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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

PROPERTY

France brings in new tax declaration for property-owners

If you own property in France - either a main residence or a second home - you will now have to complete an extra tax declaration after changes to the tax system. Here's how it works.

France brings in new tax declaration for property-owners

People living in France already have to complete a yearly tax declaration, but if you own property here, you will also have to complete an extra declaration this year after changes to the tax system.

Who?

This applies to anyone who owns property in France – whether it is their main residence or a second home – including those who live in another country. If you do not own property and only rent your home, then this does not concern you.

What?

This isn’t an extra tax, it’s simply an extra piece of paperwork that has to be filled in, known as a Déclaration d’occupation, and this declaration is concerned with whether the property is your main residence or a second home.

Why?

This is because of recent changes to the property tax system. There are two types of property tax in France; taxe foncière which is paid by the property owner and taxe d’habitation which is paid by the property occupier. If you own your home home, traditionally you paid both.

However, taxe d’habitation is in the process of being scrapped for most people, and now only high-earners and second-home owners pay it. The problem is that the tax office don’t have a record of whether a property is used as a main home or a second home and therefore don’t know who to send bills to – hence the new declaration.

How?

If you live in France and already make your annual tax declaration online then this process should be fairly easy – head to impots.gouv.fr, log in and then click on Biens immobiliers (real estate) in the menu bar along the top of the website.

The site will then list the property or properties in your name, and you can fill out the déclaration d’occupation for each, stating whether it is your main residence or a second home.

If you’re not already registered on the impots.gouv site then you have two choices – register and set yourself up an account which will allow you to make the declaration online, or make the declaration on paper.

In order to register on the site you will need your numéro fiscale (tax number) which you should be able to find on previous correspondence from the tax office such as your annual tax bills.

You can find a full explanation of how to set up the online account HERE.

If you would prefer to make the declaration on paper, then the easiest option is to head to your local tax office and ask for a Déclaration d’occupation – you can find the tax office that serves your area by googling ‘Centre des finances publique‘ plus the name of your commune.

You do not need an appointment, as tax offices deal with queries on a walk-in basis, but make sure you check the opening times in advance as some offices, especially in small towns, have unusual opening hours. 

When?

The deadline to have completed the declaration is June 30th, and people who have a property registered should receive notification from the tax office. 

You will then receive your property tax bill in the autumn as usual. 

This is a one-off declaration so you won’t have to do it every year – only when your situation changes, so for example if you sell the property, buy a new one or change from it being a second-home to your main residence. 

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