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What happens if I don't pay a bill in France?

The Local France
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What happens if I don't pay a bill in France?
A person presents a bill in France (Photo by JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN / AFP)

Failing to pay a bill or fine in France will lead to consequences down the line - but exactly what happens depends on who you owe money to.


France has a set of strict protocols when it comes to companies chasing money, and in some cases the money can be taken directly from your bank account.

However, the stages of the process vary depending on who you owe money to, and whether it is a public or a private organisation.

How long after the bill can they charge me?

The nature of the payment owed will also determine the limitation period for debt collection. For example, unpaid notary fees among other are the longest-lasting debts that can be recovered up to five years after the initial amount was due.

These might include the notaire fees associated with purchasing property in France, drawing up official documents, or other notary-specific activities listed here

READ MORE: The reasons why you'll need a notaire in France

In contrast, telephone and internet companies must initiate recovery proceedings within one year. 

Meanwhile, debts owed to local authorities and hospitals can be considered up to four years after they were initially due. You can find the full list here.

Energy and water bills

For energy bills - including gas and electric - the general rule is that you are required to pay your bill within 14 days of its date of issue or payment deadline.

If you fail to pay within the deadline, then the next steps are outlined by the French government. You will be sent an initial letter informing you that you have 15 days to pay. This letter may inform you that there is a possibility the gas or electricity will be cut off. 

After 15 days, you will receive a second letter giving a final deadline (20 days) to pay the invoice. 


At the end of those 20 days, your supplier can cut off the gas or electricity, once they have warned you with a third letter.

However, if the incident falls between November 1st and March 31st (during the trêve hivernale), neither your electricity nor your gas can be cut off. Outside of those months, gas cuts are possible. As for electricity, during the winter months your supply can be reduced, and cuts are possible between April and October. 

READ MORE: Trêve hivernale: Why you can't be evicted in winter in France

But if your provider is EDF, your electricity will be maintained all year-long.

When it comes to water bills, you are also required to pay within the initial 14 day deadline. If you miss this, you will be sent a first warning letter giving you another 15 days.

After that, you will get a second letter informing you that you can apply for Fonds de solidarité pour le logement (FSL) for financial assistance to pay your bill. If you send this application within those 15 days, then it will interrupt the deadline and the FSL will reach out to your distributor on your behalf.

If after two months you have not received a favourable response from FSL granting you assistance, you will have to pay the bill in full. If you do not pay, recovery proceedings will be initiated.

It is illegal to cut off the water supply to a main residence (dwelling occupied for at least eight months of the year) even in the event of non-payment, although water supplies to second homes can be cut off.


Taxes, medical bills and fines 

If you owe money to a public authority - such as a hospital bill, an unpaid fine (including court-ordered damages) or debt owed to French tax authorities - then the sum can be taken out of your bank account in a saisie administrative à tiers détenteur (SATD).

This is a last resort. When it comes to public hospitals, for example, you should receive your bill within two months following the treatment, and you will be given a maximum period of 30 days to pay.

Afterwards, you should receive a reminder to pay if you fail to do so, with a deadline attached. Then, a second reminder will be sent, and for larger amounts this would be done by registered letter. 

Eventually, the French public authority can move toward the SATD, which is a type of forced collection (recouvrement forcé).

This process is different from debts owed to private companies. With an SATD, both you and the 'third party' (usually your bank) should be given notification in the form of an avis de saisie administrative a tiers detenteur. 

The notice must indicate your options, as well as the deadline for when you must pay. Once your bank receives the avis, they must take the funds from your account within 30 days. 

The amount debited should correspond to the amount owed, however you cannot be left with a negative balance, and the remaining funds left in your account should be equal to or greater than €607.75 (as of 2024). Similarly, social benefits cannot be seized.

Your bank may charge you a fee for the SATD. However, these charges (including tax) must not exceed 10 percent of the amount due, up to a maximum of €100.

READ MORE: What is a 'saisie sur compte bancaire' in France and how can I contest it?

Fines - Fines such as speeding tickets or court-ordered fines will be majoré (increased) in the event of non-payment. 

The French government has a fixed payment schedule for fines, including those related to speeding and other driving-related violations.

There is the fixed amount, which in most cases is the amount applied if you pay within the 45 day limit, and there is also a 'reduced' fine (amende minorée). In most cases, you can get the reduced amount if you pay within three days for an in-person notice, or within 15 days for a ticket sent to you by the post.

After the initial 45 days, you can be given an additional 45 days to pay at the increased rate. This is the majoration. If you do not pay within this deadline, the French government can initiate recovery proceedings, which might involve a seizure of funds in your bank account as described above.

