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France to tighten residency requirements for access to social benefits

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France to tighten residency requirements for access to social benefits
An employee (C) of Pole Emploi "Job center" helps a man with paperwork at a national employment agency in Bordeaux. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

The French government has announced plans to make it harder for people to access social welfare benefits if they spend a lot of time outside France.

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In an interview with Le Parisien the Minister of Public accounts Gabriel Attal laid out plans to tighten residency requirements when it comes to allowing people to access social welfare in France such as unemployment benefits.

Attal said that the government hoped to increase verification checks on pensioners over the age of 85 living outside of France, to better ensure that their health cards are not used fraudulently after death.

The minister also said the government wanted to look into tighten residency requirements that would mean people who have to to live in France for a minimum of nine months a year to qualify for any social benefits.

The benefits in question would relate to things such as payments from CAF, an organisation who pays benefits to individuals and families in France under certain financial constraints. This might include the family benefit for households on low incomes where the previous residency requirement had been set to six months a year.

As for unemployment benefits, where the current minimum residency requirement is set to eight months out of the year in France, an additional month would be required. The RSA, the top-off financial support for individuals earning low incomes, would also fall under the minister's new plan requiring nine months' residency in France.

Starting July 1st, Attal told Le Parisien that social security payments will no longer be made to foreign bank accounts housed outside of the European Union. According to Le Figaro, this will not impact those receiving standard French pensions, but it would instead impact benefits like unemployment.

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The minister also announced that starting on January 1st, 2024, fraudsters will have to pay an additional 10 percent penalty, corresponding to the administration costs.

"It is out of the question for the French to pay for the actions of those who cheat", Attal said.

As for other plans to fight social security fraud, members of the French government had previously discussed instituting a biometric carte vitale, and during the summer legislative session of 2022, funding was awarded to the project.

However, during his interview with Le Parisien, Attal explained that doing so would be very expensive, "costing an estimated €250 million a year", adding that many doctors were opposed to the need to fingerprint patients for the biometric card.

Plans to combine carte vitale and ID card

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The French government is also hoping to decrease healthcare benefit fraud, and in order to help do so, Attal said the country hoped to eventually merge the national identity card with the healthcare card, the carte vitale.

On the topic of social security fraud, Attal highlighted a plan to combat medical tourism by combining the cards. Still in its preparatory stages, the next step will be to determine a timeline and lay out other practical procedures.

READ MORE: How to get a carte vitale in France and why you need one

The goal will be to model it off of countries like Belgium, Sweden and Portugal - who each use a single, combined card, Attal told the French daily. 

"It's both a simplification measure and an additional guarantee of the person's identity and associated rights", Attal told Le Parisien. 

He explained that combining the cards would prevent people from coming to France and using "someone else's carte vitale for treatment", which according to the minister, costs the state several million euros a year.

As the plan is in its very early stages, there are still outstanding questions, particularly for the many foreign residents who benefit from a carte vitale, but do not hold a French ID card as well as for those French nationals who also do not have the ID card, because it is not technically mandatory.

There will also need to be a review by France's data protection authority, CNIL, in order to determine whether it will be legal to combine identity data with health data, as well as how to make such a combination card secure. 

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