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TAXES

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

Living in France involves paying plenty of taxes, but if you receive a bill that is unusually large, here's how to go about checking it and challenging it if necessary.

Reader question: How can I challenge my French tax bill?
Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP

Question: I just received my French tax bill and it’s roughly four times bigger than in previous years, even though my circumstances haven’t changed. Help!

Tax rates in France are generally quite high – overall French residents have the highest tax burden in the EU – but if your bill has suddenly massively increased while your circumstances haven’t changed, it could be a mistake.

Income taxes v property taxes

You get two tax bills per years in France – income tax and property tax.

If you are a resident in France you must fill in the annual tax declaration, even if all your income comes from outside France. The deadline for the declaration is May/June (depending on where you live) and bills are sent out in July and August, with payment due from September.

These bills cover tax and social charges on your income.

Bills for property taxes are sent out in the autumn and cover taxe d’habitation and taxe foncière. Taxe foncière is paid by the property owner and taxe d’habitation is paid by the householder. Taxe d’habitation is gradually being phased out and now applies only to second-home owners and high earners.

Property taxes are set at a local level and taxe foncière has been increasing sharply in recent years – your bill may also increase if you have done significant home improvements such as installing a swimming pool

Income tax

Your annual tax declaration covers all your income (eg pensions, salary, rental income) plus any tax credits that you are entitled to such as family tax credits.

Your total bill is then calculated as the tax you owe on your income, minus any tax that you have already paid (for example for employees who have their taxes deducted at source) and minus any tax credits that you are entitled to.

For most people their bill is slightly different each year depending on exact income and tax credit level, but if your circumstances have stayed largely the same and the bill has suddenly quadrupled, there is likely to be an error somewhere.

Next steps

If you suspect an error, the next step is working out whether it was your mistake or the tax office’s, and whether it’s your new total that is correct or your previous total (as it’s possible that you have been under-paying in previous years).

If your tax affairs are complicated then it’s probably best to get a professional to do this, here are some of the things to check first:

READ ALSO: How can I find professional help with my French taxes?

Do you have income outside France? If you have income outside France – eg a pension or rental income in your home country – then you have to declare this to the French tax man but if your home country has a dual taxation agreement with France (and most countries do) then you won’t have to pay any tax on it in France.

If your bill has suddenly jumped then it’s possible that you’re being taxed on this income – either due to a mistake in the tax office or because you did not declare it as revenus de source étrangère (foreign income) on your tax declaration.

Is your bill for taxes or social charges? French tax bills are made up of two things – impots (tax) and charges sociales (social charges eg unemployment insurance and pension contributions).

Certain types of foreign income such as investment income are not taxed, but may have social charges paid. However, social charges are not applicable to a foreign pension, so if charges have been applied to your pension, then this is an error.

Correct declaration

If you realise that you made an error on your tax declaration, then you can correct it and ask for a new tax calculation to be made based on the new information.

If you file your declaration online, you can also correct it online by going to your impots.gouv account and clicking on Accéder à la déclaration en ligne then clicking on corriger.

If you declared on paper you can file a new declaration, stating on the first page that it is a ‘correct and replace’ declaration.

Tax office

If you can’t work out where the error is, or you’re pretty sure that it’s the tax office at fault, you can visit and ask for help – even quite small French towns have a tax office that is open to the public. 

The first step is to find your local tax office – Google ‘Centre des Finances Publique’ plus the name of your commune, and up should come the address of your local office.

It’s best to check in advance, because officials can only help those in the area covered by a particular office, so they will just have to send you elsewhere if you turn up at the wrong centre.

Most centres don’t require an appointment, so just go in and ask for help – it’s a good idea to take all relevant documentation with you, and certainly a printout of the tax you received and your most recent tax declaration.

To the surprise of foreigners who might be used to dealing with HMRC or the IRS, French tax office employees are not only accessible, they are also by and large friendly and helpful and will be happy to look over your declaration and explain the reasons for your bill. 

If it seems that your bill is an error, you can request a recalculation, and if you visit the tax office the official will help you fill in the form and lodge the request. 

Fines

If your tax affairs are not in order, it’s also possible that you could be fined by the tax office.

The most common reasons for fines levied on foreigners in France are;

Missing the declaration deadline – deadlines for the tax declaration are in May or June depending where you live, and if you miss the deadline you are liable for late fees, which increase as time goes on.

The French tax calendar for 2022

Not completing the declaration – if you are a resident in France you must complete the annual declaration – even if you are a salaried employee who has already had their tax deducted at source, or if you have no income in France (eg you live on a pension paid from your home country). In many circumstances you won’t have to pay any tax in France, but you still need to fill in the declaration.

If you are a British second-home owner who has obtained the post-Brexit carte de séjour (sometimes known as the WARP card or TUE Article 50) you are considered a resident by French authorities and must make the declaration – full details here.

If you fail to complete the declaration and ignore all reminders, French tax authorities do have the power to make an estimated tax bill and send that to you.

Not declaring foreign bank accounts – if you have accounts outside of France, which many foreigners do, you must declare these on your tax declaration, even if the accounts are dormant or only have tiny amounts in them.

This also applies to any foreign investment schemes you have, such as life insurance policies. 

The penalty for not listing accounts is between €1,500 and €10,000 and that applies for each account you fail to declare. 

