Elections are coming up. You can tell as the government takes some of the sting out of income tax rates. In 2015, 3 million households were totally exempt from tax; a further 8 million will get substantial reductions this year (2016). This concerns middle-income families with taxable income of approximately €37,000 or less.
Once again, the other preoccupation of Bercy is to get people to file online. There will be a small fine this year if you file a paper copy, whereas in previous years the “carrot” was a €20 reduction if you did.
By 2019 it will be obligatory for everyone to file electronically.
And heaven help those who can’t cope, as the tax offices in France are nearly empty of staff. Indeed, in January, national news carried a story that the tax offices in the Alpes-Maritimes were no longer answering the phone. No staff to do so, and further evidence of the lack of funding for “public service” can be seen in the number of half days (and sometimes full days) local tax offices are now closed. And when they are open, as you can imagine, the queues stretch around the block.
The computerisation and digitalisation of modern life went a surreptitious step further in February when a standard routine questionnaire was sent out to almost everyone registered to pay tax in France. The form asked to verify personal information, such as a date of birth for instance, but – more significantly – it also asked for a numéro de sécurité sociale, or French social security number (SSN).
A French social security number has 13 digits, followed by a 2-digit control key.
For years the tax office have not been linked automatically to the social security department … until now. Employers have to send salary details straight to the tax office by internet. For many of the self-employed this is done by an accountant, and in MOST cases this information is accompanied by that person’s unique SSN. What happens then if you’re paying tax, but have no SSN? Immediately there is a suspicion that the work you’re doing is outside the “system”, partially undeclared, partially declared, but – in any case – not exactly “regular”. Investigations will follow, that’s for sure, as the French try to emulate the American IRS by instilling a level of fear in people so that they simply dare not try and cheat.
A link between a tax number and a SSN tells the authorities just about everything they need to know about an individual. Not having a SSN will be a “red rag to the bull”.
For those “on the fringes” and without such a vital identification, from January 1st, 2016, the French health service has made available to EC nationals a state-sponsored health cover under the generic title of PUM (Plan Universelle Maladie), which replaced the old CMU (Couverture maladie universelle) system. This might prove to be a useful way of getting the crucial SSN. The only criterion is to be able to prove “stable residence” for more than 3 months.
And what with virtually all offshore banks now sharing information direct with the French tax office (even Monaco and the European Union signed an agreement on fiscal secrecy on February 22nd), there’s precious little they don’t know … or can’t find out at a click of a mouse.