Claiming benefits is a full-time job in France
There is no national database on citizens in France so the claimer is reborn again in every contact with authorities. Before contacting any administration one should have the following primary kit in hand: gas bill (as a proof of residence), tax bill, family member's ID cards, children's birth certificates, three latest pay checks, certificate of children attending school, certificate of child allowance and other allowances like housing or unemployment benefits if any. It goes without saying that the trafficking of false gas bills and other fake documents is doing well in France. An average claim file contains ten to fifteen enclosed documents.
I had previously taken all the sixteen photocopies of the needed proofs, which I now checked and dispatched in separate thematic piles. The kitchen table was soon fully occupied and I gained more space by placing the rest of the documents on the floor.
Capital letters, black ink
Filling in four full pages in capital letters was hard because of the tiny space left for handwriting. I also noticed that instead of the requested black ink, I had filled the first lines in blue. I carefully filled in personal facts, yearly net income, current monthly rent and so on. Almost every asked detail needed further documentary research or the worst, searching for documents I had not kept on hand. “Your social security office’s street address.” Tricky question as all the social security offices had since long time moved away from the city center. All the correspondence is managed by only one PO box. I think the claim file was printed long ago as they still ask for telefax numbers as well. “Your social security office’s registration number.” Even more tricky. I didn’t even know they had registration numbers. “Is somebody helping you financially?” The answer should be given in figures only. “The date of arrival in France.” I roughly remember the year, but was it in September or in October? After all, does it matter? After one hour of intensive claiming my head was aching. All my cupboards and drawers were upside down and stationery was on the floor. I felt I needed some claiming music to keep going. I put Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing” on to boost my moral. Previous employee’s human resource’s director’s name, address and telephone/fax/Minitel number”. Now the claim file arrived in Minitel age – a French predecessor of Internet.
After filling in everything, I headed to social services where the claim folder needed to be filled out again online by a social worker. Beforehand I had imagined the social services waiting room full of immigrant mothers with crying children in their arms. The atmosphere was far less lively. Most clients were shabby oldsters in need who looked down ashamed. I couldn’t help noticing the employees’ exaggerated kindness. They must have been taught that their clients were too desperate to cope with the usual arrogant French bureaucracy.
The social worker had some difficulties in writing my name. She told me she has never had a Finnish customer before. She carefully verified all the photocopies stating my family’s situation and financial issues and then classified the “dossier”. My first claim was made. I started to realize that being poor is a full time job in France.