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    Redress: Asserting Consumer Rights    Alternative Dispute Resolution 

Belgian Arbitration Boards

I. Belgian Arbitration Boards

II. Ombudsmen

III. Particulars for Municipal Ombudsmen




I. Belgian Arbitration Boards haut de page

LEGIBEL GIE

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Rue Royale 55

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 227 08 21

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Fax: + 32 2 227 08 20

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E-mail: bernard.castelain@legibel.be

Structure:

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Arbitration panel consisting of three arbitrators: a chairman (independent lawyer specialising in insurance), a lawyer from an insurance company not directly involved in the dispute, and a lawyer from the "Test-Achats" consumer association.

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Collegiality: decisions by majority vote.

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Term of appointment: per case.

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Choice of arbitrators: by agreement between the parties.

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Right of objection: in accordance with sections 828 et seq. of the Legal Code.

Powers: The panel deals with disputes between parties covered by legal protection insurance from the companies SMAP, FB-Assurances, P&V, MEGA and Assurances Fédérales relating to any subject covered by an insurance contract which does not come under the heading of public policy (especially vehicle, personal or house insurance). In the case of physical injury resulting from a road accident, the panel does not deal with cases in which temporary disablement exceeds one week. The panel’s geographical jurisdiction is Belgium. The case value is unlimited.

Procedure:

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LEGIBEL decides whether a case is suitable for arbitration.

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An arbitration proposal is put to the parties, which they must accept.

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The parties choose the language to be used (French or Dutch).

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On receipt of the agreements duly signed by the parties, the LEGIBEL secretariat asks the parties to submit their classified evidence to its offices within 30 days for prior exchange. Applications filed are dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Legal Code (section 747 §1).

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The case is considered by the panel, which can request an inquiry or expert opinion.

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Unless the parties expressly request a hearing, the case is dealt with in writing. If the parties opt for a hearing, they will be summoned by registered letter and must appear in person or be represented by a lawyer or other representative with special LEGIBEL-approved power of attorney in writing.

Cost: Each party's insurer must lodge a deposit of € 100 (BEF 4 034). No charge to insured parties.

Nature of the Decision: The panel's decision is final, and there is no appeal. The losing party must abide by the decision and cannot subsequently take the case to court.

Enforcement: The parties undertake to implement the decision without delay.

 

The Travel Disputes Commission (A.S.B.L. Commission de Litiges Voyages / V.Z.W. Geschillencommissie Reizen)

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North Gate III

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Boulevard du Roi Albert II, 16

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 206 52 37

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Fax: + 32 2 206 57 74

Structure:

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Arbitral panels, with equal representation of both sides: two arbitrators appointed by the travel industry, two arbitrators appointed by consumers associations and an independent legally-trained chairman, chosen jointly by the industry and the consumers groups.

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Collegiality: awards made by majority vote or by unanimity.

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Term of appointment: indefinite.

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Appointment: by the administrative board of the Travel Disputes Commission (which is a non-profit making association), after a training-in period of four sessions (two as passive observer and two as active observer without voting rights).

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Removal from office: continuous assessment of arbitrators and of the chairman of the arbitral panel by the president of the association, acting in concert with the secretariat, the members of the arbitral panels and the administrative board and specific monitoring of the timeliness of the drafting and delivery of arbitral awards (performed by the secretariat, which makes a report to the administrative board).

Powers: The Commission hears and determines all civil disputes relating to package holidays, single journeys or any other separate tourist service, sold by a travel agency using the standard contract or the model general terms and conditions of travel negotiated under the aegis of the Travel Disputes Commission. The Commission's geographical jurisdiction is Belgium. The Commission's monetary jurisdiction is unlimited.

Procedure:

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The preliminary steps laid down in the Act of 16 February 1994 on travel contracts are required under the standard contract and under the model general terms. The standard contract requires the parties to attempt to find an agreed solution within a guideline period of four months, before referring their dispute to the arbitral panel.

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The statutory limitation period within which the reference to arbitration must be made is one year (counting from the end of the journey).

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The arbitration reference is initiated by sending the completed and signed form by registered mail to the secretariat. A copy of this form will be send to the opposing side. Within the next month, the complainant must send a complete file to the secretariat containing all the documentation of the case. The other party is required to do likewise. Each side's file is disclosed to the other party. Each party has the right to reply to the submissions made by the other side.

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The parties are entitled to attend the arbitration hearing if they wish (personal appearance) but they are not required to do so: a written procedure is adopted if they decide not to attend. Each party may also appoint a person of his own choosing to attend on his behalf or to assist him. Parties are seldom represented or assisted by lawyers.

Cost: Before proceedings begin, the claimant must lodge with the secretariat a sum equal to 10% of the amount in controversy (i.e. the damages he is claiming) by way of security for costs, subject to a minimum of BEF 4,000 and a maximum of BEF 25,000. if the claimant succeeds, the reference will cost him nothing because the costs will be met by the losing side. If only part of the claim is upheld and/or if the award made is less than the damages claimed, the claimant will be required to meet part of the costs of the arbitration. If the travel agency loses the case it must also pay a 'fine' of BEF 4,000 to the Travel Disputes Commission.

Nature of the Decision: The rules of procedure of the Travel Disputes Commission were drawn up in accordance with the Code of Procedure, having particular regard to the provisions governing arbitration (Articles 1676 to 1723 of the Courts Act). Decisions of the Arbitral panel are binding on the two or three parties to the case. No appeal lies against the panel's decisions.

Enforcement: In the event of failure to implement the arbitration award (which happens very seldom: in an average of approximately 1% of cases each year), the secretariat will issue a reminder notice to the party against whom the order was made. If that party fails to comply with the notice, the industry or consumers association, as the case may be, will first make oral representations to its member urging him to implement the award voluntarily; if that does not achieve the desired result, the association will then adopt more formal means of applying pressure, by issuing him with reminder notices, for example. If all else fails, the member associations and/or the Commission can assist the successful party in obtaining a writ of execution in accordance with the Courts Act.

 

The Furniture Disputes Commission (A.S.B.L. Commission de Litiges Meubles / V.Z.W. Geschillencommissie Meubelen)

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Trade Mart

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Square de l'Atomium, BP 613

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1020 Bruxelles

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Tel: + 32 2 478 47 58

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Fax: + 32 2 478 37 66

Structure:

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Arbitral panels, with equal representation of both sides: one arbitrator appointed by the furniture industry, one arbitrator appointed by the consumers associations and an independent legally-trained chairman, chosen jointly by the industry and the consumers groups.

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Collegiality: awards made by majority vote or by unanimity.

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Term of appointment: indefinite.

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Appointment: by the administrative board of the Furniture Disputes Commission (a non-profit making association).

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Removal from office: continuous assessment of arbitrators and of the chairman of the arbitral panel by the president of the association, acting in concert with the secretariat, the members of the arbitral panels and the administrative board and specific monitoring of the timeliness of the drafting and delivery of arbitral awards (performed by the secretariat, which makes a report to the administrative board).

 Powers: The Commission hears and determines all civil disputes relating to a purchase of furniture sold by a retailer using the standard contract negotiated under the aegis of the Furniture Disputes Commission. The Commission's geographical jurisdiction is Belgium. Claims are frequently brought by non-Belgians (Dutch, French, Germans etc.) having purchased goods in Belgium. There is no limit to the Commission's monetary jurisdiction.

Procedure: The standard contract requires the parties to attempt to find an agreed solution within an guideline period of one month, before referring their dispute to the arbitral panel. The arbitration reference is initiated by sending the completed and signed form to the secretariat. The parties must then send the secretariat a complete file containing the supporting documentation. The secretariat will send each party the other party's file. Each party has the right to reply to the submissions made by the other side. The parties are entitled to attend the arbitration hearing if they wish (personal appearance) but they are not required to do so: a written procedure is adopted if they decide not to attend. Each party may also appoint a person of his own choosing to attend on his behalf or to assist him. Parties are seldom represented or assisted by lawyers.

Cost: Before proceedings begin, the claimant must lodge with the secretariat an arbitration fee of BEF 4,000. A successful claimant will be refunded the arbitration fee at the expense of the losing side. A claimant who is not a member of one of the affiliated associations must pay an additional non-refundable charge of BEF 2,000.

Nature of the Decision: The rules of procedure of the Furniture Disputes Commission were drawn up in accordance with the Code of Procedure, having particular regard to the provisions governing arbitration (Articles 1676 to 1723 of the Courts Act). Decisions of the Arbitral panel are binding on the two parties to the case (no appeal is possible).

Enforcement: In the event of failure to implement the arbitration award (which happens very seldom: in an average of approximately 1% of cases each year), the secretariat will issue a reminder notice to the party against whom the order was made. If that party fails to comply with the notice, the industry or consumers association, as the case may be, will first make oral representations to its member urging him to implement the award voluntarily; if that does not achieve the desired result, the association will then adopt more formal means of applying pressure, by issuing him with reminder notices, for example. If all else fails, the member associations and/or the Commission can assist the successful party in obtaining a writ of execution in accordance with the Courts Act.

 

The Arbitration Board for Disputes between Consumers and the Laundry Service (Commission d'Arbitrage Consommateurs-Entreprises de l'entretien du textile (CACET) / Geschillencommissie Verbruikers - Textielreinigers (GVT))

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Brusselsesteenweg 47

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1731 Zellik

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Tel: + 32 2 463 19 50

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Fax: + 32 2 463 17 61

Structure:

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The Arbitration Board is a collegiate body with equal representation of both sides. It comprises one representative of the consumers associations, one representative of the Laundry Industry Federation and a legally-trained chairman, chosen jointly.

