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PROPERTY

Taxe foncière: What exactly is the French property tax and do I have to pay it?

If you own a property in France you will have either just received or be about to receive a fairly hefty tax bill, but what exactly is the taxe foncière, how is it calculated, and who gets all the takings?

Taxe foncière: What exactly is the French property tax and do I have to pay it?
Photo: AFP

The taxe foncière is a tax paid by all property owners in France. It is separate to the taxe d’habitation, which is paid by whoever occupies the property (whether they are an owner or a tenant) and applies to anyone who owns a building or land.

The taxe d’habitation is slowly being phased out (except for second homes) but the taxe foncière is here to stay, and in fact in many areas is increasing quite steeply.

How is it calculated?

We hope you’re good at maths, because the formula used to calculate this is pretty complicated.

The formula used to calculate the annual taxe foncière bills – which come out in the autumn – is complicated, but it’s based in part on the rentable value of the property – so if you build a large extension or add a swimming pool you can expect your bills to go up.

READ MORE: French taxman launches crackdown on undeclared property extensions

First you take the rentable value of your property – how much you could expect to get if you rented it out. You don’t get to calculate this, it’s calculated for you by your local authority, under the auspices of a formula set by the French finance ministry. Many areas have been using a formula that was years old (in some cases dating back to the 1970s) to calculate rentable value, but over the past three years many local authorities have requested a reevaluation from the finance ministry, with the result that in some areas tax bills have jumped sharply this year.

Once you have the rentable value you then divide it by two, then multiply it by the tax level set by your local authority.

The local authority’s tax rate varies hugely from place to place, which is why two people with similar sized homes in different areas can end up with wildly different bills.

In fact to make it more complicated it’s actually three local authorities – the commune, the département and the région – which all set their own tax rates then divide up your tax to pay for local services.

The good news is that you don’t need to do all this maths yourself, your local authorities will calculate it all then present you with a single bill, known as the avis d’impôt.

What happens then?

Well if you agree with it you pay it, the deadline for payments this year is October 15th or October 20th if you’re paying online.

Your property tax notice should have been available since August 29th if you are not paying monthly, and September 19th if you are paying monthly. If you opted to pay online, you should have received an e-mail informing you that your notice is available in the “Documents” tab of your personal space.

If you are paying by post, then you should have received your notice in September. 

If you don’t agree you can challenge it. You can’t argue with your local authority’s tax rate, but if you feel that the rentable value that they have given you is wildly unrealistic then you can challenge that.

READ MORE: Reader question: How can I challenge my French tax bill?

The rentable value (valeur locative) is printed on your bill so you can see how they have calculated it. As mentioned many people will see a big increase this year, but that’s more likely to be because they were previously under paying due to an out-of-date formula than because the new calculation is not right.

However if you feel that the rentable value they have given you is simply unrealistic then you can challenge it, although any challenge must be received by your local authority within two months of getting the bill otherwise it will not be considered.

If you’ve added any major features such as a conservatory, garage or swimming pool this must be declared and is likely to increase the rentable value of your house.

Does everyone have to pay it?

The tax is for everyone who owns a building, regardless of whether they live in it full time or not. It’s also payable on land, although at a much lower rate, so if you’ve bought a plot but haven’t yet started building your dream home you will still be paying tax.

It’s billed from January 1st, so if you’ve bought a place in the last nine months, you won’t have to pay until next year. Likewise if you have recently sold a building or plot of land you will still be liable for the tax.

Vacant properties are still liable for tax, even if you’re doing renovation work and it’s currently uninhabitable.

However there are some exemptions and certain groups are eligible for a discount.

New buildings – if you have built a brand spanking new home you don’t have to pay taxe foncière for the first two years, provided you have registered your new-build with the tax authority within 90 days of completion. There are also discounts available if you have done works on the energy efficiency of your home.

Discounts – there are discounted rates available if you are over 75, have a registered disability or are in receipt of certain types of benefits.

Landlords – if you are renting out your property and you are unable to find a tenant, or are carrying out major works that means the property is uninhabitable, you may be eligible for a discount. The property must have been vacant for at least three months and if you are doing building works you will need to provide proof.

For more on how to claim a discount, head to the French tax office’s website here.

Is that the end of the tax demands?

