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Second-home owners: Can you hand back a French carte de séjour?

In the confusion around the post-Brexit arrangements for Brits in France, some British second-home owners have ended up with carte de séjour residency cards, which may now cause them problems with French authorities including the tax man. So what can you do if you are in this situation or know someone who is?

Second-home owners: Can you hand back a French carte de séjour?
Second home owners in France can return a carte de séjour. Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

Who does this affect?

This refers to UK nationals who are not full-time residents in France but do spend a significant amount of time here – usually second-home owners.

After Brexit, Brits who lived in France were required to get a special post-Brexit carte de séjour – known as a WARP (Withdrawal Agreement Residency Permit) or in French an Article 50 TUE – and a special website was set up to allow them to apply for the card.

This card was for people who lived here – not people who lived in the UK and own property in France or like to spend time here.

The French authorities deliberately tried to make the application process as simple as possible to ease the administrative burden for their own authorities and the stress for the British population in France, many of whom had been living here for years or even decades before Brexit.

But because of the simplified process, a small number of British second-home owners also managed to get the cards – some believing they had found a loophole to post-Brexit rules such as the 90-day rule, but others who had simply made a genuine mistake or had received bad advice.

This article refers only to second-home owners who have the post-Brexit WARP card – there is a different type of carte de séjour that is open to second-home owners – full details here.

But why is this a problem?

Having a WARP card when you don’t actually live in France is likely to throw up a number of problems.

The basic issue is that the WARP is for residents, so by applying for it you have told French authorities that you live in France. If, however, you are a second-home owner then your main residence is actually in the UK, not France.

It should be noted here that residency for immigration purposes and being a ‘tax resident’ of a country are two different things.

Residency in France takes away problems such as having to limit visits to 90 days, but it also comes with responsibilities, including to the French tax authorities.

So what will happen?

This is a new situation, so it’s not possible to predict exactly what will happen next, but it seems likely that the first problem with be with French tax authorities.

All residents in France – even if they have no French income – are required to make an annual tax declaration, and by obtaining a WARP card you have told French authorities that you are a resident.

EXPLAINED Who has to make the annual tax declaration in France?

Failure to make the annual declaration can lead to hefty fines, but it is also a criminal offence to provide false information (such as the information that you are a resident in France if you are not) on a tax declaration. People who are not resident in France but have income here complete a different type of declaration.  

The deadlines to file this year’s declaration have passed in all areas of France, and authorities have begun to issue late declaration notices to those who had not filed as required.

Completing the declaration late can lead to fines, and if you don’t complete it at all the charges can be pretty hefty.

Late fees, fines and charges: What are the penalties for failing to file a French tax declaration?

Is it only a problem with taxes?

Having a conflicting residency status could ultimately lead to other problems, particularly if you attempt to access services such as emergency healthcare on the basis that you are a visitor, when you are in the French system as a resident.

If you don’t live in France you’re unlikely to be interacting with systems like social security or education, but if you own property you will probably need to be in contact with the mairie on occasion.

Having a UK registered car could also cause you problems, as people who are resident in France are required to change the registration of their car to a French one. There have been reports of fines being issued at the border to people who presented a carte de séjour but were driving a UK-registered car.

So what should I do?

If you are reading this article with a mounting sense of dread and realising that it applies to you or someone you know, there are some steps you can take.

Firstly, try not to panic – throughout the confusing and stressful Brexit period the attitude of the French authorities towards Brits was mostly quite sympathetic, and we’ve seen no evidence of an official desire to persecute Brits.

Having said that, the longer you leave this situation the harder it is going to be to explain why you didn’t take steps sooner to regularise your status.

The best course of action will be simply to ‘fess up to having made a mistake.

The first port of call should be your local préfecture – check on their website to find details for how to make an appointment as many préfectures cannot deal with walk-in queries.

Explain that you made a mistake and you wish to hand back the WARP card – take with you as much documentation as you can pertaining to your situation in France, and if your French is at beginner level consider taking along a friend or neighbour who is a fluent French-speaker to help you explain your situation.

If you have received a letter from the tax authorities, go along to your local tax office, explain the situation and ask what you should do next. You are likely to be liable for late fees.

If you receive any kind of official summons relating to your immigration status, it would be a good idea to seek legal advice from a lawyer specialising in immigration. 

Regularise your status

You will then need to take steps to regularise your status.

If you decide that you want to make France your full-time home it’s likely that you will need to start from scratch on the visa process – but you should seek advice from an immigration lawyer on this.

If you want to keep your full-time residence in the UK, be aware that visits to France will now be curtailed by the 90-day rule. If you wish to spend more than 90 days in every 180 in France, you will need a visitor visa

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Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

A week after chaotic scenes and 6-hour queues at the port of Dover, the British motoring organisation the AA has issued an amber traffic warning, and says it expects cross-Channel ports to be very busy once again this weekend as holidaymakers head to France.

Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

The AA issued the amber warning on Thursday for the whole of the UK, the first time that it has issued this type of warning in advance.

Roads across the UK are predicted to be extremely busy due to a combination of holiday getaways, several large sporting events and a rail strike – but the organisation said that it expected traffic to once again be very heavy around the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone.

Last weekend there was gridlock in southern England and passengers heading to France enduring waits of more than six hours at Dover, and four hours at Folkestone.

The AA said that while it doesn’t expect quite this level of chaos to be repeated, congestion was still expected around Dover and Folkestone.

On Thursday ferry operator DFDS was advising passengers to allow two hours to get through check-in and border controls, while at Folkestone, the Channel Tunnel operators only said there was a “slightly longer than usual” wait for border controls.

In both cases, passengers who miss their booked train or ferry while in the queue will be accommodated on the next available crossing with no extra charge.

Last weekend was the big holiday ‘getaway’ weekend as schools broke up, and a technical fault meant that some of the French border control team were an hour late to work, adding to the chaos. 

But the underlying problems remain – including extra checks needed in the aftermath of Brexit, limited space for French passport control officers at Dover and long lorry queues on the motorway heading to Folkestone.

OPINION UK-France travel crisis will only be solved when the British get real about Brexit

The port of Dover expects 140,000 passengers, 45,000 cars and 18,000 freight vehicles between Thursday and Sunday, and queues were already starting to build on Thursday morning.