French social charges on worldwide investment income
On 26th February 2015, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) made a very important ruling concerning the application of French social charges (prélèvement sociaux). These charges are levied to fund certain social security benefits in France, as well as the compulsory sickness insurance schemes.
If you are resident in France, you are required to pay the social charges on all your worldwide investment income and gains and the current rate is 15.5%. However, the payment of these social charges does not actually give you any automatic right to French social security benefits and health cover.
In fact, many early retirees have been refused health cover when their Certificate S1, issued by the UK, has expired, if they have not been resident in France for at least five years. Since having adequate health cover is a condition of French residency, such people have either had to work in France – perhaps even setting up their own business – or they have been obliged to take out private health cover.
It is clear that France considers social charges on investment income and gains as an additional tax, rather than a social security contribution, since the payment does not provide any automatic rights to social security benefits and health cover. However, it is the French Code de Sécurité Sociale, rather than the Code Générale des Impôts, which lays down the conditions under which these social charges are payable in France.
Thankfully, the ECJ has reached a different conclusion. In its determination, the ECJ decided that France’s social charges have a sufficient link with the financing of the country’s social security system and benefits. In addition, there should be no distinction made between those charges payable on earnings and those payable on investment income and gains.
EU Regulation 1408/71 deals with the application of social security schemes to people moving within the European Union. The Regulation provides that people should be subject to the social security legislation of only one Member State (except for very limited situations). To have anything different could lead to unequal treatment between Members States and their citizens, which would be contrary to EU principles.
Therefore, for any French resident who is the holder of a Certificate S1 that has been issued by another Member State, this means that he/she is subject to the social security legislation of the issuing State. As such, the ECJ has ruled that France cannot impose an obligation on the person to pay social charges to France, as this would result in them being subject to the social security legislation of more than one Member State. The ECJ has also ruled that this principle applies whether or not the insured person actually pays social security contributions on the income/gains concerned in the Member State that insures the person.
Since 2012, non-residents have also had to pay the social charges on any French property rental income and on any gains arising when they have sold the French property. There is general opinion now that the ECJ ruling should also bring this to an end, at least for residents who are insured in another EU State.
EU legislation overrides the internal legislation of Member States. Notwithstanding this, we will still need to wait for the French government’s response to this ECJ ruling. Arising out of this, if France accepts the ruling, it will need to amend its own internal codes to ensure compliance with the ruling.
In the meantime, taxpayers can make an application for a refund of social charges paid in 2013 and 2014, by filing a claim with their local tax office before 31st December 2015. In addition, taxpayers may also wish to refer to the ECJ ruling when submitting their French tax returns for this year, if they believe that they are affected.
On the subject of French tax returns, these are due by 19th May 2015, if submitting a paper return or if submitting on-line by 26th May 2015 for departments 01 to 19, by 2nd June 2015 for departments 20 to 49 and by 9th June 2015 for other departments. According to the ECB website, the average exchange rate of Sterling to Euros for 2014 is 0.80612.
For those of you who came to live in France during 2014, then you will need to make your first French tax declaration and declare all your worldwide income and gains. This includes income and gains that might be tax-free in another country, for example, UK ISAs, premium bond winnings and Pension Commencement Lump Sums, which are all taxable in France.
Even if the income is taxable in another country, for example a UK government pension and/or UK property rental income, the amount must still be reported in France and it will be taken into account in calculating your French income tax. You will then be given a tax reduction to take into account the fact that the income is taxable elsewhere.
It is also very important to declare the existence of all foreign bank accounts (whatever the amount in the account) and life assurance policies taken out with companies outside of France. Failure to do so can result in a penalty of €1,500 for each undisclosed bank account. However, if the total value of all unreported accounts is €50,000 or more, then the penalty is increased to 5% of the total value of the accounts, if this results in a greater amount. The same penalties also apply for undeclared foreign life assurance contracts.
Pensions – I cannot pass by without saying something on this. I have personally become so fed up with all of the UK changes that I have now taken the decision to transfer all of my own UK pension benefits into a QROPS. I have chosen the well-regulated jurisdiction of Malta and I feel that I am in control of my own retirement planning again. In short, I feel that I will now have a pension for life and not just for Christmas or for the next session of the UK parliament.
With days to go before the reform takes place in the UK, if you are affected, do you understand what this means for you? If not, would you like to have a confidential discussion with me about your situation?
Pensions is one of the major subjects that we are also covering at our client seminars this year, as well as EU Succession Regulations, French taxation, health insurance and currency exchange. We are already taking bookings for Le Tour de Finance 2015 and this is a perfect opportunity to come along and meet industry experts on a broad range of financial matters that are of interest to expatriates. The local events are taking place at:
Perpignan – 19th May
Bize-Minervois – 20th May
Montagnac – 21st May
Le Tour de Finance is an increasingly popular event and early booking is recommended. So if you would like to attend one of these events, please contact me to reserve your places.
Whether or not you are able to come to one of our events, if you would like to have a confidential discussion about pensions, investments and/or inheritance planning, using tax-efficient solutions, please contact me either by telephone on 04 68 20 30 17 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tax efficient saving in France with Livret A & Assurance Vie
When I was a UK resident I was able to take advantage of tax free savings schemes. Are there French products that will allow me to save, tax free, now I live in France?
There are two main tax efficient saving products you can take advantage of as a French resident, Livret A & Assurance Vie.
Livret A is a deposit based account which all banks and the post office offer. It gives you instant access however this is balanced by a modest rate of interest of around 1% p.a. There is also a maximum amount of 22,950 Euros per person you can hold within a Livret A.
An Assurance Vie is an investment which again all banks and financial institutions here in France offer.
I have written about this before yet I think a reminder of the important aspects of the mechanism of “assurance vie” is probably in order here:
- An Assurance Vie (“AV”) is a type of insurance however unlike a life insurance policy you may have experienced in the UK, these policies shield any investments from virtually all forms of tax while the funds remain inside the AV. (some funds receive dividend income that has had withholding tax deducted).
- AV’s become more tax efficient over time. After 8 years funds can be withdrawn from the AV and taxed at just 7.5% on the gain element only. Funds can be accessed at any time before that, with the gain declared on your annual tax return. Standard social tax remains payable on all gain, but only when drawn.
- After eight years your gain is not only tax efficient, but it can be offset against a tax free allowance of (currently) €4,600 per person (€9,200 per couple) per annum. I would be happy to run through this with you as part of a free financial health check.
- AV policies are not subject to succession law. Proceeds from an AV policy can be shared amongst any number of beneficiaries. Although the succession tax benefit is reduced when the subscribers are aged over 70, there are still worthwhile benefits to be gained in this area.
What should I ask for in an Assurance Vie?
- Portability – Can I take it with me if I move back to England or to another country?
- Regulation – Is the company advising me on an Assurance Vie regulated in France?
- Fees – No up front entrance fees apart from the money I use to establish the policy?
- Social Charges – If & how are Social Charges applied to my AV ?
- Currency – Can I invest in Sterling? Euros?
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