After nine years living in rural Burgundy, we are philosophical about paperasserie – the French equivalent of red tape. French bureaucracy has an appalling reputation, but some French paperasserie is actually easier to deal with than British red tape. Let’s have the good news first.
John makes our joint tax return online here, thanks to our friendly tax inspector, Monsieur Picy. When we first arrived in France, M Picy gave us several hours of his time in the imposingly named Hôtel des Impôts at Clamecy, patiently going through the implications of the double taxation treaty intended to ensure expats did not pay twice: a subject dear to our hearts, although the documentation does not make for riveting reading. While our dog dozed under his desk, M Picy read aloud from his files.Once he paused after a particularly convoluted piece of French and said, ‘Did you understand that?’ We shook our heads. ‘Neither did I. I must consult my colleague in the Dordogne. They get more Brits than we do.’ When I asked HMRC if they had a Picy-equivalent we could consult, they took 6 months to reply saying No Way. They did, however, confirm that so little of our income was taxable in the UK that they did not want to know us any more. Well, we could live with that.
Two advantages of living in France – apart from the excellent roads, the wine and the food, of course – are the absence of road fund licences and TV licences and the resulting lack of paperasserie. The excise duty on fuel seems to take care of the former – logical, I suppose, as you wouldn’t buy fuel unless you had a vehicle to put it in. And when you fill in your tax return, there is a box to tick to declare that you do not have a TV. I wonder how much money that saves, compared with TV licences, TV detector vans, threatening letters and goons demanding money with menaces.
Do not, however, assume that all paperasserie is a doddle. John needed to swap his UK driving licence for a French one. First port of call was the Mairie in Cervon, where the friendly secretary, who handles everything from selling stamps to doling out rubbish sacks, telephoned the Préfecture in Nevers for guidance. They listed the documents we needed and told us to apply in person. We turned up.
‘But Monsieur, this licence is in English.’
‘Well, yes, that’s because it was issued in England.’
‘We require a French translation.’
‘No problem – I can do it for you on the spot.’
That was not acceptable, however. We had to go home and pay an official translator 26 euros for a French translation. When we waved it proudly at the clerk a few days later, she demanded a fax from DVLA confirming that the licence was in fact John’s and that he was still entitled to it.
All in all it took three visits to Nevers, a 100 mile round trip, before John received his new French driving licence. When my 70th birthday loomed I faced the choice of renewing my driving licence in the UK or going through the same tortuous procedure as my spouse. I thought I had learnt enough about French procedure to try the French route. I was mistaken. The saga is chronicled in the Daily Telegraph Expat Section. That piece prompted a great many responses, which demonstrated how widely procedure varied from département to département. The matter is now being investigated by SOLVIT
Unfair rules or decisions and discriminatory red tape can make it hard for you to live, work or do business in another EU country.
So, if you as an EU citizen or business face extra obstacles in another country because a public authority isn’t doing what is required under EU law…
…SOLVIT can help.
SOLVIT reminds the authorities in question what your EU rights are and works with them to solve your problem.
Watch this space!
Sometimes two departments of government do not see eye to eye on something quite minor. At the time of writing we live in a hamlet called Maré le Bas, 58800 Cervon: short and sweet. It lacks the cachet of ‘Chatsworth House, Derbyshire’, but it is our official address according to the post and telephone services and Le Fisc. The road signs concur. The French equivalent of the Ordnance Survey, however, lists us as Marré le Bas (two Rs). And Google Map hedge their bets. You will find Maré le Bas cheek by jowl with Marré le Bas. Bizarre!
The hamlet has about 20 dwellings, all with the address Maré (or indeed Marré) le Bas, 58800 Cervon, and Patrick, our postman, knows everyone by name. Someone in central government decided, however, that this was not sufficient. And so the inhabitants of Cervon and its surrounding hamlets received a letter inviting them to help to choose names for the various roads, cul-de-sacs and cart tracks.
A meeting was called by the parish pump (I kid you not; this is La France Profonde), and names were discussed and passed to the Mairie. As a result now live at 19 Route des Etangs (reasonable, as un étang is a pond or small lake, and there are two within hailing distance).
Charitable donations in France attract tax relief – provided the charity is on the list of approved French charities. We discovered that even Médecins sans Frontières did not qualify. When you donate your 10 euros to the French Red Cross on Armistice Day, the collector gives you a chit for Le Fisc and you get tax relief. Well, when we decided to offer our cottage as guest accommodation, with all proceeds donated to Combat Stress, we consulted Monsieur Picy. He confirmed that there were no tax issues for us, but no French tax relief for guests either, because Combat Stress is not a French charity. However, UK taxpayers can invoke Gift Aid and HMRC will add to their donation. So if you stay in Charity Cottage, remember to fill in the chit to claim Gift Aid. It’s the closest thing we know to a present from the taxman.
Together with husband John, Rosemary Border Rabson emigrated to the Morvan in rural Burgundy in 2005, where few other Brits have ventured. Rosy's chief preoccupation is Charity Cottage, a holiday cottage which she runs in aid of Combat Stress. The holiday cottage, in their garden at Maré le Bas in the Morvan, has its own website, www.charity-cottage.org.uk which has links to Combat Stress. They are taking bookings for 2014. Every penny goes to Combat Stress www.combatstress.org.uk