French tax office begins to use aerial shots to find undeclared pools

The measure is also targeting home extensions in nine departments before being used throughout France in 2022

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The French tax office will analyse aerial imaging to track undeclared home improvements such as swimming pools, conservatories and extensions in nine departments from this month.

The nine departments are: Alpes-Maritimes, Ardèche, Bouches-du-Rhône, Haute-Savoie, Maine-et-Loire, Morbihan, Rhône, Vendée, and Var.

The trial in the nine departments will last for a few months, with initial results expected in the first three months of 2022.

The new procedure will then be rolled out across the country from 2022 in order to “guarantee more reliable bases for local tax offices”, the Direction Générale des Finances Publiques (DGFIP) said.

How will the tax office find undeclared home improvements work?

In the trial, aerial images from the Institut national de l’information géographique will be analysed by an algorithm from French technology company Capgemini, and compared with images from Google to confirm data given to the tax office.

The contract signed between Capgemini, Google and the French government is worth an estimated €12million.

Damien Robinet, secretary of the union Solidaires Finances Publiques, told La Dépêche: “Google will provide the link between existing aerial photos in land registry plans and on H1 declarations from taxpayers [to see] whether or not they have declared swimming pools and buildings.

“For example, the algorithm will see that there is a blue mark on the image, it will recognise a swimming pool and will compare land registry plans with the data.”

The tax office will then receive a list of potential anomalies. If an anomaly is confirmed the homeowner will receive a letter from the tax office.

An initial trial of the technology was run in 2019 in Charente-Maritime, Drôme and Alpes-Maritimes, with 3,000 undeclared swimming pools detected in the Alpes-Maritimes alone.

Do I need to declare my swimming pool to the tax office?

People who have made modifications to their properties without informing local authorities should do so.

Some modifications may mean a re-evaluation of the rate of property-owners’ tax (taxe foncière) they pay, and bills from the tax office can be backdated.

Read more: Taxe foncière France’s local property tax: Who pays and the exemptions

The rate of tax depends on factors including the supposed rental value of the registered land, the amount of habitable space and the modification made, for example, the size of a swimming pool.

After installation, swimming pools can increase the theoretical rental value of a property by 5-10% on average, meaning higher property-owner’s tax rates.

For swimming pool installations, property owners must also pay a one-off construction tax of €350-500 depending on local rates.

However, not all swimming pools need to be declared.

  • Free-standing swimming pools or small pools that are less than 10m2 do not need to be declared to the mairie, unless you live in a protected area.
  • Free-standing swimming pools between 10-100m2 do not need to be declared if they are temporary and installed for less than three months of the year.
  • Swimming pools dug into the ground between 10-100m2 must be declared to the mairie as must new constructions to house pool pumps, for example.
  • Planning permission is needed for swimming pools over 100m2.

Read more: Tax and planning: When and how to declare a swimming pool in France

Property owners are advised to check the Plan local d’urbanisme (PLU) for their commune to see if extra rules apply.

The construction of terraces and patios does not need to be declared to the mairie, but verandas or outbuildings, such as cabins, do if the ground to be built on is between 5-20m2.

Planning permission is needed for constructions larger than 20m2.

Read more: New shed or pool at your French home? Remember the taxe d’aménagement

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