Tax Reforms and Expat Pensions
Wednesday 04 January 2012
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 obtain a tax credit giving, at least, partial relief;
- 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.
This article was featured in our Newsletter dated 04/01/2012