The obligatory provisions for invoices fall under the language legislation
The Royal Decree of 18 July 1966 consolidating the laws on the use of languages in administrative matters states that ‘for the instruments and documents prescribed by laws and regulations ... the private industrial, trade and financial companies shall use the language of the region where their places of business or respective places of business are located’. In Flanders this decree resulted in the Decree of 19 July 1973 on the use of languages.
The relevant criterion is the location where the actual commercial activities take place. If it is in the Dutch language area, then the language of those provisions that are required by law to appear on the invoice is Dutch (these include the identities of the parties, the subject, the date, the word ‘invoice’, the price, etc). Where a statement is not required by law, the choice of language is up to you.General terms and conditions do not fall under the mandatory language legislation. If a client receives general terms and conditions in a language that they do not understand, then these are not enforceable. This is common logic at play – the terms and conditions in the client’s language.
When is an invoice invalid?
An invoice that is contrary to the language requirements is not valid. That also makes it difficult to collect outstanding sums, as invoices in the wrong language are legally unenforceable until they are replaced with an invoice that is regularly compiled. This was a dramatic penalty that was at odds with the European principle of the free movement of goods, with the ruling of the European Court of Justice dated 21 June 2016 (C-15/15 (New Valmar), resulting in a decree-based change as of 7 July 2017.
So is it three cheers for the European Court of Justice?
Not really. The only change is that from now on an invoice for a natural person/company based in a member state of the EU or EEA other than Belgium may additionally be validly compiled in an official language of the EU or EEA member states.Invoices to compatriots who speak a different language or to clients who are not based in the EU or EEA must still be compiled solely in Dutch. And so the response is unchanged: either issue a multi-language invoice or a duplicate one, with one in Dutch and the other in the client’s language.