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The arbitral panel is assisted by an independent expert appointed by common accord.

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Term of appointment: indefinite.

Powers: The board hears and determines disputes between consumers and launderers or dry-cleaners who are members of the Laundry Industry Federation relating to complaints concerning the unsatisfactory treatment or loss of items of clothing handed in for cleaning. The value of the claim must not be in excess of BEF 75,000. The Board has jurisdiction to handle all claims arising in Belgium.

Procedure: The arbitration rules require the parties to attempt to find an agreed solution within a maximum period of two months before referring their dispute to the Board. The arbitration reference is initiated by the claimant submitting a completed and signed form and sending the Board any items forming the subject of the dispute. The claimant must act within three months after the day on which the unsatisfactory treatment or loss became known. The party against whom the claim has been brought is requested to submit, on a pre-printed form, all information relevant to the resolution of the dispute, within a time limit of 30 days. The parties are entitled to attend the arbitration hearing if they wish or to send a representative at their own expense. As the consumer's submission to the arbitration process is not based on an agreement entered into prior to the accrual of the dispute, he therefore does not forfeit his right to litigate the claim in a court of law.

Cost: Where the value of the claim is less than BEF 25,000 the fee payable by the consumer is BEF 400 or BEF 800 depending on whether or not he is a member of a consumers association; where the claim is greater than BEF 25,000, the fee is BEF 800 or BEF 1,600 depending on whether or not he is a member of a consumers association. There is a fee of BEF 1,600 payable by the launderer/dry cleaner. The arbitration fees are non-refundable, irrespective of the outcome of the proceedings.

Nature of the Decision: Decisions of the arbitral panel are final and binding on the two parties. No appeal is possible.

Enforcement: Subject to certain formalities, the enforcement methods are the same as those for court decisions.

 

The Used Car Conciliation Board (Commission de conciliation pour véhicules d'occasion)

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Boulevard de la Woluwe 46 - Bte 10

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1200 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 778 62 00

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Fax: + 32 2 778 62 22

Structure:

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The Board has equal numbers of representatives of the associations which were involved in drawing up the standard contract for the sale of used vehicles (consumers associations, motorists associations and used car dealers associations).

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It is a collegiate body.

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The members' term of appointment is indefinite.

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Appointment of the persons responsible for decision-making: by the associations represented on the Conciliation Board.

Powers:

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The Board attempts to resolve the parties' differences by means of conciliation and in the light of the technical advice of an expert.

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The disputes heard are those relating to the sale of used vehicles by dealers using the standard order form containing a clause referring disputes to the Conciliation Board. This order form is mainly used by dealers who are 'Accredited Vendors'. This accreditation is issued by FEDERAUTO (the association of used car dealers) on the basis of objective criteria (professional qualifications, customer service and after-sales service) and contractual criteria (written agreement on the part of the dealer).

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The Board's geographical coverage is the Kingdom of Belgium.

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There is no limit to the value of claims which may be brought.

Procedure:

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A reference is not mandatory. Either party is free to bring the dispute to the Conciliation Board.

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A conciliation request, setting out the key elements of the case, must be made orally or in writing to the Board's secretariat.

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An expert is usually appointed. If there is no need for an expert to be involved the Board may agree, by unanimous decision, not to appoint one. If so, it may submit a proposal for an amicable settlement to the parties.

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If an amicable settlement is reached during the course of the expert's investigation, the expert will record the settlement in a document to be signed by both parties.

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The expert's findings are binding upon a party who fails to attend the expert's investigation having been given due notice of same.

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After it receives the expert's final report, the Board has two weeks within which to put forward a settlement proposal to the parties, by unanimous decision.

Cost:

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An applicant who is not a member of an organisation representing consumers or motorists or of FEDERAUTO is required to pay a non-refundable fee of BEF 1,000 with his application.

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The applicant must pay the expert a fixed fee of BEF 3,000 (VAT included) plus the expert's travel expenses (12 BEF/km, VAT included). This sum covers the first stage of the expert's work i.e. preparing the file, initial inspection, attempt at conciliation and drawing up a settlement record or reporting his findings.

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Before undertaking any further work necessary for his opinion, the expert will issue an estimate of the costs of stripping down the vehicle in order to identify the problem, subcontracting the task to a third party, his own fees, which are set at BEF 2,410 per hour, and his travel expenses.

Nature of the Decision: If the conciliation attempt is unsuccessful, the expert will submit a binding opinion regarding the technical aspects of the case and will make a non-binding decision in relation to liability, repair costs and any gain or drop in value. The parties remain free to litigate the case in a court of law.

Enforcement: There is no mechanism for enforcement of decisions.

 

II. Ombudsmen haut de page


Private Sector Ombudsmen haut de page


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Ombudsman for the banking sector and stock exchange companies

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Mr P. Caeyers

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Rue Ravenstein 36 - Bte 5

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 507 68 11

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Fax: + 32 2 507 69 79

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E-mail: omb@abb-bvb.be

Structure: This is a one-person institution. The individual appointed must be of good character and meet a number of technical and legal criteria. A mediation panel, comprising a chairman (a practising judge) and three members (a university law professor, a retired banker and the current ombudsman) deals with the cases of complaints forwarded to it by the Ombudsman. Term of appointment is indefinite. Appointment is by the Steering Committee of the Belgian Banking Association.

Powers: The Ombudsman investigates complaints made by customers of banks and savings banks affiliated to the Belgian Banking Association. Any bank or savings bank customer dealing as a private individual and not for any business purpose may apply to the Ombudsman to request specific financial information or to make a complaint concerning a banking product or financial service. Complaints regarding cross-border payments can be entertained only if the value in issue does not exceed €2,500.

Procedure: The bank or savings bank customer must first write to his bank in an effort to obtain satisfaction. If this fails, he then can write to the Ombudsman enclosing the documentation relating to the dispute and a copy of his correspondence with the bank. The procedure is written. No formal time limits are prescribed.

Cost: There is no charge for the service. In the case of a cross-border dispute, the customer is asked to lodge a fee of BEF 2,000 which will be refunded if his complaint is upheld.

Nature of the Decision: The Ombudsman issues a non-binding opinion on the matter referred. If the complainant is not satisfied with this opinion he still has the right to take his claim to court.

Enforcement: Not applicable.

 

Ombudsman de l'Union Professionnelle des Entreprises d'Assurances (UPEA) (Insurance Ombudsman)

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Ms J. Van Elderen

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Square de Meeûs 29

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 547 56 95

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Fax: + 32 2 547 59 75

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Email: ombudsman@upea.be

Structure:

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A one-person institution: the Ombudsman is an individual assisted by insurance professionals and administrative services.

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Term of appointment: indefinite.

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Appointment: by the executive committee of the insurance industry federation. The Ombudsman works hand-in-hand with designated officers within each insurance company. These officers are executives assigned to the function by senior management.

Powers:

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The Ombudsman hears disputes concerning the operation of insurance contracts written by any insurance company affiliated to the insurance industry federation (over 95% of the Belgian market). She has no jurisdiction over complaints regarding the general policy of an insurance company or complaints concerning brokers (who have their own ombudsman).

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Application may be made to the Ombudsman by injured parties, their heirs or assigns and by any party (intermediary, lawyer, social welfare office etc.) who is advising the complainant on an insurance-related matter.
Both individuals and corporations may use the services of the Ombudsman.

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The Ombudsman may consider a case which is pending before a court of law.

Procedure: There are no prior steps which a complainant is required to take vis-à-vis the insurance company. There is no time limit within which the complainant must submit his complaint. The procedure is written. The complainant sends a letter setting out briefly the details of his grievance and the name and contact details of the company concerned, which must be a member of the insurance industry federation. On the basis of this letter the Ombudsman uses her legal powers of investigation to obtain the whole file relating to the matter.

Cost: There is no charge for the Ombudsman's service.

Nature of the Decision:In the opinion she issues, the Ombudsman seeks to find a pragmatic solution to the complaint which has been submitted. Discussions will be held with the company, following which:  

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either the complaint is upheld and the company accepts the decision.

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the complaint is dismissed and the Ombudsman explains the reasons.

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the case is open to interpretation and there is no single legally-compelling solution. In this case the Ombudsman will propose a compromise.The opinion or decision is non-binding. However, in practice, they are complied with n 99% of cases.

The Ombudsman also issues general recommendations to the insurance industry in the light of recurrent complaints and malfunctions (preventive function). The rate of compliance is low; arrangements are being discussed as to how to achieve a more structured response to these recommendations. The complainant retains the right to litigate the claim in a court of law.

Enforcement: Not applicable.

 

Ombudsmen in autonomous public enterprises haut de page

Service de médiation auprès de LA POSTE /  Dienst Ombudsman bij DE POST (Post office ombudsman service)
 

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Mr Godefroid (French) - Ms Lostrie (Dutch)

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Rue Royale 97

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 02/221.02.30 (French), 02 02/221.02.20 (Dutch), 02 221.02.40 (German)

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Fax: + 32 2 221.02.44

Structure:

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The post office's ombudsman service is composed of two members, drawn from two different language communities. It acts as a collegiate body.

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Term of appointment: five years, renewable without limit.

