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The French are never wrong – this can be very taxing

One of the little outbuildings that was renovated

When I bought my house in France it came with a couple of outbuildings that had no windows or doors and were missing walls on at least one side and had bits of corrugated plastic acting as a roof so we decided to convert them to habitable space, at the same time we thought we’d add a summer dining room to the kitchen.  We got planning permission to do the renovation work and extension – and the overall space added was just 15 sq m so you’d think it wouldn’t make much difference to your overall habitation tax bill wouldn’t you?


First mistake – we notified the French tax authorities we had completed the work.  Since then we have been told by just about every French person we know – you should never confirm the work is finished until you have to because then your tax status gets reviewed which is always bad – you should leave it til you have to declare which is about 10 years from the date the permission was granted.

We rapidly received updated tax bills backdated to the year before which had increased by more than 5 times the previous year’s amount.  Off we went to the tax office and asked them to check the bill – they said they would and get back to us.  They did, with more bills but this time for 6 times what we had paid the year before!

Over the course of 14 months, we have received numerous tax bills – all of differing amounts, been back to the tax office 9 times, made umpteen phone calls, filled in forms, had meetings and written letters.  It became clear very quickly that the tax people had erroneously noted the increase in the square metreage of our house by 1,500 sq m instead of 15 sq m.  They are perfectly aware of this but despite several meetings with officials, no one has accepted that they have made a mistake and so they seem to think there is nothing to correct.  If you are foolish enough to mention the word “erreur “ you’re met with a cold stare and a shrug of the shoulders and then indifference.

Finally though we think (hope is probably more accurate actually) that we have got it resolved.  In desperation we went to our Treasury office which collects the taxes, took our huge bundle of paperwork with us and asked for help.  A good tip when you need something done quickly in France is to go just before lunch!  Being close to the two hour lunch break seems to create focus.

Another thing in our favour – the woman in the Treasury office had a stinking cold – her willpower was weak, her defences down.  She reviewed the paperwork, shrugged and sniffed, chewed the end of her pencil and looked at us suspiciously.  Then she got out her calculator, sniffed a bit more, checked her watch and… printed out a piece of paper with some figures on and passed it to us.

At last someone had come up with some figures that looked realistic – naturally there was an increase in the amount we had been paying but not by much.  We gave our agreement, she updated the computer and we paid up.

Very taxing indeed.

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