In a public partnership you practise your profession alongside your partners under a shared name. No starting capital is required. Each partner is privately liable for an equal part of possible debts.
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What is a public partnership?
If you're looking to work as a self-employed individual alongside other professionals, e.g. dentists, architects, physiotherapists, farmers or lawyers, one option may be to create a legal entity in the form of a public or professional partnership (Dutch: maatschap). In a maatschap, you practise your profession alongside your partners under a shared name.
Characteristics of a maatschap:
- Partners are equally liable for possible debts of the company
- Partners work on a more or less equal standing.
- Each partner brings equity to the maatschap, e.g. labour, cash or goods.
- A maatschap is based on financial gain, shared accordingly by the partners.
Changes in the partnership structure
From 1 January 2021, there will be far fewer differences between commercial and public partnerships. This has implications mostly for matters of liability for company debts, responsibility for specific contracts, and the division of profit. However, the new legislation still has to pass through the houses of parliament before it becomes official. Read more.
Setting up a public partnership
If you want to set up a public partnership, you'll have to list your partnership in the Commercial Register. It's not possible to register a non-trading 'undisclosed partnership' (stille maatschap zonder onderneming).
UBO registerFrom 27 September 2020 onwards, public partnerships that are registered in the Dutch Commercial Register will have to include their 'ultimate beneficial owner(s)' or UBOs in the UBO register. This is one of the measures taken in accordance with the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Act (Wet ter voorkoming van witwassen en het financieren van terrorisme, Wwft). Persons who have more than 25% of the company shares, more than 25% of the voting rights, and/or have the ultimate say in company matters are considered UBOs. Inclusion in the UBO register can be arranged via the website of the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce KVK. Companies that were already registered in the Commercial Register will have a year and a half to register their UBOs. See for more information (in Dutch) the KVK website.
The partnership contract
It's not mandatory to draft a partnership agreement when setting up a partnership, but it's often sensible to do so if you need to put your agreements in writing. A contract also serves as an article of evidence for business relations or the Belastingdienst. For example, a maatschap contract might include arrangements about:
- Who the partners are and the equity they each bring into the company, e.g. cash, labour, equipment, etc.
- How profits are shared. This is based on the equity brought into the maatschap unless otherwise specified. It is not permitted for partners to agree that one partner (maat) receives all the profit.
- Who is authorised to do what. Each partner is permitted to perform any act of management as part of day-to-day operations. Other acts, e.g. buying expensive equipment, should be agreed jointly by all the partners. You can specify individual powers in the partnership contract (maatschapscontract).
You pay a one-time fee of €50 to register your public partnership in the Commercial Register. The costs for drawing up a partnership agreement differ depending on the notary or lawyer. On average, the cost are between €200 and €400. It is not mandatory to draw up a partnership agreement.
You are legally obliged to keep records. You can outsource this to a bookkeeper or accountant. The prices range from €500 to €1,000 per year.
Each partner pays income tax on his part of the company’s profit. If the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration regard you as an entrepreneur for income tax, you are entitled to an SME profit exemption (mkb-winstvrijstelling). If you also meet the hour criterion, you are entitled to more tax benefits, such as the private business ownership allowance (zelfstandigenaftrek) and retirement reserve (oudedagsreserve). Starters may also be eligible for tax relief for new companies (startersaftrek) in the first 3 years.
The public partnership also pays VAT.
Division of profit
There are two ways to divide the profit:
- You divide the profit as laid down by law. Each partner receives profit in proportion to the equity they bring into the company.
- You make agreements with each other about the division of profit, for example in a partnership contract. It is not possible for one partner to receive all the profits. You may agree upon allocating all losses to one partner.
A public partnership is not a legal corporate entity. This means that the partners are personally liable for the partnership's debts. But, contrary to other partnerships, you are only allowed to make commitments on your own behalf in a public partnership. This means that if you buy equipment, enter into contracts with customers or hire someone, you are the one responsible for any possible debts. Creditors cannot make a claim on partners.
Creditors will first attempt to make a claim on your business assets. If you have insufficient assets to pay off your debts, private assets will be seized. If you are married in community of property, your partner is also liable for your debts. This can be prevented with an prenuptial agreement.
If a partner acts against the law or breaks any agreements, then you are in principle not liable.
Only in the following instances are all partners equally liable:
- The partners have issued one another power of attorney as specified in a partnership contract.
- The partners decide to act jointly or make a joint purchase, e.g. hiring a receptionist or renting a practice.
In a public partnership you only make agreements for yourself. You cannot sign contracts or perform legal acts, such as reporting a change in the Commercial Register, on behalf of the partnership.
Do you want some partners to have more authority than others? Then you can make agreements in the form of power of attorney and lay this down in a partnership contract. You must report the changes to the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce KVK.
The maatschap can also assign power of attorney to someone else. This person may then act on behalf of the public partnership. It can be useful to register this person in the Commercial Register. This way your business partners also know who is allowed to act on behalf of the company.
If you choose to hire personnel, you have to pay payroll taxes and social contributions for your personnel. If you are hiring an employee for the first time, you must register as an employer with the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration. You must also report this to the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce. Read the checklist Employing staff in the Netherlands for more information.
Social security and national insurance contributions
As a partner, you're not an employee. This means you won't be covered under any employee insurance schemes. You will however be entitled to an old-age pension on reaching retirement age. This pension is a minimum income, which you'll have to supplement yourself. Start as soon as possible to keep your contributions affordable.
Because you're not an employee, you're not entitled to any of the benefits available to regular employees, such as sickness, unemployment or disability benefit (ziektewet, WW and WIA respectively). It's up to you to take out disability insurance as soon as you start your business. If you are pregnant, you are entitled to a maternity allowance of at least 16 weeks. You can apply at The Employee Insurance Agency (Uitvoeringsinstituut Werknemersverzekeringen, UWV).
Health insurance is mandatory and basic cover is sufficient. You'll pay a premium to your health insurance company and a contribution as part of your tax return.
Depending on your type of business, it can be wise to take out additional insurance.
Ending a public partnership
The maatschap ceases to exist if a partner leaves the partnership agreement or dies. However, it is possible to include a survivorship or takeover clause in the partnership contract, so that the remaining partners can continue running the business.
When dissolving your public partnership, you'll have to pay any outstanding debts and return each partner's share in the partnership agreement. This is called 'liquidation' or in Dutch vereffening. Any surplus is then distributed to the partners based on their share in the profits. If there's not enough cash in the partnership to pay any outstanding debts, the partners will have to deposit additional funds into the partnership (based on their share in the debt).
Make sure you report the chances to the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce and the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration.
Changing your legal structure
You can change a maatschap into a private limited company (BV). One of the differences is that the BV is liable for finances and possible debts. There are several ways to change a maatschap into a BV. These steps are similar to changing a sole proprietorship into a BV.
If a partner leaves or dies, you can change the public partnership into a sole proprietorship. This is only possible if the partnership agreement contains a survivorship clause or take-over clause. This ensures that the partners who remain can take over the contributions of the departed or deceased partner.
Public partnership between partners
A maatschap is also a suitable legal form for spouses or life partners to work together. It's even possible to structure profit sharing between partners in order to maximise your tax benefits (subject to other income and deductible items). This should however be commensurate with the work performed. For example, it's not possible to share profits 50/50 if one partner performs 90% of all the work.
Purchasing a partnership interest
You can join a public partnership at a later stage, for example, as a result of another partner leaving, because the existing partnership wants to expand or to take over the company in the long term. The purchase price then largely consists of goodwill.
Statistics: profesional partnerships
Number of professional partnerships