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Appointment: by the King (by decree after deliberation by government).

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The Act of 21 March 1991 on the reform of certain public enterprises lays down the conditions of eligibility, which include the condition that an ombudsman must not have held any office or employment in the public enterprise concerned or any connected enterprise for a period of three years prior to appointment.

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The Act also specified various grounds of disqualification from holding this office.

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Removal from office: only for justified cause (by Royal Decree after deliberation by government).

Powers: The ombudsman service deals with issues concerning users (private individuals). It can investigate all complaints relating to LA POSTE's operations, whether performed directly or through a subsidiary or subcontractor, including letter post and business post, and whether performed as a public service obligation or as a private sector business in competition with other firms, and whether at national or international level. There is no limit on the value of a dispute.

Procedure:

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The ombudsman service acts as an appeals body. The complainant must first have made representations to LA POSTE and been dissatisfied with the enterprise's reaction, either in terms of the substance of the response received or because of undue delay or the absence of any response. The law does not explicitly require the grievance to be raised first with LA POSTE but clearly one cannot speak of a 'dispute' if one of the two parties (the post office in this case) is unaware of the matter and has not been given an opportunity to provide a satisfactory remedy.

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Complaints may be made either in writing, by sending a straightforward letter clearly setting out the nature of the grievance, or orally, by the complainant presenting his case in person.

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The procedure may be written or oral; in the latter case the complainant may be accompanied by an advisor. The final decision is always given in writing. Although the rules require a reply by registered letter only in cases where the complaint is rejected, the ombudsman service ensures that its final decision is safely received by always using registered mail for this purpose, whether or not the decision goes in favour of the complainant.

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The normal time limit for dealing with a complaint is two months. But the ombudsman service may extend its consideration of a case by a further period of two months, provided it notifies the parties accordingly.

Cost: There is no charge for the service.

 

Nature of the Decision and Enforcement: If the ombudsman service is unable to mediate an amicable settlement of a dispute between the postal service and a user it will issue an opinion. This opinion is notified to LA POSTE and sent by registered letter to the complainant. LA POSTE is allowed a final opportunity to give satisfaction to the complainant but it is not bound to comply with the opinion issued. The complainant remains free to litigate the dispute in court. The Act of 21 March 1991 empowers the ombudsman service to arbitrate in any dispute between LA POSTE and a user where the parties agree to submit an existing dispute to arbitration. In that event, the arbitration award will be binding on the parties (since the service was first set up, no arbitration reference has been received).

 

Service de médiation pour les télécommunications (Telecommunications mediation service)

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Mr Vekeman (French) - Mr Vandenbosch (Dutch)

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Place des Barricades, 1

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 223 06 06 (French), 02 223 09 09 (Dutch)

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Fax: + 32 2 219 77 88

Structure:

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The ombudsman service is composed of two members drawn from different language communities. It acts as a collegiate body; however the mediators may delegate decision-making by a collegial decision subject to the approval of the Minister responsible for telecommunications.

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Term of appointment: five years, renewable.

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Appointment: by the King (by decree after deliberation by government). The Act of 21 March 1991 lays down the conditions of eligibility for and the grounds of disqualification from holding this office.

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Removal from office: only for justified cause (by Royal Decree after deliberation by government).

Powers:

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The mediation service handles all complaints from end-users relating to the operations of telecommunications providers operating in Belgium. The ombudsman seeks to mediate an amicable settlement between the telecommunications operator and the end-user concerned. It also considers requests on the part of persons who have been victims of malicious calls.

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The ombudsman acts as arbitrator in all disputes between telecommunications operators and end-users which are covered by an arbitration clause, provided that the amount in controversy does not exceed an index-linked threshold of BEF 100,000.

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The ombudsman also has a role as information provider, suggesting the best course of action for end-users who contact him orally or in writing seeking advice on what they should do.

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He may be instructed by the Minister for Telecommunications, the Belgian Institute of Postal Services and Telecommunications or the Advisory Committee to examine any specific issue concerning consumers and to issue opinions and suggestions.

Procedure: Complaints by users are entertained only if the complainant has first made representations to the operator concerned. The Act provides that the ombudsman may refuse to deal with a complaint submitted more than one year after the issue was raised with the telecommunications provider concerned. A complaint may be made either in writing (letter or fax) or orally by a complainant attending in person at the offices of the ombudsman service.

Cost: There is no charge for the service, except in the case of arbitration. The arbitration fee is 10% of the amount of the claim, subject to a minimum of BEF 750. If a monetary value cannot be put on a dispute, the arbitration fee is set at BEF 10,000. The fee must be put up by the claimant and is recoverable from the losing party.

Nature of the Decision: The 'standard' procedure leads to a recommendation, if an agreed compromise cannot be mediated. The arbitration procedure leads to an award which is binding on both parties. The arbitration award must set out the reasons on which it is based and must be notified to the two parties by registered letter and filed at the Brussels Court of First Instance. The arbitration award is final and not open to appeal.

Enforcement: The arbitrator has power to order an award to be executed provisionally notwithstanding an appeal and to make such provisional execution of an award conditional upon the lodging of security in accordance with the Courts Act. The arbitration award may not be executed by force unless an enforcement order is obtained from the President of the Court of First Instance upon an application by the party concerned.

 

Service de médiation auprès de la SNCB (Rail ombudsman service)

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Mr Jeanfils (French) - Mr Herman (Dutch)

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Cantersteen, 4 - 2 e étage

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 525 41 01 (French), 02 525 41 00(Dutch), 02 525 41 02(German)

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Fax: + 32 2 525 40 02

Structure:

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The SNCB ombudsman service is composed of two members, from different language communities. It acts as a collegiate body.

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Term of appointment: five years, renewable.

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Appointment: by the King (by decree after deliberation by government). The Act lays down the conditions of eligibility, which include the condition that an ombudsman must not have held any office or employment in the public enterprise concerned or any connected enterprise for a period of three years prior to appointment. The Act also specified various grounds of disqualification from holding this office.

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Removal from office: only for justified cause (by Royal Decree after deliberation by government).

Powers: The ombudsman service deals with issues concerning users. Rail users can use it to make inquiries and complaints relating to the services provided by the SNCB. There is no limit on the value of a dispute.

Procedure:

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The ombudsman service acts as an appeals body: a complaint must first have been made to the SNCB. If a satisfactory response is not received, the complainant may then take his case to the ombudsman service.

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A complaint may be made either in writing or orally by the complainant attending in person at the offices of the ombudsman service.

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The procedure may be either written or oral; in the latter case the complaint may be accompanied by a person of his choosing.

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If the ombudsman is required to issue an opinion he will notify it to the SNCB and to the complainant by registered letter. If the SNCB rejects the opinion it is under an obligation to give reasons for its decision to the complainant and to the ombudsman.

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The normal time limit for dealing with a complaint is two months. But the ombudsman service may extend its consideration of a case by one further period of two months, provided it notifies the parties accordingly.

Cost: There is no charge for the service.

Nature of the Decision and Enforcement: If the ombudsman service is unable to mediate an amicable settlement of a dispute between the SNCB and a user it will issue an opinion. This opinion is not binding on the two parties. The complainant remains free to litigate the dispute in court. The arbitration function assigned to the ombudsman service under the Act of 21 March 1991 has never once been invoked since the SNCB ombudsman service was set up in 1993. If the parties decide to refer their dispute to arbitration, they bind themselves to implement the arbitration award promptly. The arbitration award is final and not open to appeal.

 

Public Sector Ombudsman Services haut de page

Collège des médiateurs fédéraux (Federal ombudsman service)

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Rue Ducale 43

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 289 27 27

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Fax: + 32 2 289 27 278

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Email: med.fed.omb@skynet.be

Structure:

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The Collège des médiateurs fédéraux (Federal Ombudsman Service) was established by the Act of 22 March 1995 (Official Gazette of 7 April 1995): it comprises two ombudsmen, one French-speaking and one Dutch-speaking. They act as a collegiate body and are assisted by a staff of civil servants. In the case of urgent and temporary necessity, the ombudsmen may take on additional staff on a contractual basis.

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Term of appointment: six years, renewable.

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Appointment: by the Parliament, following a recruitment examination. The Act of 22 March 1995 lays down rigorous conditions of appointment with a view to guaranteeing the impartiality, ability and independence of the Federal Ombudsmen. These include knowledge of the three national languages, impeccable character, the specified qualifications and relevant professional experience. The Act also specified various grounds of disqualification from holding this office.

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Suspension and removal from office: by the Parliament, on clearly specified grounds.

Powers:

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The main role of the Federal Ombudsmen is to deal with complaints regarding the functioning of the Federal administrative authorities i.e. complaints regarding all acts and conduct on the part of public administrations and courts which a complainant believes to be unfair or improper.

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Note: the Federal Ombudsmen have no remit in relation to public administrations which have their own ombudsman under specific statutory provisions. The Act establishes a referral system under which the Federal Ombudsmen are bound to refer complaints falling outside their sphere of responsibility to the proper ombudsman. The Federal Ombudsman Service can act in 'consumer cases', where one of the parties to the dispute is a Federal administrative authority (acting as buyer or seller) and a complaint is received from an interested party. In that event, if the other conditions of admissibility are fulfilled (see below), the Federal Ombudsman will act as an impartial mediator in the dispute between the member of the public and the Federal administration. The Ombudsman will do everything within its power to conciliate the parties.