No, you may also be paying the taxe d’habitation. As mentioned above, this is in the process of being phased out, but certain areas will still be billed for it this year. And if your property is a second home you will continue paying the tax indefinitely. Bills for this generally arrive in the autumn.

And in some areas your taxe foncière bill will also include a waste collection charge or taxe d’enlèvement des ordures ménagères (TEOM) set by your commune. The exemptions mentioned above do not usually apply to this charge.

French vocab

Taxe foncière – property tax

Taxe d’habitation – household tax

Avis d’imposition – tax demand

Valeur locative – rentable value

Logements neufs – new-build homes

Base d’imposition – tax rate

Propriété bâtie – land occupied with a home or business building

Propriété non-bâtie – land with no building on it. This includes an empty plot of land, mines or marshes

Taxe d’enlèvement des ordures ménagères – waste collection charge

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For members

EDUCATION

Fees to class sizes – what you need to know about private schools in France

In many countries, private schools are the preserve of the wealthy elite, but France has a wide network of private schools that are well within the financial reach of ordinary families - James Harrington explains more.

Fees to class sizes - what you need to know about private schools in France

The education system in France has its problems – at the start of the new school year some 4,000 teaching posts were unfilled and the government has launched an ‘emergency plan’ for English language lessons – but there’s no doubting there are wonderful schools and wonderful teachers making every effort to ensure children from aged three to 18 get the education they deserve.

However the country also has a sizeable network of private schools and around 15 percent of French children go to a private school. While some are undoubtedly expensive and elite, others are surprisingly affordable and provide an extra option for parents when deciding on  a school for their children.

Here’s what you need to know; 

Different types

There are two types of private school – sous contrat and hors contrat.

Sous contrat schools, of which there are about 7,500 in France, are part-funded by the state – teachers are paid by the Department of Education, for example – but also charge fees. France’s numerous Catholic schools, or regional language schools are usually sous contrat.

Hors contrat schools – which number about 2,500 – must still meet general education requirements but can choose their teaching methods and have no state funding. Private international schools found in most big cities, such as the American School of Paris, are hors contrat, but still follow mainstream teaching methods.

For comparison, there are around 60,000 state schools in France.

Prices

Yes, there are expensive private schools in France. Sending your child to the exclusive Ecole des Roches Private Boarding School, for example, will set you back more than €12,000 a term – not quite Eton or Winchester-level fees, but still well out of the reach of a large portion of the population. But, like Eton and Winchester, they’re not the norm. 

On average, fees for a day pupil – one who goes home at the end of the school day, rather than one who boards at the school – are in the region of around €2,250 a year. Meals are not included, and are generally charged at a slightly higher daily price than at state schools.

Financial aid, including scholarships, may be available for less well-off families.

READ ALSO French school canteens to cut cheese course as inflation bites

Boarding and hours

A large number of state and private schools offer Monday-Thursday boarding. It is not uncommon for pupils who excel at certain subjects or sports to attend collèges or lycées some distance from home, and board during the week.

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Daily school hours, meanwhile, are broadly similar, with children generally starting their school day at around 8am and finishing soon after 4pm on school days. Collège and lycée pupils also go into school on Wednesday mornings, and some may have classes on a Saturday, too.

Popularity

Smaller class sizes and a reputation for “better” results means that private schools are increasingly popular. The number of French private schools has increased steadily over the last decade, and now 15-20 percent of pupils go to a private establishment of some form. 

On the whole, private schools tend to do better in results league tables – perhaps in part because of the additional investment from parents, but also because class sizes tend to be smaller, which allows for more one-to-one education. Smaller class sizes and more individual attention mean they may also be a better option for children who struggle in big schools.

READ ALSO What kind of school in France is best for my kids?

Qualifications

State schools and sous contrat schools teach to the national curriculum, which leads, in turn, to brevet and baccalaureate qualifications.

In contrast, some hors contrat private schools offer different qualifications, including American High School Diplomas and SATs, British GCSEs and A-Levels, or the international baccalaureate.

Religion

Although many sous contrat schools are Catholic, most readily accept non-Catholic children and are not allowed to indoctrinate the Catholic faith. Hors contrat schools, on the other hand, may include a religious element to their teaching.

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