4. Managing Your French Bank Account
- Cash Withdrawals
- Direct Debits and Standing Orders
- Bank Overdrafts
- Closing/Transferring Account
- Death of Spouse/Partner
- Seizure of Account
4.7. Seizure of French Bank Account
If you incur a debt in France, or you seek to recover money owed to you, the only legal remedy ordinarily open to a creditor is to seek a court judgement for recovery of the debt.
When the court order has been obtained, if necessary a semi official bailiff (huissier) can then be engaged to collect the cash.
Using the court order the bailiff has the power to seize a bank account to obtain the funds, in a process called saise-attribution.
A similar procedure operates in respect of the public treasury for debts against the government, who have has very strong powers to raid your bank account to recover an unpaid debt.
In their case no court order to seize funds is required.
When a taxpayer has not paid all or part of his taxes, the tax authority may, after written attempts to recover the debt, send a notice to their bank demanding the funds.
This procedure is called L'Avis à Tiers Détenteur (ATD), which effectively means 'notice to a third-party holder of funds'.
A similar process operates in relation to the recovery of fines and penalties, and which is called opposition administrative.
The notice obliges the bank to inform the tax authority of the state of their client's current and savings accounts and to use them to repay the tax debt.
If the accounts are in debit, then no seizure of the account takes place. If there is a credit balance, the bank is obliged to block the account for 15 working days, when it must then assess the balance available on the account and whether it can pay the debt.
In making that assessment the bank is required to ensure that their client is left with sufficient funds to meet their immediate day-to-day requirements.
That minimum balance (solde bancaire insaisissable) is determined by the government, which is currently (2018) €548, irrespective of the size of the household. Certain social security benefits are also protected, so can be added to this figure. Pension income and unemployment benefits are not protected.
Where the bank decided sufficient funds are available, they notify the tax authority. The taxpayer then has two-months to contest the notice, an appeal which itself is made to the tax authority, although it is possible to bring a legal action to prevent seizure.
The process can also be used against non-residents, but only in relation to their French bank account.
Separately, there are European wide debt recovery procedures that enable a court order in one European country to be enforced in another, but the UK choose to opt out of this legislation.
Whether the seizure is successful or not, the bank is entitled to impose a charge for processing of the notice. In the past, the charges were frequently in excess of €100. A law that came into effect in 2019 now limits the charge to a maximum of 10% of the debt, subject to a maximum sum, which will be regulated by decree.
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