How to claim additional benefits if you’re an auto-entrepreneur with low income

Setting up a business as a freelancer or auto-entrepreneur can be risky and without any short or long term guarantee of success or financial stability. Many are unaware that they are entitled to claim a “top-up income” from the state – the Prime d’Activité (previously the RSA or Revenue de Solidarité Active) a government welfare benefit providing a complement for low incomes with the aim of encouraging low-wage earners in their start-up business ventures. Depending on income, the Prime d’Activité can also be claimed by part-time employees as a supplement while seeking full-time employment.

So if you’re just starting up and your client base or income is not quite what you’d expected yet, then you can claim the Prime d’Activité. It is administered by the CAF (Caisse d’Allocations Familiales), a government organisation offering assistance to families, with allowances from child and pregnancy benefits, to housing benefits and education.

The Prime d’Activité can be claimed from the age of 18, though between 18 and 25 applicants must be able to prove at least two years of work over the preceding three calendar years.

The monthly allowance is income-based and decreases as revenue increases, and this until revenue reaches the threshold set by CAF, currently at €1500 per month for a single person (note the allowance does not actually top up revenue to this threshold, nor to equal the French minimum wage).

As an example, at the time of writing, a single person with no dependent children earning €282 a month will receive a Prime d’Activité benefit of €185 a month. Or, with an income of €1150, benefits amount to €132 a month.

It can take up to 8 months for an application to be processed. However, if accepted, CAF will pay all benefits in arrears. Once on the system and receiving the Prime d’Activité, a regular quarterly declaration with up-to-date monthly income figures needs to be completed and benefits are recalculated accordingly.

General information can be found on the CAF website, in French only, including a simulation to assess rights to benefits. All application forms can be downloaded from the website and once completed need to be sent to the relevant CAF office, depending on place of residence, with all supporting documents.

Verifications, some without warning, are carried out frequently to prevent fraud so beware to make sure all income declarations are completed on time and correctly. All beneficiaries are required to meet with a career advisor from either the unemployment office or other relevant body for an assessment on a regular basis.

The paperwork can seem daunting and the eligibility criteria complicated, especially without good knowledge of French. However, most communes offer the aid of a social helper (assistante sociale), though again, there is no guarantee they will be able to help in English. Check with your local Mairie. If in doubt, enlist the help of a fluent French speaker, friend or neighbour, and the process may seem like less of a hurdle.