Tax Reforms and Expat Pensions (Guest Blog)

The merger of French income tax with social charges seems a distinct possibility, with potentially significant implications for expats.

A surprising degree of consensus is emerging between the two main political parties in France on the desirability of abolishing the social charges CSG/CRDS/PS and merging them within the income tax system.

The social charges, collectively called the prélèvements sociaux, are levied on most sources of revenue income and capital. The rate varies by type of income, from 7.1% to 13.5%. They form part of the broader list of cotisations sociales payable on wages and salaries and the business income of the self-employed.

The idea for merger was first canvassed some months ago by Jean-François Copé, President of the ruling UMP group of MPs in the French National Assembly, the party of which President Nicholas Sarkozy is a member.

It has since been formally adopted by the French socialist party following a proposal made by the former Secretary General François Hollande, and now their party candidate for the presidential elections next April and May.

Needless to say, a fair bit of water has yet to pass under the bridge, for the idea has yet to be formally endorsed as UMP policy and, although François Hollande remains committed to it, he has more recently spoken of the difficulties of a complete or early merger.

Nevertheless, it will undoubtedly feature in the presidential elections and will be an agenda item for whoever is elected as the next President.

The UMP is coming at it mainly as a response to the huge debt burden faced by France, and the need for a greater number of households to make a contribution towards the reduction in debt.

At the present time, around half the households in France do not pay income tax, although the net for social charges is cast a lot wider.

As a result, the income collected from social charges is far higher than that for income tax. Revenue from income tax brings in around €58 billion a year to the French Exchequer, while social charges raises €89 billion.

For the socialists the objective of merger is mainly one of greater equity in the tax system, by integrating social charges into the more progressive income tax system.

While there is currently some dispensation in the liability for social charges for low income households, it is not a progressive tax.

One of the other attractions of the proposal for both political parties is the administrative savings that would be made.

Implications for Expats

If abolition of the social charges does go ahead, it could have significant implications on the tax position of many European national expats in France.

This is primarily because a large number of expats from the EU are not currently liable for the social charges on their pension income.

Those who do not pay the social charges on their pension income are:

  • Those of state retirement age who have health cover through an E121/S1;

  • Anyone else who is covered for health in France through an ‘E/S’ form certificate of entitlement;

  • Early retirees in receipt of a government service pension;

  • Those obliged to take out private health insurance;

  • Those below the income threshold that would make them liable for social charges;

  • Many early retirees who would normally be liable for the social charges on their private pension also escape payment of the social charges simply because of gross inefficiencies in the system of tax collection.

Accordingly, if social charges are abolished by their merger with income tax, many of those on pensions that are currently exempt from (or escaping) social charges could have a greater liability to income tax.

Until the scope of the changes has been determined it remains unclear just quite what the impact will be, although it can be anticipated that those on a modest income will pay little or no tax, as is currently the case.

Abolition of the tax may actually be good news for those resident in France and more reliant on business, investment and savings income. They may well find they are better off, particularly at the lower end of the income ladder, due to the flat rate nature of the prélèvements sociaux, irrespective of the level of income.

It is, of course, all speculation, but there is plenty of smoke around to suggest it is not without foundation.

David Yeates

Editor at

I am confused by this - as I am covered now by E121 (in receipt of UK state pension) and although I fill in my "impots" forms correctly with the added statement of this cover I have to write after receiving a demand for social charges and explain - found good form letter on the net - So if this goes through will The French then get paid twice? Once through my Impots and also from DWP in the UK? Seems a little dishonest!

@Finn, it's a blog post and not a discussion and as such any replies are meant to be aimed at the OP not the comments. A bit of a pointless restriction, I'll see if I can do something about it.

I think what the BBC reported was actually that Hollande says he sees the financial sector as his 'main opponent'. of course, being a socialist, the end result will probably be the same. But there again, Sarkozy's proposed (and effectively unilateral) 'financial transaction tax' will have the same effect. So, as usual, not much to choose between them.

I heard on the BBC that Francois Hollande has stated that he will destroy the financial sector. This may have more bearing on our incomes than combining tax and social charges.

On a lighter note, did anyone see that he quoted "Shakespeare" in one of his speeches, but it was actually a quote from the novelist Nicholas Shakespeare!

Thanks for this look into the crystal ball

I don't see any mention of those who pay for French health insurace via the CMU program (Couverteur Medicale Universelle). The charges are based on your reported income. Is that considered a Social Charge?

For the Americans members of SFN, there is no income tax due on US Social Security and IRA distributions due to the Double Taxation Treaty. However, if you have a pension, then that is considered income and is taxable in France. If you pay tax in the US, which I have always found more advantageous due to our greater number of deductions, there is a place on the French tax form to note the amount paid. They will take that into consideration when calculating any tax that might be due in France. If your pension can be rolled over to and invested in a ROTH IRA, then any income from that money would not be taxable in the US or France.

Jesus, I didn’t realise at first that this was a resuscitated thread and nearly had a fit.