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The geographical location of the public administration concerned is immaterial and a Belgian diplomatic mission or consulate, for example, also comes within the remit of the Federal Ombudsman Service.

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Parliament has assigned a second role to the Federal Ombudsmen, which is to scrutinise the operation of specified Federal administrations. The Ombudsmen issue recommendations and suggestions and report on the results of their inquiries.

Procedure:

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The procedure is non-judicial, flexible and informal.

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Inquiries and complaints to the Federal Ombudsman Service may be made by letter, fax, telephone or email. Complainants must state their identity, set out the facts of their case and provide copies of documents necessary to the investigation of the matter.

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Any interested party (private individual, corporate body, non-profit making association, de facto association, whether Belgian, foreign, an ordinary citizen or a civil servant) may take a case to the Federal Ombudsman Service. If the party concerned does not speak one of the three national languages (French, Dutch and German), the ombudsman will take steps to correspond with that party in its own language or in a common language.

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A number of substantive conditions must be met in order for a complaint to be admissible.

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- the complaint must concern a Federal administrative authority which does not have an ombudsman service of its own. The term 'Federal administrative authority' refers to the 12 Federal Ministries, the para-state agencies (National Employment Agency, National Social Security Agency, National Sickness and Disability Insurance Institute, Accidents at Work Fund, etc.), the national cultural institutions (Palais des Beaux Arts, Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie) and scientific institutions (Royal Meteorological Institute) and certain State forces (e.g. the army) and private bodies discharging public service functions (mutual associations, trades unions and social insurance organisations for the self-employed e.g. in their role as benefits dispensers) and, in certain circumstances, the autonomous public enterprises (Belgacom, SNCB, La Poste).

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- the complainant must have taken prior steps vis-à-vis the administrative authority concerned with a view to obtaining satisfaction before approaching the Federal Ombudsman Service.

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- the complaint must be made not more than one year after the facts on which the complaint is based.

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- the lodging of a complaint with the Federal Ombudsman Service does not suspend the running of limitation periods for the bringing of court or administrative proceedings. The complainant is also free to make a complaint to the Federal Ombudsman Service either before or after bringing court or administrative proceedings, even if such proceedings are already statute-barred. The Federal Ombudsman Service must stay its own proceedings however if it receives notice from the administrative authority concerned of the pendency of court or administrative proceedings in relation to the same facts.

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The ombudsmen are required to notify the complainant regularly of how the complaint is proceeding.

Cost: There is no charge for the service even if the ombudsmen retain experts to assist them in their inquiries into the complaint.

Nature of the Decision: The Federal Ombudsman Service issues recommendations and suggestions with a view to improving the future operation of the Federal administrations. It has no power to compel the Federal administrative authority concerned to implement its recommendations but it will seek to persuade the administration to comply with its proposals by bringing its moral authority to bear.

Enforcement: Not applicable.

 

Service du médiateur de la Région wallonne (Ombudsman of the Wallonia Region)

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Avenue Gouverneur Bovesse 74 - 4 e étage

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5100 Jambes

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Tel: + 32 81 32 19 11

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Fax: + 32 81 32 19 00

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Email: courrier@mediateur.wallonie.be

Structure:

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This is a one-person institution; the ombudsman is assisted by a staff whose status and terms of employment are determined by the Walloon Regional Council acting on the a proposal by the ombudsman.

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Term of appointment: six years, renewable once only.

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Appointment: by the Walloon Regional Council following public advertisement of the post and a selection procedure established under the internal rules of procedure. The Decree of 22 December 1994 lays down the conditions of eligibility for and the grounds of disqualification from holding this office.

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Removal from office: by the Walloon Regional Council, for justified cause. If the current ombudsman should die or be dismissed, the Walloon Regional Council will appoint a member of the ombudsman's staff as acting ombudsman on an interim basis.

Powers:

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The Walloon ombudsman's job is to deal with complaints regarding the operation of the Walloon regional administrative authorities with the exception of those administrations which have an ombudsman of their own. The ombudsman seeks to conciliate the positions of the complainant and the public authority concerned. The ombudsman draws up recommendations with a view to resolving the problems which have been identified and, in general, to improve the operation of the administration concerned.

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The Walloon Region ombudsman holds an additional power, which is the power to enforce final court judgments against administrative authorities which have failed to comply with same.

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The ombudsman's geographical jurisdiction covers Wallonia, which represents not only a part of the territory of the Kingdom of Belgium but is also and especially an autonomous political institution within the Federal structure of the State.

Procedure:

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Any individual or corporate body may submit a complaint, either in writing or in person, in French or in German.

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The complainant must first have made contact with the public administration to which the complaint relates with a view to obtaining satisfaction.

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Within one month after the making of the complaint, the ombudsman will notify the complainant in writing of his decision as to whether or not to entertain the complaint. If the ombudsman decides against proceeding with a complaint, he is required to give his reasons for that decision. If he decides to consider the case he must notify the administrative authority concerned. The ombudsman is required to inform the complainant regularly of the progress of his complaint.

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Any cases which becomes the subject of court or administrative proceedings will be stayed. The administrative authority and the complainant must notify the ombudsman of the bringing of such proceedings. The making of a complaint to the ombudsman does not stop time running for the purposes of the statute of limitations.

Cost: There is no charge for the services of the Wallonia Region ombudsman.

Nature of the Decision and Enforcement: The outcome of the procedure is a conciliation proposal (recommendation) which is binding only if the ombudsman is acting pursuant to a final court judgment.

 

Vlaamse Ombudsdienst (Ombudsman of the Flanders Region)

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Hertogstraat 67 - 71

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 552 98 98

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Fax: + 32 2 552 98 50

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Email: ombudsdienst@vlaamsparlement.be

Structure:

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This is a one-person institution; the Flemish ombudsman is assisted by a staff whose status and terms of employment are determined by the Flemish Parliament acting on the a proposal by the ombudsman.

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Term of appointment: six years, renewable once only for a further period of six years.

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Appointment: by the Flemish Parliament. The Decree of 7 July 1998 lays down the conditions of eligibility for and the grounds of disqualification from holding this office.

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Removal from office: by the Flemish Parliament, for justified cause.

Powers: The Flemish ombudsman's main task is to consider complaints regarding the acts and operation of the administrative authorities of the Flemish Community and the Flanders Region and to play the role of conciliator. On the basis of the findings he makes in discharging this function, the ombudsman draws up proposals and recommendations with a view to improving the operation of the administrative authorities concerned. The Flemish Region ombudsman performs one additional function, which is to advise the President of the Flemish Parliament of any breach of the code of conduct on the part of a member of the Flemish Parliament.

Procedure:

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Any individual or corporate body may submit a complaint, either in writing or in person.

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The complainant must first have made contact with the public administration to which the complaint relates with a view to obtaining satisfaction.

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The complaint must be made not more than one year after the facts on which it is based.

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Certain complaints are deemed inadmissible, including where the identity of the complainant is not known or if the complaint relates to facts which are the subject of criminal proceedings.

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Any cases which becomes the subject of court or administrative proceedings will be stayed. The administrative authority must notify the ombudsman of the bringing of such proceedings. The ombudsman must notify the complainant without delay of the staying of the processing of his complaint. The making of a complaint to the ombudsman and the investigation of the case does not stop time running for the purposes of the limitation periods for the bringing of administrative proceedings.

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The procedure is written; the complainant and the administration concerned are kept informed of developments in the examination of the case.

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The ombudsman may set a mandatory time limit for a reply by the administrative authority or by officials of whom he asks questions in the course of his inquiries. He has wide powers of investigation and may call on the assistance of experts.

Cost: The service is entirely free of charge.

Nature of the Decision: The procedure may culminate in a conciliation proposal whereby the ombudsman seeks to reconcile the viewpoints of the complainant and the administration. The ombudsman issues recommendations to the administrative authority with a view to preventing a recurrence of the facts which gave rise to the complaint but he has no power to compel the administration to comply. If the Flemish ombudsman does not agree with the final decision taken by the administrative authority he can make a report to the relevant Minister.

Enforcement: Not applicable.

 

Service du Médiateur de la Communauté française

Rue des Poissonniers 11-13, bte 7

1000 BRUXELLES

Tél: + 32 2 548.00.70

Fax: + 32 2 548.00.80

E-mail: courrier@mediateurcf.be

Structure:

Individual body: mediator and deputy mediator (+ a team of 10).

Term of office: six years, renewable once, with assessment after three years.

Appointment: by the Council of the French Community (Conseil de la Communauté française), after public call for applications. The Decree of 20 June 2002 lays down the requirements for appointment and the grounds for exclusion from the post.

Dismissal: by the Council of the French Community.

Powers:

The mediator deals with any dispute between a citizen, a legal person or an unincorporated society and an administrative department of the French Community, apart from those which already have their own mediator. The mediator attempts to reconcile the points of view of the complainant and the departments concerned. To this end, he makes recommendations for solving the problems identified and improving the department's operation.

He has the particular power of issuing an injunction to administrative departments which fail to take account of a judicial decision having the force of res judicata.

Any person subject to administration, irrespective of nationality, place of residence or registered offices, may have recourse to the mediator in a matter for which he is competent.

There is no limit as regards the value of the dispute.

Procedure:

Complaints may be submitted in writing (by post, fax or e-mail) or orally (in situ) in French. If the complainant has difficulty in expressing himself in that language, he may be accompanied by a person of his choice or represented by a person whom he authorises to act on his behalf.

