You know times are about to get really tough when the tax officer sets his sights on your swimming pool. With the mercury regularly hitting 40°C in the south of France this summer, I was truly grateful for the invitation to cool off in a small swimming pool in a friend’s extensive garden.
was pleasantly reminded that outside of the US, France has more swimming pools per capita in the western world.
The construction and maintenance of pools is an important sub-sector of the construction and real estate sector in France and one immediately notices the widespread use of street advertising and other advertisements stating that very many companies do nothing else.
Yes, a pool is a luxury for a minority of France’s 67 million people. However, there are three million private swimming pools in France and another 240,000 swimming pools were built in 2021 alone, telling us this isn’t just for the very wealthy.
This extraordinary statistic comes from the Federation of Pool and Spa Professionals, the industry’s very active lobbying group.
As ‘la canicule’, the heat wave, becomes a regular feature of summers in France and mainland Europe, it seems that this figure is inevitably going to increase further. On the other hand, one has to think about the potentially explosive “pool policy” – considering issues like water scarcity and the inevitability of taxes.
The buzzwords of politics – “fairness and tax justice” – are well received by the general public. It must also be said that many municipalities have nice public pools with low entry fees. But sipping from a tall glass while dipping into the cooling mass of water in a private pool on a baking day has very compelling allures.
So far, the taxes are not equivalent to a royal ransom. A permanently built French swimming pool increases the value of a home and increases local property taxes, which can vary.
A rule of thumb puts the tax on a 30 square meter pool (that’s about 320 square feet in old money) at $200 per year in additional taxes.
However, history teaches that tax rates usually only move in one direction, and given the delicate nature of water policy, we know the rest of that direction. The tax also applies to idle pools and the only way to avoid this situation is to fill them up.
Of course, if you live somewhere quiet, it’s tempting not to tell the authorities about your little pool in a shady corner of the garden. And so enters the French tax official, who deploys the “spy in the sky” — or more specifically, an artificial intelligence tool that scans publicly available aerial photographs.
the popular newspaper, Le Parisien, happily reported this week that a pilot project using it in a handful of regions had discovered about 20,000 unreported private swimming pools since last October. The project, which targeted regions as diverse as Var on the Mediterranean coast and Morbihan in northern Brittany, is now set to be rolled out nationwide. The French tax authorities estimate that they will generate additional revenue of the order of 10 million euros.
The topic is feeding into a larger debate in France about the use of AI in the public sector. Former French Prime Minister Jean Castex commissioned a report on this very issue and results have recently been presented.
The expert downplays the dangers to society from the use of AI in public administration. But public sector unions are seriously questioning this, as are some civil liberties activists. So this larger debate will continue.
On the specific issue of pool tax evaders, tax officials said Le Parisien that they “honed” their artificial intelligence to make sure they didn’t confuse “dog kennels and children’s playhouses” with pools.
The algorithms used were developed by French tax authorities and a private consulting firm and also rely on open source software from Google.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/eau-dear-french-swimming-pool-tax-dodgers-will-end-up-in-hot-water-41957875.html Eau, French pool tax dodgers will end up in hot water