Thursday, December 18, 2014

Scandal of French pensions

Those of us living in France and in receipt of a Bitish state pension - which may not be over-generous but arrives on time - may sympathise with their French neighbours still waiting for  their first payment , in some cases two years after they reached the age of entitlement.

This worrying situation was revealed last night in the TV programme "C'est dans l'air" (Channel 5, 17:45) which examined the failure of every government  during the last three décades to reform the French pensions service. Not only have the French insisted for the most part that retirement starts at age 60 (when virtually every other country in Europe has raised the official retirement age to cope with shorter working lives and longer life expectancy) but the system relies on a multiplicity of semi-private providers (known as "caisses") depending on your occupation, with only public sector pensions being the direct responsibility of the government.

As you change jobs, you change pension provider, and calculating - and paying - your final pension depends on your last provider, who has the task of assembling information from all of the pensioner's previous assurers. It is this task which is causing serious delays and the programme highlighted two couples still awaiting their first pension payment two years after the husbands finished work. They are meanwhile relying on their savings, the help of family and friends, charities and state handouts. One particular "caisse" had a backlog of five thousand similar cases and had closed its office to the public in order to try and deal with the situation.

One of the programme's commentators noted that the situation was particularly critical in certain regions of France, and highlighted the north east and Languedoc-Roussillon as among the worst.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Paris mayor targeting private apartments

The recently elected socialist mayor of Paris has revealed détails of their plans to buy individual apartments in private buildings and turn them into 'social housing'. The policy is not without its critics and among them are those voiced by FNAIM, the estate agents' Professional body, including:

- the high cost, where 'typical' social housing costs around 4500 euros per square metre, in some parts of Paris average prices are 6730 - 9000 euros per square metre.

- the problems of creating mixed occupancy apartment blocks, resulting in conflicts between private owners/renters and occupants of apartments owned by the Mairie as social housing.

- high annual charges for building maintenance and professional management, and concerns that costs will fall on private owners, while the Mairie will pay the costs of the apartments they own. Just as happened in Britain under the 'right to buy' scheme which created mixed-occupancy Council blocks.

- prices being forced down as vendors seeking to sell and retire to the warm South try to offload their property (some 8 million French 'baby-boomers' are estimated to reach retirement age over the next ten years).

As with much recent policy there are serious doubts that this one will work - like the Duflot scheme to buy up redundant buildings and convert them into social housing, which produced virtually nil results. Ironicallly, at the same moment this new policy was being announced, the sudden ban on wood burning fires in Paris was suddenly dropped after widespread protest. It seems the present government just can't get it right.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Tiny houses come to France

Good news for those thinking of acquiring a (first) property in France or simply interested in 'downsizing'. The tiny house movement, which originated in America, is starting to gain ground in France, according to an article in today's LeFigaro online edition ( They refer to a French website ( which shows examples of tiny homes (on wheels to get round certain planning regulations) and the site is full of practical advice including an update on current French local planning laws.

If your French is not up to scratch, you could start by looking at a similar, very comprehensive, American website ( which again shows numerous examples, including the interiors of some small apartments and studios (I particularly liked one shown in Paris).

Many of the earlier tiny houses in America tended to look like a garden shed on wheels (the wheels again essential due to planning laws) but the recession and a desire for an alternative lifestyle has encouraged architects, manufacturers and town planners to look at alternative ways of creating small homes. Many that were initially designated as 'emergency' or 'temporary' accommodation are being seen as having an important role in solving the country's perennial housing crisis.  All this is in marked contrast to the trend to build larger and larger homes - dubbed McMansions by their critics - averaging over 2000ft² (nearly 200m²), apart of course from city centres commanding high prices.

The first encouraging signs in France include the recent launch of the first site using recycled shipping containers (well known in the Netherlands and Britain) and an easing of local planning restrictions. What is surprising in the area where I live on the Mediteranian coast is that permanent mobile home parks are virtually non-existent, apart from those providing for 'travellers'.

I have just moved from the coast to my nearest large town and opted for a third floor/no lift town centre property, where small apartments are still cheap, as the current trend is to move to suburbia, close to the huge out-of-town shopping centres. All this is at the cost of buying up former aagricultural land, much of it previously used for wine growing, and resulting in a decline of the centre (closure of shops, cafés, bars and restaurants). The Mairie has embarked on an ambitious programme of restoring many of the older buildings and historic sites, and creating an annexe to the local university (situated in the suburbs) which will bring some 500 students to follow their courses in the town centre. The site chosen is that of the original university which dates back several centuries.

All this is very encouraging.