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LIVING IN FRANCE

Seven key things to know about French unemployment benefits

French unemployment benefits are known for being very generous, but there's a lot you need to know before you can go about claiming them. Here are seven things that will help you if you find yourself “sans emploi”.

Seven key things to know about French unemployment benefits
Photo: AFP

The health crisis and repeatedly lockdowns are still taking their toll on employment rates in France – and elsewhere – with unemployment running at around nine percent.

Fortunately for the French, France has long had a reputation for providing some of the best unemployment benefits on the continent. But what does that actually mean in terms of how much, for how long, and under what conditions?

Here are seven key facts and figures you may not have known about unemployment benefits in France.

Photo: AFP

1. Register within 12 months

In order to receive the standard unemployment benefit or ARE (allocation d’aide au retour à l’emploi), you need to register with the Pôle Emploi, France’s national unemployment agency, within 12 months of the end of your last employment contract

Once registered, job seekers must attend regular meetings with Pôle Emploi counselors and demonstrate their efforts towards finding employment, or they could lose access to their benefits. 

2. How do you qualify?

To qualify for benefits, it is only necessary to have worked for a total of four of the previous 24 months. However, the duration of benefits corresponds to the length of the last job contract, so someone who was only employed for 4 months, for example, will only be eligible for 4 months of benefits. The four month limit is also set to be increased to six months.

3. How long do they last?

Benefits can be paid out for up to 2 years for most workers, and even 3 years for those over 55, as long as their previous employment contract lasted at least that amount of time. The Netherlands is the only country in Europe to offer more time on the dole (38 months). 

4. How much do you receive?

Unemployment benefits in France are calculated as a percentage of your previous salary, rather than a flat rate.

Job seekers can receive up to €6,615 per month, as calculated according to a rather complicated formula that allots them somewhere in the neighborhood of 57 percent of their average salary during their last 12 months of work, up to a maximum amount.

Only 0.05 percent of beneficiaries receive the maximum amount, however; the average payout is €1,020 per month, and half of all recipients receive less than €860 monthly. 

After 12 months of unemployment, the rate is reduced and a new rule means that people under the age of 57 who previously earned more than €4,500 a month have their rate reduced after eight months.

Photo: AFP

5. Leave on good terms 

Benefit seekers generally cannot have left their last job of their own accord, given that unemployment benefits are intended for those who have lost their employment involuntarily (that means no telling your boss to shove it and then picking up a cheque from the state every month). 

However, there are exceptions, notably for those who have to move because of their spouse’s work or to better care for a disabled child.

And if you really hate your job in France then it’s important to leave on good terms, because if you have a CDI (permanent contract) the key when wanting to leave is to ask for a rupture conventionnelle. This means you’ll still be eligible for unemployment benefit despite leaving of your own volition. 

6. Perks for entrepreneurs

If you want to start or take over a business and can show the Pôle Emploi a solid plan, they will give you half of your benefits in a lump sum – while reserving the other half in case your enterprise fails. The unemployment agency will even provide you with management training and give you advice on your business plan.

7. What other benefits are out there?

The ARE is not the only aid available to the unemployed. Job-seekers who have been employed at least 5 of the last 10 years can apply for ASS (allocation de solidarité spécifique) once they have used all their ARE benefits. For more information on the ASS CLICK HERE.

Those with little or no income can also apply for the RSA (revenu de solidarité active), which can pay up to €550 per month and even be used to supplement the ARE or ASS. For more information on the RSA CLICK HERE.

In and around Paris, the RATP will give job seekers a free Navigo pass, so they won’t have to pay to get to job interviews. Many other cities offer a similar benefit.  And the CAF (caisse d’allocations familiales) will pay up to half of your rent in some cases, if you’re income is low enough and assuming your rent is reasonable.

Interested in learning more about French unemployment benefits, and whether you’re eligible to claim them? Click here

French words to know

Job centre – pôle emploi 

Unemployed – chômeur, chômeuse

Unemployment benefit – ARE (allocation d’aide au retour à l’emploi)

By Edward O’Reilly

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CRIME

What to do if you are arrested in France

Everything you need to know if you find yourself in handcuffs in France.