Taxes - late payment of taxes can also lead to additional 'late fees', which can be either a fixed amount or a percentage of the amount that you owe. If you are late with tasks such as filing the annual income tax declaration you can be hit with a late fee - even if you don't owe any taxes.

READ ALSO The penalties for filing a late tax declaration

Bills owed to private companies and individuals

If you owe money to a private company, the most likely recourse will be a debt-collecting company or a civil court claim.

In most cases, you must pay any bill within 30 days in France. If you are late, the company will send you letters informing you that the deadline has passed and that the company will eventually take recourse.

The most common recourse option is amicable debt collection - or le recouvrement amiable.


This does not involve going to court, and it begins with a formal notice to pay (une lettre de mise en demeure de payer au débiteur). The letter should include the name and contact details of the debt collection company (société de recouvrement amiable), as well as the contact of the creditor, the amount owed, as well as any interest, and instructions for how to pay the sum.

If you pay the debt out in this manner, then the debt collection company should send you a receipt certifying it has been paid. Be sure to verify the identity of the debt collection company before responding to the letter. 

You can find an example of what a letter would look like on the consumer rights site Que Choisir.

On the other hand, the creditor may opt for forced collection (recouvrement forcé), which can involve the creditor taking the matter to court or to a bailiff. 


If the debt is related to a contract that was signed, like a gym bill, and the amount due does not exceed €5,000 (a small claim), then the creditor can go the simplified route and make a claim with the national bailiffs chamber, now referred to as the commissaires de justice.

In France, a bailiff has the power to collect debts with and without court orders (ie working on behalf of a third-party). The bailiff should inform you if the method is amicable or not. If it is done via the 'simplified procedure' (small claims), then the bailiff should give you a document (titre exécutoire) that would allow you to sign and reach an agreement with the creditor.

Once you sign this, you are bound by it, and in the event of non-payment the bailiff can enter your residence to seize items. If you refuse or if you are not home at the time, they must be accompanied by either of the mayor of the municipality, a municipal councillor, a municipal official delegated by the mayor for this, or a police or gendarmerie officer.

For other debts, the creditor will need to file for a court-ordered injunction, to be issued by a judge. 

After initiating a 'forced collection', the creditor may be able to obtain court-ordered seizure of your bank account (saisie-attribution). If this occurs, you will receive an acte du commissaire de justice informing you the account will be blocked and sums will be removed within a certain amount of time. Usually, there is a deadline of eight days before the seizure occurs.

What if I want to contest the debt?

There are different steps available depending on the debt.

For debts owed to individuals or private companies, you can usually request to pay back the amount in a multi-step payment plan.

You can also ask for help from a lawyer or bailiff. There may also be free consultations in justice centres (maisons de justice) or in your local town hall.


For funds seized in a saisie-attribution, you must contest within one month of receiving the acte du commissaire de justice. In this case, you will need to file a writ with the enforcement judge (juge de l'exécution or JEX) in your place of residence.

If you have had funds seized via an SATD, then the dispute must take place within two months of receipt of the avis. You will need to send a letter to the Departmental Director of Public Finances (DDFIP) of the département in which the SATD was applied.

If you do not receive a response from the authorities within two months of sending your dispute letter, then you can launch a court appeal. 

French vocab

Recouvrement amiable - amicable debt collection (ie done without court intervention)

Recouvrement forcé - contentious debt collection (done with court or bailiff intervention)

Une lettre de mise en demeure de payer au débiteur - a formal notice to pay a debt sent to the debtor

Société de recouvrement amiable - a debt collection agency

Majoré - an increased-rate applied to a fine after the standard payment period

Minorée - a decreased-rate applied to a fine paid shortly after being issued


Commissaires de justice (also known as huissiers) - A bailiff. This is the public officer who enforces court decisions, as well as deeds/writs.

Saisie administrative à tiers detenteur - An administrative procedure and type of contentious debt collection that occurs if fees owed to a public body (eg, tax authorities, hospitals, etc) are not paid. Usually it involves a seizure of funds in one's bank account, but it can also involve taking money directly from one's monthly salary.

Saisie-attribution - An administrative procedure and type of contentious debt collection for money owed to a non-public body. This must be approved by a court or bailiff. The recipient must be informed via a document titled 'acte du commissaire de justice'.

Debiteur - debtor, or the one who owes money

Créancier - creditor, otherwise known as the person, body or company who is owed money 

Saisie - Seizure

Trêve hivernale - The winter period from October to March where tenants cannot be evicted. Companies also cannot cut off gas or electricity, even in the event of non-payment, during this period.


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