Welcome to Skid Row: Cevennes Survival Tips
1) If you are retired and living on a state pension from the UK, check whether or not you might be eligible for the "ASPA" (the "allocation de solidarité aux personnes âgées"). This tops up the income of over 65s (or 60s in exceptional circumstances) to 648 euros a month for a single person or to 1136 euros a month for a couple. This means that, taking in account the new pathetic exchange rates, if your UK pension currently gives you an income of 800 euros for a couple, you could be allocated 336 euros a month.
Getting this benefit also means being exempted from paying income tax, "taxe d'habitation" and your television licence.
Claims have to be made via your local Mairie if you have ever worked in France, and to the "Caisse des Dépôts" if you've never worked in France. If the secretary at your local Mairie doesn't know what you're talking about, the website of "SASPA" (the "Service de l'Allocation de Solidarité aux Personnes Agées") contains lots of information which you could perhaps print off and produce to help things along.
2) Check all your insurance documents carefully. You could be paying for double insurance. Check for example that your car insurance doesn't include medical costs in case of an accident (this should be covered by your basic French health insurance plus mutuelle). Also check that you aren't paying for legal cover in the case of litigation on both your house insurance and your business insurance, if you're self-employed and have professional insurance. Also check that you're not paying for cover you can live without: do you really need insurance against snow damage?
3) Get signed up to Freecycle. http://www.freecycle.org/group/FR/Languedoc-Roussillon/Montpellier is the link for Montpellier but there are others in the region. This is an email group which circulates offers of things to give away. On the basis that one person's "encombrant" (rubbish) is someone else's “trouvaille” (treasured discovery) these lists are emailed several times a day. All you have to do is make a polite request and voilà!
4) While you're on the bargain-hunting trail, if you've never been to Emmaüs then now is the time to get down there. Furniture, cookware, linens, clothes, toys, books (even some in English), white goods, carpets, they sell everything. To clean stuff up and paint it, go to any shop with the word TROC or PROMO in the name and buy cheap DIY supplies. After all, you won't be keeping this stuff long. As soon as the "crise" is over, you can give it all back to Emmaüs and buy new. Unless of course, you're as lucky as I was last week, and find a Le Creuset casserole for just 2 euros!
5) Ring the EDF (electricity board) and ask them to “faire le bilan” of your consummation. They have a special service which tots up how much energy you use and then advises you whether or not you’ve signed up to the cheapest plan for your household. This is a free service and can save you oodles.
6) Contact the CAF and check that you're claiming everything you're entitled to. Did you know for example, that if you have 1 or 2 children under 18, and have a low income, you can claim a card giving you up to 50% off train travel? (See http://www.premier-ministre.gouv.fr/chantiers/famille_1056/carte_sncf_enfant_famille_62111.html- in French only.) Get an attestation from the CAF and take it with some ID photos to your nearest railway station.
7) If all else fails and you still have any dusty premium bonds lurking in your drawers, check what ERNIE has been up to lately. Having moved abroad, you never know what he might have done behind your back. To see if you're a winner, dig out the numbers of your bonds and go to the official National Savings website: www.nsandi.com
Have you got any other clever wheezes? If so, don't keep them to yourself: email me!
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