What to do if you are arrested in France

France’s legal system is born out of its Code Civil, and for criminal proceedings, the relevant legal infrastructure is the Code pénal.

The way the system works is very different to many anglophone countries, so if you are arrested do not expect events to follow the pattern you would expect in your home country.

Here are some of the scenarios you might find yourself in, and what to expect:

The police have stopped me:

There are a few scenarios here, they could give you an amende (fine), it could just be a contrôle d’identité (ID check) or contrôle routière (traffic stop) or you could be under arrest. 

READ ALSO Your questions answered: Legal rights as a foreigner in France

Fine – If they have stopped you to give you an amende, this is likely because you committed a minor infraction. 

This could be a traffic related offence – maybe you went through a red-light while riding your bicycle – or a minor crime such as littering.

The amount of the fine will depend on the severity of the infraction, which is at the discretion of the police officer. In most scenarios, the officer will ask for proof of identity, your address, and then the fine will be sent to your home. You’d be advised to pay it right away, because if you delay the fee can be increased.

Be aware that police officers will not ask you to hand over cash on the spot. It’s unfortunately true that scammers prey on tourists by pretending to be police and asking for cash ‘fines’ – a legitimate officer will not ask for this.

If you’re on public transport, transport police such as the Paris-based RATP Sûreté are also empowered to stop you and to issue fines if you have committed an offence such as travelling without a ticket. 

READ ALSO ‘Don’t mess with French cops’ – Tips for dealing with police in France

ID check – The other scenario where you could be stopped by a police officer is during a contrôle d’identité (identity check). This is when a police officer stops to check your identity, and it can only happen under certain conditions: they suspect you have committed or will commit a crime, you are in a ‘dangerous’ location where crime is known to occur, the public prosecutor has ordered an area to be watched, or you are operating a motorised vehicle (contrôle routière).

If you refuse to provide proof of identity, the police can find you guilty of refusing to obey or find you guilty of contempt and rebellion. If you do not have documents on your person to prove your identity, the officer can take you to the police station to check your identity there.

Many activists and NGOs argue that police practice racial profiling when they perform ID checks and it’s unfortunately the case that these ‘random’ checks do seem to happen more frequently to people of colour.  

Arrests – Finally, an officer might arrest you.

The French criminal code allows police to arrest and detain (for a limited period of time) any person against whom there exists one or more plausible reasons to suspect that they have committed or attempted to commit a criminal offence – this is at the discretion of the officer so it can cover a pretty broad range of circumstances.

Detention

The French police are allowed to detain you if the police suspect you have committed or could commit a crime that is punishable by jail time. This means they cannot detain you for something that is punishable simply by a fine, but no arrest warrant is required in order to detain you.

If police detain you, you need to be aware of your rights: 

  • Right to interpretation and translation if needed
  • Right to information (you have the right to know the exact legal definition of what you’ve been accused of)
  • Right to legal assistance (from the moment of arrest)
  • Right to have someone, such as a family member, be made aware of your arrest
  • Right to have an opportunity to communicate with your family
  • Right to be in contact with your country’s consulate and receive visits if you are arrested outside your home country
  • Right to the presumption of innocence
  • Right to remain silent and the right against self-incrimination
  • Right to be present at your trial
  • Right to consult police documents related to the investigation such as: the transcript of police interviews, medical certificates and notice of the rights in custody

In most circumstances you can only be held a maximum of 24 hours.

This can be extended if the crime you’re accused of is punishable of more than a year in prison. If so, the initial period of custody can be increased by 24 hours (up to 48 hours in total). In order for it to be extended, a public prosecutor must deem it necessary.

If the crime you are accused of is punishable by more than 10 years in prison, or relates to organised crime, initial detention can be up to four days, while those suspected of terror offences can be detained for a maximum of 144 hours (six days).

Court hearing

If the offence you are accused of is too serious to be dealt with by way of a fine, you will need to appear before a court.

If you’ve found yourself in this unfortunate situation, you should know that your hearing could either take place immediately at the end of your time in police custody or it could be sometime in the distant future – maybe even years later if it’s a complex matter.

The location of your hearing will depend on the severity of your offence: petty offences (contraventions) are typically dealt with in police courts (tribunal de police) or ‘jurisdictions of proximity’ (juridiction de proximité).