The complainant must first have availed himself of the internal administrative remedies provided and have made the necessary representations to the departments concerned in order to obtain satisfaction.

In the month following submission of his complaint, the mediator informs the complainant in writing whether he has decided to deal with it. If the mediator refuses, he must state his reasons. If he decides to deal with the case, he informs the administrative department in question.
The mediator is required to inform the complainant at intervals of the action taken on his complaint.

Cost: The procedure is entirely without charge.

Nature of the decision and enforcement:

The mediator's recommendations, proposals and suggestions are not binding.
However, in the event of failure to comply with a judicial decision having the force of res judicata, the mediator may enjoin the department concerned to comply within a time limit which he sets. If this injunction remains without effect, a special report on the failure to comply with the judicial decision is published in the Moniteur belge.

 

Le délégué général de la Communauté française aux droits de l'enfant (Children's rights Commissioner of the French Community)

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Rue de l'Association 11

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 223 36 99

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Fax: + 32 2 223 36 46

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Email: dgde@cfwb.be

Structure:

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This is a one-person institution: the Commissioner is assisted by a staff of nine employed by the Ministry of the French Community.

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Term of appointment: six years, renewable twice.

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Appointment: by the Government of the French Community. The Commissioner may not hold any other office or employment, whether for reward or otherwise.

Powers: The Commissioner's task is to safeguard the rights and interests of young persons. He deals with information, complaints and requests for mediation in relation to infringements of the rights of young persons. His services may be called upon in cases concerning young consumers (for example, disputes with financial institutions or sporting organisations). The geographical area covered is that of the French Community.

Procedure:

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Any person may take a case to the Commissioner's office, by sending an ordinary hand-written letter, in any matter which comes within the sphere of application of the decree establishing a Commissioner for children's rights.

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Information, complaints and requests for mediation received are considered and investigated by the Commissioner who will decide what action to take after making such inquiries as may be necessary. If he sees fit, he may notify his conclusions and the file on the case to the complainants and to the parties, agencies or public administrations involved..

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The Commissioner will request such information as he requires for the performance of his duties from the State authorities, the Community, the Region, the provinces, the local authorities and any institution operating under their aegis.

Cost: The service is free of charge.

Nature of the Decision: The Commissioner has a power of inquiry but has no power to issue binding decisions.

Enforcement: Not applicable.

 

Particulars for Municipal Ombudsmen haut de page


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Service de médiation de la ville de La Louvière

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Mr Ph. De Suray

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Rue de la Loi 18

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7100 La Louvière

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Tel: 0800/95.265, 064/27.80.02

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Fax: 064/45.09.89

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Email: ombudsman@lalouviere.be

 
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Médiateur de la ville de Seraing

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Mr G. Guilllaume

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Rue de Colard-Trouillet 12

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4100 Seraing

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Tel: + 32 4 330 83 10 / 22

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Fax: + 32 4 330 83 22

 
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Ombudsman Stad Mechelen

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Mr W. Vandenbroeck

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Frederik de Merodestraat 16

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2800 Mechelen

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Tel: + 32 15 27 00 40

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Fax: + 32 15 20 34 74

 
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Ombudsdienst Stad Antwerpen

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Gildekamersstraat 9

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2000 Antwerpen

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Tel: 0800 94843 (within Belgium)

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Fax: + 32 3 220 81 60

 
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Ombudsdienst Gemeente Puurs

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Ms F. Wauters

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Hoogstraat 29

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2870 Puurs

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Tel: + 32 3 890 76 75

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Fax: + 32 3 890 76 91

 
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Ombudsdienst Stad Leuven

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Muntstraat 1A

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3000 Leuven

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Tel: + 32 16 211 633

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Fax: + 32 16 211 634

 
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Ombudsdienst van de Stad Brugge

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Braambergstraat 17

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8000 Brugge

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Tel: + 32 50 40 80 90

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Fax: + 32 50 49 03 88

Structure:

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This is a one-person institution: the municipal ombudsman is assisted by staff supplied by the Collège des Bourgmestre et Echevins (Municipal Corporation).

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Term of appointment: varies from one municipality to another: either five or six years, renewable, with the first year of the first term in some cases operating as a trial appointment; or an indefinite or fixed term, also involving a trial period of six months or one year.

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Appointment: by the Local Council. The conditions of eligibility are laid down in the municipal regulations and include being of impeccable character and possessing the requisite qualifications and relevant professional experience. The regulations also specify various grounds of disqualification from holding this office, including the practice of law, the holding of an elected public office or any other employment in the pay of the local authority, the social welfare office or any other public agency. The municipal regulations also stipulate that the ombudsman shall be independent.

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Removal from office: by the Local Council, for justified cause: at the request of the ombudsman upon reaching retirement age, if his state of health severely impairs his ability to perform his functions.

Powers:

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The principal task of the municipal ombudsmen is to deal with inquiries and complaints concerning unfair or improper treatment of citizens on the part of municipal bodies in matters falling within their remit. The ombudsmen have no power to handle complaints in relation to general provisions and regulations or in relation to the general policy of the local administration.

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It is only in cases where a municipal authority has acted as a supplier (of a product or of a service) that the municipal ombudsman can act to attempt to resolve a 'consumer dispute' between the parties.

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The ombudsman cannot entertain any case where the complainant has already brought legal proceedings or sought redress by way of administrative appeal, whether to the supervisory authorities or otherwise.

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The geographical area of coverage is that of the relevant municipal area.

Procedure:

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Any individual or body corporate may submit a complaint either in writing or orally. The ombudsman's service is thus not restricted to residents of the municipal area alone.

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A third party may bring a complaint on behalf of the complainant, who must confirm the complaint informally (by telephone, for example).

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The party seeking the intervention of the ombudsman may enlist the services of an advisor of his choice.

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Some municipal regulations require complaints to be submitted within either six or twelve months after the relevant facts or conduct took place.

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Anonymous complaints are not processed.

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It is not necessary for a complaint to have first been made to the public body concerned. In practice, however, the municipal ombudsmen are increasingly fulfilling the role of appeals bodies which intervene after the parties have already tried and failed to achieve a resolution.

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The complainant is given an acknowledgment of receipt. The ombudsman must state his reasons in the event he decides not to uphold a complaint.

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The ombudsman is obliged to notify the party who is the subject of the complaint. That party has then the right to put its case orally or in writing and even to examine the file.

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If the ombudsman upholds the complaint he will notify the Municipal Corporation and send a copy of that notification to the complainant.

Cost: The service is free of charge.

Nature of the Decision: The municipal ombudsman issues recommendations which are aimed at preventing any recurrence of the facts complained of. If the Municipal Corporation does not accept the recommendations it will inform the ombudsman accordingly, stating its reasons. The ombudsman's decisions are thus mere recommendations and have no binding force.

Enforcement: Not applicable.

Commission bancaire, financière et des Assurances
Protection des consommateurs de services financiers

Contact details

Avenue Louise 99

1050 Bruxelles

Tél. : 02/535.59.10
Fax : 02/535.59.30

Structure

Public service organisation under the authority of the Minister of Economic Affairs. It was created by the Law of 9.7.1975 on the supervision of insurance companies.

Appointment of staff: by the Office's Administrative Board.

Revocation: by the Administrative Board in the cases provided for by the relevant regulations.

Decisions are taken by the head of the "Complaints and Supervision" service within the Office's legal department, who has the ability, experience and skills in legal matters which are necessary for the post.

Powers

Any complaint concerning an insurance contract may be addressed to the Insurance Supervisory Office, as provided for in the Royal Decree of 22.2.1991 laying down general rules on the supervision of insurance companies.

The Insurance Supervisory Office examines requests for information and requests for it to intervene in disputes concerning the management of a contract or claim relating to the insurance sectors listed in Annex I to the Royal Decree of 22.2.91.

The Office examines claims concerning the activities of all the insurance companies or insurance intermediaries which are subject, by law, to the supervision of the Office.

The Office does not deal with disputes based on facts at issue such as the date on which the damage occurred, the cause of the damage, the amount of the damage or the cause of an accident, or matters which have already been submitted to the courts.

There is no geographical limitation or any restriction on the value of the subject of the dispute.

Procedure

Any request that the Insurance Supervisory Office deal with a dispute can be addressed to the Office in writing or can be made when visiting the Office in person. A receipt is given.

The Office asks the company or intermediary in question to explain its position and will conduct an interview if necessary.

The plaintiff is not required to take any prior action or to take action within a particular time limit, in view of the three-year limitation period.

The plaintiff can provide reasons for his position in writing without being summoned to appear or being obliged to use a legal representative.

Each party can take note of all the arguments and facts put forward by the other party.

Costs

The procedure is free of charge.

Nature of the decision

After examining the facts of the case and the doctrine and case law which are applicable, the "Complaints and Supervision" Service provides the parties with a non-binding opinion. If it feels that there are legal grounds for the position adopted by the company or intermediary, it will inform the plaintiff accordingly. If the opposite is the case, the Service will try to persuade the company or intermediary concerned to change its position, without being able to compel it to do so. In fact, the law does not give the Office any binding power; only the courts have the authority to resolve a dispute in the final instance and oblige an insurance company or intermediary to review its position.

