Weddings, funerals, taxes and Brexit – Rachel Thomas-Bonnet of Perfide Albion is there for all the ups and downs of her client’s lives in France
When and why did you first move to France?
I moved to France about 25 years ago, when I had just graduated from Kent Law School at Canterbury University. My partner at the time said ‘let’s go and live in France’, and my reply was, ‘what a good idea’, and that was it! It was one of those things you do when you have just graduated; everything is ahead of you and you think why not? I had no idea that 25 years later I’d still be here.
When did you start Perfide Albion?
I started the Perfide Albion 10 years ago. I had been working as a property negotiator in Carcassonne and often, when I had clients who were English or American, I would sell them a property and then later they would come back asking for help with other things as they knew I was English speaking. I would provide help with understanding letters, dealing with tax d’habitation, everything, and it got to the point after two or three years that I realised there might be a future in this. So I decided to take the leap and set myself up as self-employed providing people with all the advice and support they need for life in France, a sort of one stop shop for France after-sales care.
What would you say to someone thinking of moving to France but feeling overwhelmed by the prospect?
I would say that the most important thing when you move to a foreign country is to ensure that you surround yourself with people whom you trust, and who know what they are doing. If you have someone or some people that you can turn to with your questions, and they know the system, know the country, then you are minimizing your exposure to potential risks.
What are the most common requests that people come to you with?
When people want to buy a house in France they ask me to advise and accompany them through the buying process and confirm that the process is happening as it should and flag problems up and fight for their corner if it isn’t. I also help people with getting French health cover and at the moment I have got a huge amount of demand for carte de séjours and help with Income Tax declarations. I will treat each client on an individual basis as everyone’s problem is unique in their own way.
Why is Income Tax a focus at the moment?
The 2019 Income Tax campaign is now open, so depending on which department people are in, they have either until 21 May, 28 May or 4 June to file their Income Tax for 2018 income. So I am devoting a lot of my time on income tax declarations right now.
Do you have a memorable moment from your work?
I had a lot of fun setting up a wedding in Pézenas about seven years ago. They got me involved in absolutely everything, from the paper work required, to helping them set up the restaurant, and I got to attend the wedding as a guest of honour. I even did the translation during the ceremony and I actually got to say ‘you are now man and wife’, that was really special.
Do your clients stay with you for a long time?
My oldest client, in every sense of the word, is about 89 and has been with me for 17 years. He came to me when he was selling a property, but things were a little bit complicated and his French wasn’t very good. I sorted everything for him then and that was it, and I now actually hold full power of attorney for all his affairs in France. It is a huge weight to carry but it it’s incredibly gratifying when people stay with me for so long and trust me and I see them through all kinds of different aspects of their life in France. The less pleasant bit of that is when I have to organise cremations and funerals and things like that for people who had been clients of mine. Because of the nature of my job, I really get into peoples lives. I often know their finances, I know their ups and downs, and I consider my clients like my children – I have to look after them. And it is always very, very difficult when they pass away and you end up looking after the spouse or the children, when you have spent years sorting their problems out and you find yourself winding everything down.
Do you work with other experts at Perfide Albion?
I work very closely with the prefecture in Carcassonne as well as the tax office and CPAM office. I always say to people if I can’t handle a problem myself, I always know a man who can. I have got contacts who are barristers who are notaires who are accountants. And I also work with my husband who has experience in the building trade. He was born in Carcassonne and he has lived here all his life so he has a very good network in the area. Together we have got a very interesting address book I would say.
What locations do you cover?
I can meet clients face to face in Aude and the surrounding departments in the south of France – Pyrenees Orientales, Herault, Tarn, Haute Garrones and Ariege. But I have got clients all over the world including France, UK, New Zealand, Canada and the Emirates, who I work with via phonecalls, facetime, skype and email.
How have you noticed things change with Brexit?
Before June 2018, I might have had literally two or three carte de sejour requests from people, and then in 2018 both the French and the British authorities advised British residents in France to apply for a carte de séjour and immediately I was absolutely inundated with request from all over France. One of the main things I do with those is I check through all the application paperwork for people so that they can feel reassured when they walk in to appointments.
How have you seen British expats react to Brexit?
People generally fall into two categories – they are either panicking and frightened about what is going to happen or, on the other side, they just say ‘this is such a total farce, we are going to sit here and watch it and play out and not get ourselves involved’. I have even had some people ringing me up and saying ‘Rachel we are buying a property in France because we are so sick of Brexit we want out of the UK’.
What do you say to British people living in France and worried about Brexit?
I try to reassure them that this is not a situation that is going to change overnight, whether we pull out on the 30 June or the 31 October, the next day the gendarmes are not going to come hammering on their door in an armed vehicle, to take them to the border. This is not going to happen. I don’t believe France is looking to punish Brits for being here. The French Prime minister has said that he intends to protect the interest of Britons living in France. If the UK is reasonable with the French people and other EU citizens living in the UK, there is no reason why Europe is not going to do the same.
Find out more about Perfide Albion’s wide range of services to make life in France more straightforward at perfidealbion.com