For misdemeanour crimes such as theft, you would likely go to a correctional court (tribunal correctionnel), and for the most serious offences such as rape or violent crimes you would be tried in a criminal court called a cour d’assises or la cour criminelle

If you have a ‘fast-tracked proceeding’ (comparutions immediates), this is because the public prosecutor has chosen this avenue.

Typically, it only happens in very straightforward cases, and it would involve your case being heard immediately at the end of your time in police custody (garde à vue). You cannot request a fast-tracked proceeding yourself. You should be advised that in these situations, it means that there is very little time to prepare a defence. You can request more time, and of course, you can request a lawyer. A fast-tracked proceeding will happen in the tribunel correctionnel.

There is also the option of a “Comparution sur reconnaissance préalable de culpabilité” (CRPC), which is a pre-trial guilty plea procedure. In order to go through this procedure, you must have the assistance of a lawyer

Ongoing detention

If your offence is too serious for an immediate court hearing, you will need to wait for a court date.

In most cases you will be released from custody while you wait for the hearing under contrôle judiciaire, which is similar to bail and often involves certain conditions such as not attempting to contact the victim or witnesses in the case.

In certain circumstances the judge can institute a caution, which is a sum of money that must be paid to ensure that the person be present at the proceedings, but paying money for bail is much less common in France than it is in the USA.

If you are a foreigner you will likely have your passport taken and be forbidden from leaving the country. If you do not have a permanent residence in France, the court can assign you one and demand that you stay in France until your hearing date.

If you commit further offences, or try to contact witnesses or victims while waiting for your hearing, or breach any of the conditions, you are likely to be brought back into custody.

I want to contact my embassy

You have the right to contact your embassy at any point after an arrest, though you will need to expressly request this, they will not be automatically contacted when you are arrested.

The role of the Embassy is much more limited than many people think – the Embassy is there to ensure that you are not being mistreated because of your nationality. As long as you are being given the same rights as a French national in the same scenario, The Embassy will not intervene on your behalf.

The Embassy does not have the power to tell a court whether you’re guilty or innocent, to provide legal advice, to serve as an official interpreter or translator, or to pay any legal, medical, or other fees.

They can, however, help you to find the above services, and most embassies have a list of English-speaking lawyers. 

If you have been incarcerated, depending on the country you come from, the French government might be required to inform your country of your incarceration. For US citizens, this requirement exists with your permission, and for UK citizens the obligation to inform exists even without your permission.

I would like legal assistance

You can request a lawyer at any time when in police custody in France.

As mentioned above, your embassy is a great resource for finding an English-speaking lawyer. Most embassy websites will have extensive directories for lawyers.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to find a lawyer in France

You can also check the local “tribunal d’instance” (your local courthouse), your département’s bar association (le batonnier/ Barreau), or consult websites, such as AngloInfo, which compile directories of English-speaking lawyers. 

If you cannot afford legal representation and need legal aid, you must be able to prove that you are low income. You can contact the Maison de Justice, which is the courthouse. Your département or region should have a website explaining the legal aids near you. This is Paris’ for example, HERE

Key Vocabulary

Appeal: appel

Bail: contrôle judiciaire

Bar Association: l’ordre des avocats/ barreau

Charge/Indictment: Accusations

Embassy: Ambassade

File: Dossier

Investigative Judge: Juge d’instruction

Judge: Juge or Magistrat

Lawyer: Avocat – keep in mind, when addressing a lawyer you should use the honorific Maître (the same title applies for male and female lawyers)

Judgment: Jugement

Legal Aid: Aide juridictionelle

Criminal offence: infractions

Felony: un crime

Misdemeanour: un délit

Petty crime: contravention

Police Custody: garde à vue

Public Prosecutor: Procureur de la République

Sentence: Peine

Warrant: Mandat

Witness: Témoin

Expert help for this article was provided by Maitre Matthieu Chirez, who is a practicing lawyer at J.P. Karsenty & Associates and is specialised in criminal law. You can access the firm’s website HERE.

Please note that this article is not a substitute for legal advice and if you find yourself in trouble with the French legal system you should always get professional help.

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