France expands support funds for self-employed and business owners

Thousands of self-employed workers and small business owners have suffered heavy economic losses since the beginning of the lockdown on March 17th.

The French government put in place schemes to help them stay afloat during the lockdown, an effort that is part of a now €110 billion emergency plan.

A big chunk of the plan funds the 'partial unemployment' scheme for employees that now has more than 9 million French workers claim benefits while employers hold their jobs open during the lockdown.

But the pot of cash set aside to support the country's independent workforce has also been significantly increased since its launch, and has now passed €7 billion.

On Friday, the government said it would strengthen this economic support further.

"Starting on June 1st, we will reinforce the solidarity fund," said Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire during a press conference.

Le Maire said more groups of workers would be getting access to help - especially those in the hotel, restaurant and event industry that would be hard hit also after May 11th, as they would need to keep stay for longer than the rest of the country's businesses.

The government said it would set a date "by the end of May" for when the restaurant, event and hotel sector could reopen.

He also said one of the packages set in place to help these economic groups would be doubled.

What is the government doing to help the self-employed?

Self-employed people belonging to either the category micro-entrepreneur (formerly auto-entrepreneurs), indépendant or TPE (small business owners) could be entitled to financial compensation.

The government has supplemented the initial €1,500 help package with another one. This second economic help was first elevated from €2,000 to €5,000, but Economy Minister this Friday said it would now be doubled to up to €10,000. 

However the requirements for the two packages differ and the €1,500 help package is much easier to obtain. This funding is given directly by the government, whereas the second help package needs to be requested from each business' regional authority. 

The steps for requesting each package are laid out below.

€1,500 help package

Only businesses counting less than 10 employees and earning less than €1 million a year are eligible for this aid package. 

The business also needs to tick at least one of the two following boxes.

  • It was asked to close during the coronavirus lockdown due to health reasons (as has been the case for many business in the tourist sector, restaurant sector and other)

  • Its income in March 2020 amounted to less than 50 percent of that in March 2019. Businesses that were created after March 2019 may also be eligible for the help package if their income in March 2020 amounted to less than 50 percent of their average monthly earnings since the business was launched. 

Note: a previous version of this article stated that the requirement was an income loss of 70 percent or more than the previous year. This is because the government changed the initial required loss of income from minimum 70 to 50 percent on March 31st, after a first version of this article was published.

The government has also opened this fund up for businesses that have lost 50 percent or more of their average annual income, after receiving complains that comparing with April would be misleading due to the 'yellow vest' riots having caused numbers to tumble in 2019.

Note: starting June 1st, the fund will be accessible to all hotel, restaurant and event businesses - all the businesses that needed to keep shut after May 11th - would be able to access the fund if they had up to 20 employees and were earning up to €2 million a year.

Does everyone get €1,500?

No. Only businesses where the financial loss during the lockdown amounts to at least €1,500 will get a full €1,500 in financial compensation. That means that your income in March 2020 must be at least €1,500 less than in March 2019 (or €1,500 less than the average income if the business is new).

Businesses having lost less also qualify for help, but will get smaller amounts that correspond to what they have lost.

Is this help package renewable?

Yes, the government first extended the help package to include April and now also for May. Businesses can reapply for the fund for the month of April starting May 1st and for May on June 1st.

Who does not qualify for this help?

Anyone ticking the following boxes do however not qualify for aid.

  • Small business where the owner has supplementary income sources
  • Businesses that pay dividends to shareholders
  • Business owners who launched their business after February 1st 2020 
  • Self-employed on a contract type CDD or CDI (these people can claim chômage partiel instead)
  • Anyone benefiting from a pension vieillesse (pension for the elderly)
  • Anyone who received more than €800 in social security help in March 2020




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