Some €10 billion worth of benefits goes unclaimed by families in France each year, according the national family benefits agency, the CAF (Caisse des Allocations Familiales), which intends to track down the families who are missing out on potentially hundreds of euros each month.
Figures released by the CAF show that over a third (36%) of those entitled to back-to-work benefits (RSA – Revenu de Solidarité Active) do not claim them and just under a quarter (21%) who could benefit from universal health coverage (CMU – Couverture Maladie Universelle) do not.
To reduce those numbers, the CAF has been carrying out an experiment in several of its offices around France which it hopes to roll it out across the country in 2019.
When Sophie Foucher, a single parent got a call from her local CAF office in the Gironde department of south west France, where the scheme was launched last year, she braced herself for bad news. “I thought they were going to tell me that they had given me too much much money and ask me to pay them back,” she told France Info.
“But they didn't. Instead, they told me that I could claim more”. The 39-year-old mother of three now receives an extra €75 a month, a sum which she said “wasn't insignificant” given her situation.
The CAF's focus used to be on tracking down fraudsters, who cost the government 4 billion a year. But not paying out benefits to families who could benefit from them also has a cost.
“People who don't claim means savings in the short term but it has a much higher social cost in the long term which is difficult to value,” Le Telegramme newspaper commented.
Christophe Demilly head of the CAF Gironde office stressed the role benefits had in reducing poverty.
“For us, this is very important, because reducing the numbers who have a right to the benefits [but are missing out] is about fighting poverty in families, and therefore of young people and children,” he said.
So why aren't people in France claiming their family benefits?
According to Demilly, many people just don't know what benefits are available nor whether they are entitled to them.
“On top of that, there are people who are aware that they can claim, but who don't want to, because they don't want to be seen as people who need help. Others are worried about all the paperwork involved,” sad Demilly.
There are also thousands of foreigners in France who like their French counterparts are not claiming the benefits they are entitled to.
Any foreign person legally living in France with one or more dependent children is entitled to family benefits just as a French family is.
But, like their French counterparts, many who move to France miss out on the financial help they are entitled to because either they just didn't know about it or perhaps they didn't know how to claim it or speak the language well enough to do it.
“Foreigners often don't realise they have access to family benefits and it's probably the area of benefits most relevant to foreigners moving to France because they are often relocating their whole family,” Tracy Leonetti, a relocation and paperwork expert in France told The Local.
“The French love families with children which shows in the way the benefits work,” said Leonetti.