State aid

If you lose your job in France, help is at hand. Samantha David talks through what you need to do to claim benefits

Becoming unemployed is always stressful and even more so as an expat, but life is easier once you understand what benefits (les allocations) are available while you find another job. Do not delay when applying for benefits because you cannot be paid for the first week after you claim, and also because payments can be delayed while your dossier is completed and checked.

So the minute you become unemployed, you should log onto www.pole-emploi.fr and sign on. This won’t spare you having to jump through the hoops of photocopying documents, filling in forms and attending compulsory interviews with advisers but it will mean that the date from which you are claiming benefits is as early as possible. What you can claim will depend on how long you have been employed in France and how much you have earned.

Unemployment benefit, is now called the aide au retour � l’emploi (return to work allowance) but used to be called the allocation journali�re de ch�mage (daily unemployment benefit). It is paid to people who have worked more than 122 days or 610 hours within the past 28 months (or 36 months if you are over 50 years old).

The duration of the payments varies according to how long you have worked. The minimum duration is 122 days and the maximum is 730, rising to 1,095 days for people over 50. The amount you receive also varies. It is calculated as a daily payment based on 40.4% of your daily salary averaged out over the qualifying period, plus €10.93 (�8.97) per day. The minimum payment is €26.66 (�21.90) per day.

In order for the calculations to be made, you will have to submit paperwork relating to your entire employment history, especially if you have changed jobs frequently, or have been working part-time or in casual employment. Periods of employment elsewhere in the EU can also be taken into account as long as you have the correct paperwork to show your earnings and how long you were employed.

Naturally, you also have to show that you are registered at the P�le Emploi (job centre) as a job-seeker, that you have attended all the compulsory interviews, that you are actively job-hunting (you may have to show copies of your cv, application letters, job adverts that you have applied for etc), that you are physically fit for work, and that you became unemployed involuntarily.

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Reasonable offerWhile you’re claiming the aide au retour � l’emploi, you cannot turn down any reasonable offer of employment and in theory, you will lose benefits if you turn down two or more job offers. You can however argue, for example, that as a qualified dentist a job offer as a secretary is not reasonable, and as a parent with young children you can argue, for example, that a commute of over an hour each way is unreasonable. It is unlikely however that you would be offered anything this random or unsuitable. Unemployment in rural France is a major problem and employers are not queuing up to hand out jobs. Even in urban France, you may find that you have to scramble to get a job.

If you run out of aide au retour � l’emploi payments before you manage to find a new job, but you have worked for five years out of the previous 10 and have limited personal resources, you may be paid the allocation de solidarit� sp�cifique (a type of income support). If you qualify, the P�le Emploi will pay this automatically.

Note that the qualifying period is reduced by one year for each child you have brought up during your periods of unemployment, and recognised full-time training courses count as periods of employment, so if you get a letter or a form asking about these things, be sure to fill it in comprehensively.

The amount of the payments varies according to your employment history, average salary, etc and if you are allocated this benefit, it will be on condition that you co-operate with an intensified programme designed to get you back into work.

The RSA, the revenu de solidarit� active, is a new benefit, which came into being on 1 June 2009 to replace the RMI (le revenu minimum d’insertion), the allocation parent isol� (single parent allowance) and a whole clutch of financial back-to-work incentives. Paid by the CAF (La Caisse des Allocations Familiales) or the MSA (Mutualit� Sociale Agricole), it is designed to encourage people into work by making sure that people in work earn more than they were receiving in benefits, even if they take a part-time job. It is therefore a very flexible benefit which you can continue receiving even once you’re back in work. It also means that you can do temporary, casual and/or part-time work while you’re looking for a full-time job and not lose out on benefits.

To qualify, you have to be 25 or over, or have or be expecting at least one child. Also you have to be out of work, or earning very little. (The threshold varies according to how many children you have etc but for a single person, it is around €450 (�369) a month.) If you’re earning, payments vary according to how much you are earning, what other benefits you are receiving, and how many people there are in your household. If you’re already signed up as a job-seeker, you won’t have to fill in any special forms to get the RSA. It will automatically be assigned once you’ve run out of unemployment benefit, or if you start working part-time for example.

If you want to know if you are eligible and how much you might be able to claim, you can do a self-test on the CAF website (www.caf.fr) by clicking on test RSA’. You can also phone 3939 - using a fixed line; it will cost the same as a local phone call. If you get RSA, you can also get the CMU (couverture maladie universelle de base) which essentially means you get free basic health insurance. It is rather more comprehensive than most people’s basic health insurance and well worth having.

Health insuranceYou may also get the CMU compl�mentaire which is designed to replace a mutuelle or top-up health insurance. For a single person living alone to claim CMU compl�mentaire for example, they have to have an income of less than €454.63 (�373.47) per month. For two people it is €681.95 (�560.21) per month. If your income is more than this, you may still get help with paying for a mutuelle via a benefit called aide pour une compl�mentaire sant�. This is worth up to €400 (�328) towards a mutuelle or top-up health insurance, and you apply for it on the CMU compl�mentaire application form. The easiest way to apply is to download the forms from www.ameli.fr which is the official site.

If you’re ill and your GP gives you an arr�t de travail (sick note) the procedure is the same as if you were employed; within 48 hours you have to send the top two copies to la s�cu (officially la s�curit� sociale) and the third copy to the P�le Emploi instead of to your employer. The first three days off do not qualify you for any benefits (des indemnit�s journali�res) but thereafter you will receive sickness instead of unemployment benefits. The amount varies of course according to what is wrong with you, how long you’ve worked, how much you earned and how long you’re expected to be off sick.

If you suffer any injuries as the result of an accident on the way to or from an appointment at the P�le Emploi, or any location that they have sent you to, it counts as an accident du travail (accident at work) just like if you suffer injuries while at the P�le Emploi or at a course they have asked you to attend, or anywhere else they have asked you to go. This could be as simple as slipping over or tripping down the stairs.

If you have an accident and are injured, you must go to a doctor and ask for a certificate confirming the injuries. Send the certificate to the P�le Emploi within 24 hours. You will then receive benefits to replace your lost unemployment benefits. These are generally more generous than unemployment benefits and should the injuries be serious, will increase at the end of the first month.

The small print If you have an accident which was caused by a third party (un accident caus� par un tiers), eg a tile fell off a roof onto your head, a dog bit you, someone hit you, you tripped over an uneven pavement, or your child slipped over in school, you can claim your medical expenses back from the third party by reporting the accident to la s�cu. Download the form from www.ameli.fr

If you are off sick, you are required to stay at home between 9 and 11am and between 2 and 4pm (7 days a week including Bank Holidays) unless you have a medical appointment. So if you do go to the doctor’s, it might be handy to keep any relevant papers in case you have to prove it later on. In some cases, a doctor can dispense with the requirement to stay at home during the above times, if for example your malady is psychological and long outdoor walks are recommended.