The French government has announced a series of measures that should dramatically simplify the way administration is done in the country.
“This bill resembles Christmas come early for the average citizen,” was how one French newspaper summed up the reform. Another newspaper described it as nothing less than a “revolution”.
The French state is renowned for its unforgiving and burdensome bureaucracy, but all that is about to change. If we believe the government.
The budget minister Gérald Darmanin (pic below) presented a new bill this week featuring 48 measures that are aimed at dramatically simplifying the relationship between the state and the public when it comes to administration, such as tax declarations.
It's been described as an attempt to reconcile the French public with the much-hated administration.
Darmanin's key pledge is to introduce what is known as the “droit à l'erreur” which roughly translates as “the right to make a mistake”.
Essentially this “droit a l'erreur” will allow French people to make mistakes in their forms for French administration, such as tax declarations, and not be subject to an automatic fine.
Instead the mistake will be judged as an honest one, unless the state proves otherwise and the tax payer will have the chance to make up for it. Companies will also benefit from the same “right to make a mistake.”
The small but significant change is aimed at improving relations between the public and the dreaded administration while also freeing up fonctionnaires to do other jobs.
So what will change?
Stanislas Guérini, an MP who helped draft the bill accepted that the “right to make a mistake” already existed informally but it all depended on the personality and perhaps the mood of the agent you dealt with.
“With this bill we are shoring up good practice so it becomes the norm everywhere,” he said.
“The work of simplification will be long,” said the MP. “That's why we need to ensure flexibility in the relations with the administration. The right to make mistakes is also a right to dialogue”.
Currently you are able to make changes to your online tax declarations before a certain cut-off date. After that if you are found to have made a mistake you have to pay a fee (2.4 percent per yer). However from now on if you report that mistake yourself to the tax man, then the late interest payments will be cut by half.
This does not include non-declarations or late payment of taxes, however so anyone who hasn't bothered filling in those will be liable to pay.
It is a similar situation for declarations to the CAF (Caisse d'allocations familiale), which deals with family allowances as well as payments to cover maternity and paternity leave.
The government gave the example of a mother on maternity leave who returns to work but who fails to notify the CAF and continues to receive payments. In future the “error” will be judged as honest and although the mother will have to pay back the money, she won't be fined.
But this shift towards judging the public in “good faith” won't always be the case. For example anyone applying for housing benefit who say they live alone, but really live as a couple will be subject to financial penalties, because it will be deemed fraud.
Other admin changes you need to know about include an effort to delete all forms of paper admin by 2022, meaning in five years every interaction you have with the French state will be done online.
Plus some admin offices, such as education offices in each department, will remain open until 8pm in future so in theory you can do your admin after work.
Companies that fail inspections in the work place whether health and safety of hygiene will first be warned before they are penalized.
In many cases you will no longer be required to provide proof of address to authorities to obtain certain things.
More information will be provided to those who want to start a business so they know they exact rules that impact their new activity.
At the CAF one specific agent will be in charge of handling all your cases and it will experiment with opening later on one day per week to help those who cannot get to visit the offices during the working day.
For businesses, they will also have the right to ask for checks to be carried by the state to make sure they are complying with all the laws, but won't be subject to fines if it's found they are not. Up until now business owners have been reluctant to call in help fearing they will be hit by financial penalties.