared work.
Improving access to childcare (including early childhood education and care (ECEC)) The available data do not allow to quantify the effects of the system on the educational results. However, as illustrated by the survey conducted among users of the system, a significant share (23%) of the time saved through the system is reallocated to family. For some users, this might include the educational support to children (homework) which might in turn improve educational results.
Improving access to elderly care/long term care In Belgium, there are no data that directly evaluate the impact of the service voucher system on the possibility to stay longer at home. Indeed, such an effect is not one of the key objectives of the measure. However, it appears that the share of the users who are older than 80 years old is significant and amounted to 11.2% in 2013. Moreover, the survey results (2010) indicate that for 14.6% of the users, the main reason for buying service vouchers is the physical incapacity to perform the tasks. In this view, it appears that the system helps people to stay longer at home.
Gender equality and better conciliation of work-life balance The improvement of work-life balance is one of the most important motivations for users to enter the service voucher system in Belgium. According to a survey conducted in 2010, 18% of the users consider that the main motivation for entering the system is an improvement in work-life balance (while price is the key motivation for 40% of the users).

The survey results moreover indicate that the time that is saved through the system is mainly reallocated to family (23%), other household tasks (22%), entertainment (20%), rest and health (17%). The system therefore clearly allows users to improve their work-life balance.

This improvement might also be illustrated by the continuous increase in the demand for service vouchers, which tend to indicate that the service users are pleased with the opportunity to ease some of their workload and improve their work–life balance. This appears also from their high satisfaction concerning the system: in the latest survey of users in 2010, it is shown that 88% of users are (very) satisfied with the system.

Better working conditions In Belgium, the yearly evaluations of the system indicate that the service voucher system does not only create new jobs, but it also creates decent jobs. Globally, the quality of the job (in terms of labour contract, salary, working hours, training of workers and turnover) increased year after year and the service voucher sector has steadily been professionalised. A series of collective agreements have been concluded, covering nearly all usual aspects of industrial relations and regular collective bargaining systems. Gradually, the service voucher sector is consolidating and is considered as a regular professional sector. We present below some key indicators related to the working conditions in the system.
  • „Regarding the types of contracts received, it appears that, in 2013, 30.5% of new contracted workers received a permanent contract.
  • On average, the hourly wage amounted to € 11.06 in 2013 (for € 8.76 in 2006).
  • Regarding working time, the majority of workers worked less than halftime (64.2%), while only 11.2% of workers worked full-time. On average service voucher workers worked 18.4 to 22.2 hours a week in 2013 (for around 15 hours back in 2006).
  • A significant share of workers received training in 2013: 26.6% of workers received training through the Federal Training fund.
  • For comparison purposes with the previous situation of the workers, it is important to point out that before entering the PHS system, around 35% of the workers were unemployed[5].

The relatively attractive working and employment conditions offered by the system are also illustrated by the survey that was conducted in 2011 among PHS workers. Indeed, they pointed out the following key motivations for entering the system:

  • Revenues is a key motivation for 97.4% of the workers;
  • The flexibility offered by the system (working time, etc.) is a key motivation for 90% of the workers. Specifically, 95% of the workers are satisfied or very satisfied with working time.

The survey also indicates that workers enjoy several advantages such as the premium at the end of the year (86 % of the workers), travel allowance (84 % of the workers), and received working clothes (65% of the workers). Finally, the global satisfaction of the workers with respect to the work in the system tends to indicate that the system offers them better working condition: 84% of the workers are satisfied (among these workers, 37% are very satisfied) of their work[6].

Regarding the access to social security, in Belgium, entering the service voucher system allows workers who were previously working through undeclared “contracts” to gain key social security benefits. The benefits offered are comparable to those that hold for persons employed in other sectors and cover unemployment benefits, pension benefits, sickness benefits, maternity leave and health benefits. It appears that the access to social security is one of the key motivations for workers to enter the system: 87% of the workers think that the possibility to gain social benefits is a key motivation for entering the system[7]. Finally, it appears that 16.9% of the workers receive additional benefits (income support or unemployment benefits)[8].

Budgetary effects Public costs In 2013, the total public cost for of the Belgian service voucher system amounted to € 1,930 million. This included:
  • Government intervention (subsidy) for the vouchers: € 1,637 million. For every voucher received, a company can claim an amount equalling € 22.04 in 2013. This amount is made up of the price paid by the user (€ 8.5 or € 9.5) and a subsidy from the government (€ 13.54 or € 12.54). This subsidy represents the main part of the total cost of the system.
  • Tax deduction for users: € 278.2 million. Users do receive a tax deduction of 30% on the service vouchers bought up to a deductible amount limited to € 2,720 for the first half of 2013 and € 1,380 from the second half onward. In 2014 the maximal amounted was € 1.400 per user.
  • Functioning cost of the system: € 15.6 million.
Earn back effects First, through employment creation[9], the system induces direct earn-back effects related to savings in unemployment benefits and surpluses in the social contributions and personal income tax:
  • Savings in unemployment benefits: € 217 million.
  • Increase in social contributions: € 395.2 million.
  • Increase in personal income tax: € 178.4 million.

The second set of effects are the indirect effects of the first order through the creation of new companies or activities (which leads to additional revenues for companies’ taxes) and the creation of indirect management jobs[10] (which generates also surpluses in the social contributions, personal income tax and savings in unemployment benefits of previously unemployed persons):

  • Increase in companies taxes: € 17.7 million.
  • Contributions and taxes due to additional employment (company staff): € 40.8 million.
  • Reduction in unemployment benefits: € 8.3 million.

Finally, other indirect effects (of the second order) could also be identified. These effects are related to the decrease in unemployment due to replacement of workers who left their previous jobs to enter the system, the increase in consumption of persons entering the system and earning higher income than previously and the increase in hours worked for users. These effects are less exact and should be considered as approximations:

  • „Savings through the replacement of service voucher workers in previous jobs: between € 106.3 and € 212.5 million;
  • Savings through the replacement of company staff in previous jobs: between € 7.7 and € 15.5 million;
  • Increase in VAT revenue: between € 10 and € 34.9 million;
  • Increase in income tax due to users (re) entering into employment: € 297.9 million.
Net cost The total cost of the system (taking into account public costs and earn-back effects) is calculated each year in the yearly evaluation. In 2013, the net total cost (1st order) was estimated at € €. Taking into account the second orders earn-back effects, the total cost was estimated at € 584.245.134 which represents a cost of 3.901 € per workers.


[1] Results based on a survey conducted in 2011 among the workers (in the context of the yearly evaluation of the system).

[2] Estimation based on administrative data and survey among the users.

[3] Based on a survey conducted in the context of the evaluation of the system in 2011.

[4] Based on a survey conducted in the context of the evaluation of the system in 2010.

[5] Based on 2011 survey results.

[6] Based on a survey conducted in 2011.

[7] Idem.

[8] Idem.

[9] Based on the survey among service voucher workers, we know that in 2011, 37% of service voucher workers were unemployed before starting their service voucher job.

[10] Through a survey we know that 26% of these workers were unemployed before.