Enforcement process

N/A

I. Belgian Arbitration Boards haut de page bullet

Rue Royale 55

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 227 08 21

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Fax: + 32 2 227 08 20

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E-mail: bernard.castelain@legibel.be

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Arbitration panel consisting of three arbitrators: a chairman (independent lawyer specialising in insurance), a lawyer from an insurance company not directly involved in the dispute, and a lawyer from the "Test-Achats" consumer association.

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Collegiality: decisions by majority vote.

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Term of appointment: per case.

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Choice of arbitrators: by agreement between the parties.

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Right of objection: in accordance with sections 828 et seq. of the Legal Code.

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LEGIBEL decides whether a case is suitable for arbitration.

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An arbitration proposal is put to the parties, which they must accept.

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The parties choose the language to be used (French or Dutch).

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On receipt of the agreements duly signed by the parties, the LEGIBEL secretariat asks the parties to submit their classified evidence to its offices within 30 days for prior exchange. Applications filed are dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Legal Code (section 747 §1).

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The case is considered by the panel, which can request an inquiry or expert opinion.

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Unless the parties expressly request a hearing, the case is dealt with in writing. If the parties opt for a hearing, they will be summoned by registered letter and must appear in person or be represented by a lawyer or other representative with special LEGIBEL-approved power of attorney in writing.

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North Gate III

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Boulevard du Roi Albert II, 16

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 206 52 37

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Fax: + 32 2 206 57 74

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Arbitral panels, with equal representation of both sides: two arbitrators appointed by the travel industry, two arbitrators appointed by consumers associations and an independent legally-trained chairman, chosen jointly by the industry and the consumers groups.

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Collegiality: awards made by majority vote or by unanimity.

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Term of appointment: indefinite.

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Appointment: by the administrative board of the Travel Disputes Commission (which is a non-profit making association), after a training-in period of four sessions (two as passive observer and two as active observer without voting rights).

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Removal from office: continuous assessment of arbitrators and of the chairman of the arbitral panel by the president of the association, acting in concert with the secretariat, the members of the arbitral panels and the administrative board and specific monitoring of the timeliness of the drafting and delivery of arbitral awards (performed by the secretariat, which makes a report to the administrative board).

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The preliminary steps laid down in the Act of 16 February 1994 on travel contracts are required under the standard contract and under the model general terms. The standard contract requires the parties to attempt to find an agreed solution within a guideline period of four months, before referring their dispute to the arbitral panel.

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The statutory limitation period within which the reference to arbitration must be made is one year (counting from the end of the journey).

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The arbitration reference is initiated by sending the completed and signed form by registered mail to the secretariat. A copy of this form will be send to the opposing side. Within the next month, the complainant must send a complete file to the secretariat containing all the documentation of the case. The other party is required to do likewise. Each side's file is disclosed to the other party. Each party has the right to reply to the submissions made by the other side.

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The parties are entitled to attend the arbitration hearing if they wish (personal appearance) but they are not required to do so: a written procedure is adopted if they decide not to attend. Each party may also appoint a person of his own choosing to attend on his behalf or to assist him. Parties are seldom represented or assisted by lawyers.

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Trade Mart

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Square de l'Atomium, BP 613

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1020 Bruxelles

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Tel: + 32 2 478 47 58

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Fax: + 32 2 478 37 66

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Arbitral panels, with equal representation of both sides: one arbitrator appointed by the furniture industry, one arbitrator appointed by the consumers associations and an independent legally-trained chairman, chosen jointly by the industry and the consumers groups.

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Collegiality: awards made by majority vote or by unanimity.

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Term of appointment: indefinite.

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Appointment: by the administrative board of the Furniture Disputes Commission (a non-profit making association).

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Removal from office: continuous assessment of arbitrators and of the chairman of the arbitral panel by the president of the association, acting in concert with the secretariat, the members of the arbitral panels and the administrative board and specific monitoring of the timeliness of the drafting and delivery of arbitral awards (performed by the secretariat, which makes a report to the administrative board).

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Brusselsesteenweg 47

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1731 Zellik

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Tel: + 32 2 463 19 50

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Fax: + 32 2 463 17 61

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The Arbitration Board is a collegiate body with equal representation of both sides. It comprises one representative of the consumers associations, one representative of the Laundry Industry Federation and a legally-trained chairman, chosen jointly.

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The arbitral panel is assisted by an independent expert appointed by common accord.

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Term of appointment: indefinite.

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Boulevard de la Woluwe 46 - Bte 10

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1200 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 778 62 00

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Fax: + 32 2 778 62 22

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The Board has equal numbers of representatives of the associations which were involved in drawing up the standard contract for the sale of used vehicles (consumers associations, motorists associations and used car dealers associations).

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It is a collegiate body.

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The members' term of appointment is indefinite.

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Appointment of the persons responsible for decision-making: by the associations represented on the Conciliation Board.

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The Board attempts to resolve the parties' differences by means of conciliation and in the light of the technical advice of an expert.

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The disputes heard are those relating to the sale of used vehicles by dealers using the standard order form containing a clause referring disputes to the Conciliation Board. This order form is mainly used by dealers who are 'Accredited Vendors'. This accreditation is issued by FEDERAUTO (the association of used car dealers) on the basis of objective criteria (professional qualifications, customer service and after-sales service) and contractual criteria (written agreement on the part of the dealer).

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The Board's geographical coverage is the Kingdom of Belgium.

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There is no limit to the value of claims which may be brought.

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A reference is not mandatory. Either party is free to bring the dispute to the Conciliation Board.

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A conciliation request, setting out the key elements of the case, must be made orally or in writing to the Board's secretariat.

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An expert is usually appointed. If there is no need for an expert to be involved the Board may agree, by unanimous decision, not to appoint one. If so, it may submit a proposal for an amicable settlement to the parties.

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If an amicable settlement is reached during the course of the expert's investigation, the expert will record the settlement in a document to be signed by both parties.

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The expert's findings are binding upon a party who fails to attend the expert's investigation having been given due notice of same.

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After it receives the expert's final report, the Board has two weeks within which to put forward a settlement proposal to the parties, by unanimous decision.

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An applicant who is not a member of an organisation representing consumers or motorists or of FEDERAUTO is required to pay a non-refundable fee of BEF 1,000 with his application.

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The applicant must pay the expert a fixed fee of BEF 3,000 (VAT included) plus the expert's travel expenses (12 BEF/km, VAT included). This sum covers the first stage of the expert's work i.e. preparing the file, initial inspection, attempt at conciliation and drawing up a settlement record or reporting his findings.

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Before undertaking any further work necessary for his opinion, the expert will issue an estimate of the costs of stripping down the vehicle in order to identify the problem, subcontracting the task to a third party, his own fees, which are set at BEF 2,410 per hour, and his travel expenses.

II. Ombudsmen haut de page Private Sector Ombudsmen haut de page bullet

Ombudsman for the banking sector and stock exchange companies

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Mr P. Caeyers

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Rue Ravenstein 36 - Bte 5

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 507 68 11

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Fax: + 32 2 507 69 79

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E-mail: omb@abb-bvb.be

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Ms J. Van Elderen

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Square de Meeûs 29

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 547 56 95

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Fax: + 32 2 547 59 75

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Email: ombudsman@upea.be

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A one-person institution: the Ombudsman is an individual assisted by insurance professionals and administrative services.

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Term of appointment: indefinite.

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Appointment: by the executive committee of the insurance industry federation. The Ombudsman works hand-in-hand with designated officers within each insurance company. These officers are executives assigned to the function by senior management.

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The Ombudsman hears disputes concerning the operation of insurance contracts written by any insurance company affiliated to the insurance industry federation (over 95% of the Belgian market). She has no jurisdiction over complaints regarding the general policy of an insurance company or complaints concerning brokers (who have their own ombudsman).

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Application may be made to the Ombudsman by injured parties, their heirs or assigns and by any party (intermediary, lawyer, social welfare office etc.) who is advising the complainant on an insurance-related matter.
Both individuals and corporations may use the services of the Ombudsman.

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The Ombudsman may consider a case which is pending before a court of law.

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either the complaint is upheld and the company accepts the decision.

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the complaint is dismissed and the Ombudsman explains the reasons.

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the case is open to interpretation and there is no single legally-compelling solution. In this case the Ombudsman will propose a compromise.The opinion or decision is non-binding. However, in practice, they are complied with n 99% of cases.

Ombudsmen in autonomous public enterprises haut de page bullet

Mr Godefroid (French) - Ms Lostrie (Dutch)

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Rue Royale 97

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 02/221.02.30 (French), 02 02/221.02.20 (Dutch), 02 221.02.40 (German)

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Fax: + 32 2 221.02.44

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The post office's ombudsman service is composed of two members, drawn from two different language communities. It acts as a collegiate body.

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Term of appointment: five years, renewable without limit.

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Appointment: by the King (by decree after deliberation by government).

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The Act of 21 March 1991 on the reform of certain public enterprises lays down the conditions of eligibility, which include the condition that an ombudsman must not have held any office or employment in the public enterprise concerned or any connected enterprise for a period of three years prior to appointment.

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The Act also specified various grounds of disqualification from holding this office.

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Removal from office: only for justified cause (by Royal Decree after deliberation by government).

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The ombudsman service acts as an appeals body. The complainant must first have made representations to LA POSTE and been dissatisfied with the enterprise's reaction, either in terms of the substance of the response received or because of undue delay or the absence of any response. The law does not explicitly require the grievance to be raised first with LA POSTE but clearly one cannot speak of a 'dispute' if one of the two parties (the post office in this case) is unaware of the matter and has not been given an opportunity to provide a satisfactory remedy.