Please note, this article constitutes general advice only – for individual tax questions it is best to seek professional help.

Member comments

  1. I am an Australian national, resident in France for a number of years. I receive income from my personal superannuation fund which is non taxed in Australia. However although there’s a tax agreement with France it is silent on the question of superannuation and thus I have to declare the income and so it is taxed.

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For members

ENERGY

Reader Question: Why has the price of fuel for log-burners doubled in France?

The cost for one tonne of the wood pellets used to power wood-burners or stoves has doubled since the beginning of 2021.

Reader Question: Why has the price of fuel for log-burners doubled in France?

Question: We have a poêle in our home in south west France and we have noticed that the price of the wood pellets has rocked in recent months – is this an issue all over France? And why?

Although French consumers are largely shielded from the rocketing prices of gas and electricity seen in many European countries, there is one heating method that has not escaped rising costs – wood-burners.

Many French homes have either open fires or log-burners known as poêles, and the most efficient thing to burn in these are specially created wood pellets known as either pellets or granulés de bois

How much do they cost?

On September 20th, Eric Vial, the director of Propellet, the national association of wood pellet heating professionals, told Actu France that the price has almost doubled since last summer.

“Today, a tonne can be bought for about €600. At the beginning of 2021, it would be €300, €350”, Vial told Actu France on September 20th.

The pellets are usually sold in either DIY stories, specialist outlets or hypermarkets and of course the retail prices vary, but in most cases stores have had no choice but to pass the cost increases on to customers.

Why the increase?

Wood pellets have increased in price for several reasons, namely increased demand and higher production costs.

First, demand for wood pellets increased significantly this year. It also came earlier than it normally does, as people began preparing for winter earlier. Many customers placed order before the start of production for 2022.

“The supply is restricted compared to the demand,” explained a spokesperson for Propellet to La Depeche.

The increased demand amid concerns of energy shortages this winter came alongside a general trend of more installations of pellet-burners in France, as installations are supported by the government in an effort to reduce pollution and dependence on fossil fuels. Households can benefit from State aids and subsidies to install new or refurbish old heating systems.

READ MORE: Heating homes: What are the rules on fires and log burners in France?

Between 2020 and 2021, sales of pellet stoves have increased by 41 percent and sales of pellet boilers by 120 percent.

Stores across the country have been forced to limit sales with demand outpacing supply. One such shop is the Weldom store in Fleurance, near Toulouse, who found themselves out of stock in late September. Store owners told La Depeche that they have “a lot of demand at the moment” and if the re-stock delivery “does not arrive, it will be a loss for the store.”

Prices are also rising is due to increased production costs.

According to Propellet, production expenses first increased during the pandemic when plastic and metal elements needed for the creation of pellets were more difficult to find. Currently, the issue facing the industry is the price of electricity. 

Vial explained Actu France that “To manufacture pellets, you need electricity. Because of what is happening in Ukraine, [the price of electricity] has increased a lot.”

According to Christian Lejeune, the manager of the sawmill in Grand-Est, several companies that supply wood pellets are more directly impacted by the war in Ukraine. “They imported their supplies from Ukraine or Belarus,” explained Lejeune to Republicain Lorrain.

Unlike electricity and gas, wood pellets have not fallen under a government price shield to protect consumers from price increases related to inflation. 

READ MORE: LATEST: France to set maximum 15 percent gas and electricity price rises for 2023

Some local politicians, such as the MP for the Ardennes area, Pierre Cordier, have begun pushing for wood pellets to be covered by a price shield, as well as for action to be taken to protect against possible shortages. 

The Minister of Environment, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, responded to Cordier’s requests on September 13th, saying that the government has “taken measures to promote the production of pellet and not be in a supply impasse.” 

The details of such measures were not yet communicated as of September 26th, but according to the Prime Minister’s press conference detailing the extension of the energy shield for electricity and gas, households that use wood-burners will also benefit from the cheque energie, depending on their level of income.

Is there concern about a shortage?

Propellet told La Depeche that “we are not yet in a situation of shortage” instead they are concerned about “temporary strains.”

The association of wood pellet heating professionals expects that the situation will have “smoothed over in the coming months” but this will depend largely on the weather. A colder winter would increase demand.

In the event of a harsh winter, France might need to import wood pellets from other countries, which could prove problematic, as the situation for many other countries is “similar” to France in that there is increased consumer interest in purchasing wood pellets, according to Vial. 

The sector hopes to double its production capacity by 2028, and to distribute an additional one million tonnes between 2021 and 2024. 

On September 22nd, TotalEnergies inaugurated a new pellet bagging and bulk centre.

The plant, which was set up in partnership with the organisation Sea Invest, is intended to boost supplies by increasing the site’s processing capacity from 25,000 metric tons to 50,000 metric tons within three years. Pellets produced will be distributed in a 200 km area around Rouen.

What about firewood?

Consumers have also found themselves paying more for firewood due to a rise in demand – prices have gone up 20 percent since June, according to BFMTV.

When asked about the rising price of wood, the prime minister said that her administration would “look carefully at why wood has a high cost” adding that she believes it “can be produced on our territory.”

“We have forests in France so it will also be interesting to look at whether some people are not taking advantage of the crisis to increase prices,” said Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

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