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Automatic payment trialled for French housing and income top-up aids

Many benefits remain unclaimed by those eligible for reasons such as perceived stigma or living far from Caf benefits offices

Government research claims a third of people eligible for benefits do not claim Pic: Kunst Picture / Shutterstock

Automatic payments of some state benefits are to be trialled next year as a third of people do not claim money they are entitled to. 

Based on tax returns and information from employers, the system will first be tested in areas of the country that are yet to be determined. 

It will affect around 20 million people once it is rolled out nationally. 

A third of eligible people do not claim

Research by the government showed that a third of people eligible for the Revenu de solidarité active (RSA) do not claim the help. 

RSA payments are meant to guarantee a minimum income level, and come with an obligation to look for work. 

Around 20% do not claim the Aide personnalisée au logement (APL) help with rent payments which can sometimes also be used for mortgage repayments. 

The third benefit in the experiment, the Prime d’activité, which tops up low incomes of people in work, also goes unclaimed by a third of people. 

A study by the government’s statistics agency showed that the non-claimants seem to be mainly young graduates living in a couple without children, who own their own homes. Most live in rural areas, or the outer reaches of Paris. 

The report says: “When people do not claim for benefits they are entitled to, there is an aggravated risk they will live in poverty and exclusion, especially when the benefits concerned are targeted at the least well-off.” 

It suggests one reason people do not claim is distance from the headquarters of caisses d’allocations familiales (Caf), department-based agencies charged with handling benefit claims. 

Local Caf offices have largely been shut, with only the headquarters in departmental capitals still offering counter services. 

“The high level of non-claims from young people with degrees could be because they are in transitory life phases, especially as they come out of their studies,” the report states.

Fears of being 'stigmatised'

“It could also, especially for those with degrees, be because they do not see the need, believing they will get a job, because they still get cash support from parents, or because they fear they will be stigmatised by being known as an RSA claimant.” 

A rule that income over a three-month period must be used as the basis for the claim also makes it difficult for self-employed workers, who might have limited well-paid work during that time. 

Although granting automatic digital payments to eligible people was a campaign promise of President Macron, the government is looking to soften expectations of a smooth introduction. 

Solidarity minister Jean-Christophe Combe warned “a lot of heavy technical work” needed to be done in gathering the relevant information.

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