As government services in smaller market towns are closed to streamline and centralise offices, people in rural areas often complain they have lost access to administrative help.
To remedy this, the government has established a network of France Services offices, 2,379 of which were up and running across the country in 2022, and a total of 2750 by the end of this year.
They are designed to be a first point of contact with French bureaucracy, offering free help with processes and paperwork connected to health, family, law, accommodation, taxes, job-hunting and digital services.
The aim is that everyone should be within 30 minutes of one of these guichets (service counters). Find your local France Services here.
Here are some of the things you can do at France Services:
1. Learn how systems work
Staff can give information about how systems work in France generally: such as, how to get into the health system, understand where your taxes go, why you have to answer questions about your swimming pool, or whether you have to pay for a television licence.
2. Complete administration tasks
They can help navigate a specific task, such as filling in a tax declaration form, setting up income tax deductions at source, and demanding or renewing a French ID card, a driving licence or a carte grise (vehicle log book).
3. Get IT help
You can also get basic IT help, including to set up an email address, or print/scan documents needed for official dossiers (files).
4. Navigate websites
Staff can show people how to find and navigate the government’s various official websites, do online simulations (eg. of benefits they could get) and place requests for documents (recent copies of French birth certificates, for example).
5. Move problems forward
Staff can contact the right people in other offices to sort out intractable bureaucratic knots. If you just cannot sort out a difficult situation yourself, France Services is the next stop.
6. Know what to expect when you are expecting
Staff can help expectant mothers declare their pregnancy, apply for benefits, find a local midwife, choose where to give birth, and deal with employment issues, among other services.
For first-time mothers, this is an important step, as maternity benefits are paid during pregnancy to women who follow the correct parcours (ie. have filled out the right paperwork).
7. Land a job
Get help with job-hunting, advice on CVs, and find out how to sign on at the Pôle Emploi.
Staff can often also give information on local employers who are currently recruiting.
8. Claim benefits
You can pop into a France Services office if you are unsure of the social security benefits available to you, or how to apply for them.
Staff can even help locate the correct web pages to apply online.
9. Apply for a carte Vitale
If you have issues with your carte Vitale – whether getting one in the first place, replacing a lost one or updating an existing one – help is at hand.
The same goes for getting healthcare reimbursed. (Obviously, staff cannot offer medical help.)
10. Ensure your pension is paid
Get advice to establish your exact date of retirement, and ensure your pension is paid in full and on time.
11. Settle disputes
Staff can give advice to people faced with legal disputes: on how to avoid them, find a mediation service, settle out of court, or if it cannot be avoided.
They can also explain which courts deal with different kinds of cases, and supply their addresses.
12. Local offerings
Offices are free to add other services to the range on offer. You might also find help relating to rubbish collection, parking queries, or opening hours of the local post office, for example.