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Complaints may be made either in writing, by sending a straightforward letter clearly setting out the nature of the grievance, or orally, by the complainant presenting his case in person.

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The procedure may be written or oral; in the latter case the complainant may be accompanied by an advisor. The final decision is always given in writing. Although the rules require a reply by registered letter only in cases where the complaint is rejected, the ombudsman service ensures that its final decision is safely received by always using registered mail for this purpose, whether or not the decision goes in favour of the complainant.

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The normal time limit for dealing with a complaint is two months. But the ombudsman service may extend its consideration of a case by a further period of two months, provided it notifies the parties accordingly.

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Mr Vekeman (French) - Mr Vandenbosch (Dutch)

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Place des Barricades, 1

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 223 06 06 (French), 02 223 09 09 (Dutch)

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Fax: + 32 2 219 77 88

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The ombudsman service is composed of two members drawn from different language communities. It acts as a collegiate body; however the mediators may delegate decision-making by a collegial decision subject to the approval of the Minister responsible for telecommunications.

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Term of appointment: five years, renewable.

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Appointment: by the King (by decree after deliberation by government). The Act of 21 March 1991 lays down the conditions of eligibility for and the grounds of disqualification from holding this office.

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Removal from office: only for justified cause (by Royal Decree after deliberation by government).

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The mediation service handles all complaints from end-users relating to the operations of telecommunications providers operating in Belgium. The ombudsman seeks to mediate an amicable settlement between the telecommunications operator and the end-user concerned. It also considers requests on the part of persons who have been victims of malicious calls.

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The ombudsman acts as arbitrator in all disputes between telecommunications operators and end-users which are covered by an arbitration clause, provided that the amount in controversy does not exceed an index-linked threshold of BEF 100,000.

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The ombudsman also has a role as information provider, suggesting the best course of action for end-users who contact him orally or in writing seeking advice on what they should do.

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He may be instructed by the Minister for Telecommunications, the Belgian Institute of Postal Services and Telecommunications or the Advisory Committee to examine any specific issue concerning consumers and to issue opinions and suggestions.

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Mr Jeanfils (French) - Mr Herman (Dutch)

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Cantersteen, 4 - 2 e étage

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 525 41 01 (French), 02 525 41 00(Dutch), 02 525 41 02(German)

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Fax: + 32 2 525 40 02

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The SNCB ombudsman service is composed of two members, from different language communities. It acts as a collegiate body.

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Term of appointment: five years, renewable.

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Appointment: by the King (by decree after deliberation by government). The Act lays down the conditions of eligibility, which include the condition that an ombudsman must not have held any office or employment in the public enterprise concerned or any connected enterprise for a period of three years prior to appointment. The Act also specified various grounds of disqualification from holding this office.

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Removal from office: only for justified cause (by Royal Decree after deliberation by government).

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The ombudsman service acts as an appeals body: a complaint must first have been made to the SNCB. If a satisfactory response is not received, the complainant may then take his case to the ombudsman service.

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A complaint may be made either in writing or orally by the complainant attending in person at the offices of the ombudsman service.

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The procedure may be either written or oral; in the latter case the complaint may be accompanied by a person of his choosing.

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If the ombudsman is required to issue an opinion he will notify it to the SNCB and to the complainant by registered letter. If the SNCB rejects the opinion it is under an obligation to give reasons for its decision to the complainant and to the ombudsman.

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The normal time limit for dealing with a complaint is two months. But the ombudsman service may extend its consideration of a case by one further period of two months, provided it notifies the parties accordingly.

Public Sector Ombudsman Services haut de page bullet

Rue Ducale 43

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 289 27 27

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Fax: + 32 2 289 27 278

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Email: med.fed.omb@skynet.be

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The Collège des médiateurs fédéraux (Federal Ombudsman Service) was established by the Act of 22 March 1995 (Official Gazette of 7 April 1995): it comprises two ombudsmen, one French-speaking and one Dutch-speaking. They act as a collegiate body and are assisted by a staff of civil servants. In the case of urgent and temporary necessity, the ombudsmen may take on additional staff on a contractual basis.

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Term of appointment: six years, renewable.

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Appointment: by the Parliament, following a recruitment examination. The Act of 22 March 1995 lays down rigorous conditions of appointment with a view to guaranteeing the impartiality, ability and independence of the Federal Ombudsmen. These include knowledge of the three national languages, impeccable character, the specified qualifications and relevant professional experience. The Act also specified various grounds of disqualification from holding this office.

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Suspension and removal from office: by the Parliament, on clearly specified grounds.

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The main role of the Federal Ombudsmen is to deal with complaints regarding the functioning of the Federal administrative authorities i.e. complaints regarding all acts and conduct on the part of public administrations and courts which a complainant believes to be unfair or improper.

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Note: the Federal Ombudsmen have no remit in relation to public administrations which have their own ombudsman under specific statutory provisions. The Act establishes a referral system under which the Federal Ombudsmen are bound to refer complaints falling outside their sphere of responsibility to the proper ombudsman. The Federal Ombudsman Service can act in 'consumer cases', where one of the parties to the dispute is a Federal administrative authority (acting as buyer or seller) and a complaint is received from an interested party. In that event, if the other conditions of admissibility are fulfilled (see below), the Federal Ombudsman will act as an impartial mediator in the dispute between the member of the public and the Federal administration. The Ombudsman will do everything within its power to conciliate the parties.

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The geographical location of the public administration concerned is immaterial and a Belgian diplomatic mission or consulate, for example, also comes within the remit of the Federal Ombudsman Service.

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Parliament has assigned a second role to the Federal Ombudsmen, which is to scrutinise the operation of specified Federal administrations. The Ombudsmen issue recommendations and suggestions and report on the results of their inquiries.

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The procedure is non-judicial, flexible and informal.

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Inquiries and complaints to the Federal Ombudsman Service may be made by letter, fax, telephone or email. Complainants must state their identity, set out the facts of their case and provide copies of documents necessary to the investigation of the matter.

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Any interested party (private individual, corporate body, non-profit making association, de facto association, whether Belgian, foreign, an ordinary citizen or a civil servant) may take a case to the Federal Ombudsman Service. If the party concerned does not speak one of the three national languages (French, Dutch and German), the ombudsman will take steps to correspond with that party in its own language or in a common language.

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A number of substantive conditions must be met in order for a complaint to be admissible.

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- the complaint must concern a Federal administrative authority which does not have an ombudsman service of its own. The term 'Federal administrative authority' refers to the 12 Federal Ministries, the para-state agencies (National Employment Agency, National Social Security Agency, National Sickness and Disability Insurance Institute, Accidents at Work Fund, etc.), the national cultural institutions (Palais des Beaux Arts, Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie) and scientific institutions (Royal Meteorological Institute) and certain State forces (e.g. the army) and private bodies discharging public service functions (mutual associations, trades unions and social insurance organisations for the self-employed e.g. in their role as benefits dispensers) and, in certain circumstances, the autonomous public enterprises (Belgacom, SNCB, La Poste).

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- the complainant must have taken prior steps vis-à-vis the administrative authority concerned with a view to obtaining satisfaction before approaching the Federal Ombudsman Service.

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- the complaint must be made not more than one year after the facts on which the complaint is based.

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- the lodging of a complaint with the Federal Ombudsman Service does not suspend the running of limitation periods for the bringing of court or administrative proceedings. The complainant is also free to make a complaint to the Federal Ombudsman Service either before or after bringing court or administrative proceedings, even if such proceedings are already statute-barred. The Federal Ombudsman Service must stay its own proceedings however if it receives notice from the administrative authority concerned of the pendency of court or administrative proceedings in relation to the same facts.

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The ombudsmen are required to notify the complainant regularly of how the complaint is proceeding.

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Avenue Gouverneur Bovesse 74 - 4 e étage

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5100 Jambes

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Tel: + 32 81 32 19 11

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Fax: + 32 81 32 19 00

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Email: courrier@mediateur.wallonie.be

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This is a one-person institution; the ombudsman is assisted by a staff whose status and terms of employment are determined by the Walloon Regional Council acting on the a proposal by the ombudsman.

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Term of appointment: six years, renewable once only.

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Appointment: by the Walloon Regional Council following public advertisement of the post and a selection procedure established under the internal rules of procedure. The Decree of 22 December 1994 lays down the conditions of eligibility for and the grounds of disqualification from holding this office.

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Removal from office: by the Walloon Regional Council, for justified cause. If the current ombudsman should die or be dismissed, the Walloon Regional Council will appoint a member of the ombudsman's staff as acting ombudsman on an interim basis.

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The Walloon ombudsman's job is to deal with complaints regarding the operation of the Walloon regional administrative authorities with the exception of those administrations which have an ombudsman of their own. The ombudsman seeks to conciliate the positions of the complainant and the public authority concerned. The ombudsman draws up recommendations with a view to resolving the problems which have been identified and, in general, to improve the operation of the administration concerned.

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The Walloon Region ombudsman holds an additional power, which is the power to enforce final court judgments against administrative authorities which have failed to comply with same.

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The ombudsman's geographical jurisdiction covers Wallonia, which represents not only a part of the territory of the Kingdom of Belgium but is also and especially an autonomous political institution within the Federal structure of the State.

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Any individual or corporate body may submit a complaint, either in writing or in person, in French or in German.

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The complainant must first have made contact with the public administration to which the complaint relates with a view to obtaining satisfaction.

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Within one month after the making of the complaint, the ombudsman will notify the complainant in writing of his decision as to whether or not to entertain the complaint. If the ombudsman decides against proceeding with a complaint, he is required to give his reasons for that decision. If he decides to consider the case he must notify the administrative authority concerned. The ombudsman is required to inform the complainant regularly of the progress of his complaint.

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Any cases which becomes the subject of court or administrative proceedings will be stayed. The administrative authority and the complainant must notify the ombudsman of the bringing of such proceedings. The making of a complaint to the ombudsman does not stop time running for the purposes of the statute of limitations.

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Hertogstraat 67 - 71

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 552 98 98

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Fax: + 32 2 552 98 50

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Email: ombudsdienst@vlaamsparlement.be

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This is a one-person institution; the Flemish ombudsman is assisted by a staff whose status and terms of employment are determined by the Flemish Parliament acting on the a proposal by the ombudsman.

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Term of appointment: six years, renewable once only for a further period of six years.

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Appointment: by the Flemish Parliament. The Decree of 7 July 1998 lays down the conditions of eligibility for and the grounds of disqualification from holding this office.

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Removal from office: by the Flemish Parliament, for justified cause.

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Any individual or corporate body may submit a complaint, either in writing or in person.

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The complainant must first have made contact with the public administration to which the complaint relates with a view to obtaining satisfaction.

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The complaint must be made not more than one year after the facts on which it is based.

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Certain complaints are deemed inadmissible, including where the identity of the complainant is not known or if the complaint relates to facts which are the subject of criminal proceedings.

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Any cases which becomes the subject of court or administrative proceedings will be stayed. The administrative authority must notify the ombudsman of the bringing of such proceedings. The ombudsman must notify the complainant without delay of the staying of the processing of his complaint. The making of a complaint to the ombudsman and the investigation of the case does not stop time running for the purposes of the limitation periods for the bringing of administrative proceedings.

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The procedure is written; the complainant and the administration concerned are kept informed of developments in the examination of the case.

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The ombudsman may set a mandatory time limit for a reply by the administrative authority or by officials of whom he asks questions in the course of his inquiries. He has wide powers of investigation and may call on the assistance of experts.

Rue des Poissonniers 11-13, bte 7

1000 BRUXELLES

Tél: + 32 2 548.00.70

Fax: + 32 2 548.00.80

E-mail: courrier@mediateurcf.be

Individual body: mediator and deputy mediator (+ a team of 10).

Term of office: six years, renewable once, with assessment after three years.

Appointment: by the Council of the French Community (Conseil de la Communauté française), after public call for applications. The Decree of 20 June 2002 lays down the requirements for appointment and the grounds for exclusion from the post.

Dismissal: by the Council of the French Community.

The mediator deals with any dispute between a citizen, a legal person or an unincorporated society and an administrative department of the French Community, apart from those which already have their own mediator. The mediator attempts to reconcile the points of view of the complainant and the departments concerned. To this end, he makes recommendations for solving the problems identified and improving the department's operation.

He has the particular power of issuing an injunction to administrative departments which fail to take account of a judicial decision having the force of res judicata.

Any person subject to administration, irrespective of nationality, place of residence or registered offices, may have recourse to the mediator in a matter for which he is competent.

There is no limit as regards the value of the dispute.

Complaints may be submitted in writing (by post, fax or e-mail) or orally (in situ) in French. If the complainant has difficulty in expressing himself in that language, he may be accompanied by a person of his choice or represented by a person whom he authorises to act on his behalf.

The complainant must first have availed himself of the internal administrative remedies provided and have made the necessary representations to the departments concerned in order to obtain satisfaction.

In the month following submission of his complaint, the mediator informs the complainant in writing whether he has decided to deal with it. If the mediator refuses, he must state his reasons. If he decides to deal with the case, he informs the administrative department in question.
The mediator is required to inform the complainant at intervals of the action taken on his complaint.

The mediator's recommendations, proposals and suggestions are not binding.
However, in the event of failure to comply with a judicial decision having the force of res judicata, the mediator may enjoin the department concerned to comply within a time limit which he sets. If this injunction remains without effect, a special report on the failure to comply with the judicial decision is published in the Moniteur belge.

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Rue de l'Association 11

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1000 Brussels

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Tel: + 32 2 223 36 99

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Fax: + 32 2 223 36 46

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Email: dgde@cfwb.be

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This is a one-person institution: the Commissioner is assisted by a staff of nine employed by the Ministry of the French Community.

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Term of appointment: six years, renewable twice.

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Appointment: by the Government of the French Community. The Commissioner may not hold any other office or employment, whether for reward or otherwise.

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Any person may take a case to the Commissioner's office, by sending an ordinary hand-written letter, in any matter which comes within the sphere of application of the decree establishing a Commissioner for children's rights.

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Information, complaints and requests for mediation received are considered and investigated by the Commissioner who will decide what action to take after making such inquiries as may be necessary. If he sees fit, he may notify his conclusions and the file on the case to the complainants and to the parties, agencies or public administrations involved..

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The Commissioner will request such information as he requires for the performance of his duties from the State authorities, the Community, the Region, the provinces, the local authorities and any institution operating under their aegis.

Particulars for Municipal Ombudsmen haut de page bullet

Service de médiation de la ville de La Louvière

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Mr Ph. De Suray

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Rue de la Loi 18

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7100 La Louvière

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Tel: 0800/95.265, 064/27.80.02

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Fax: 064/45.09.89

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Email: ombudsman@lalouviere.be

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Médiateur de la ville de Seraing

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Mr G. Guilllaume

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Rue de Colard-Trouillet 12

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4100 Seraing

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Tel: + 32 4 330 83 10 / 22

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Fax: + 32 4 330 83 22

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Ombudsman Stad Mechelen

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Mr W. Vandenbroeck

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Frederik de Merodestraat 16

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2800 Mechelen

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Tel: + 32 15 27 00 40

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Fax: + 32 15 20 34 74

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Ombudsdienst Stad Antwerpen

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Gildekamersstraat 9

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2000 Antwerpen

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Tel: 0800 94843 (within Belgium)

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Fax: + 32 3 220 81 60

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Ombudsdienst Gemeente Puurs

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Ms F. Wauters

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Hoogstraat 29

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2870 Puurs

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Tel: + 32 3 890 76 75

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Fax: + 32 3 890 76 91

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Ombudsdienst Stad Leuven

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Muntstraat 1A

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3000 Leuven

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Tel: + 32 16 211 633

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Fax: + 32 16 211 634

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Ombudsdienst van de Stad Brugge

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Braambergstraat 17

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8000 Brugge

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Tel: + 32 50 40 80 90

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Fax: + 32 50 49 03 88

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This is a one-person institution: the municipal ombudsman is assisted by staff supplied by the Collège des Bourgmestre et Echevins (Municipal Corporation).

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Term of appointment: varies from one municipality to another: either five or six years, renewable, with the first year of the first term in some cases operating as a trial appointment; or an indefinite or fixed term, also involving a trial period of six months or one year.

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Appointment: by the Local Council. The conditions of eligibility are laid down in the municipal regulations and include being of impeccable character and possessing the requisite qualifications and relevant professional experience. The regulations also specify various grounds of disqualification from holding this office, including the practice of law, the holding of an elected public office or any other employment in the pay of the local authority, the social welfare office or any other public agency. The municipal regulations also stipulate that the ombudsman shall be independent.

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Removal from office: by the Local Council, for justified cause: at the request of the ombudsman upon reaching retirement age, if his state of health severely impairs his ability to perform his functions.

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The principal task of the municipal ombudsmen is to deal with inquiries and complaints concerning unfair or improper treatment of citizens on the part of municipal bodies in matters falling within their remit. The ombudsmen have no power to handle complaints in relation to general provisions and regulations or in relation to the general policy of the local administration.

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It is only in cases where a municipal authority has acted as a supplier (of a product or of a service) that the municipal ombudsman can act to attempt to resolve a 'consumer dispute' between the parties.

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The ombudsman cannot entertain any case where the complainant has already brought legal proceedings or sought redress by way of administrative appeal, whether to the supervisory authorities or otherwise.

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The geographical area of coverage is that of the relevant municipal area.

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Any individual or body corporate may submit a complaint either in writing or orally. The ombudsman's service is thus not restricted to residents of the municipal area alone.

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A third party may bring a complaint on behalf of the complainant, who must confirm the complaint informally (by telephone, for example).

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The party seeking the intervention of the ombudsman may enlist the services of an advisor of his choice.

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Some municipal regulations require complaints to be submitted within either six or twelve months after the relevant facts or conduct took place.

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Anonymous complaints are not processed.

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It is not necessary for a complaint to have first been made to the public body concerned. In practice, however, the municipal ombudsmen are increasingly fulfilling the role of appeals bodies which intervene after the parties have already tried and failed to achieve a resolution.

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The complainant is given an acknowledgment of receipt. The ombudsman must state his reasons in the event he decides not to uphold a complaint.

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The ombudsman is obliged to notify the party who is the subject of the complaint. That party has then the right to put its case orally or in writing and even to examine the file.

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If the ombudsman upholds the complaint he will notify the Municipal Corporation and send a copy of that notification to the complainant.

Avenue Louise 99

1050 Bruxelles

Tél. : 02/535.59.10 Fax : 02/535.59.30

 

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