La CIPAV is a quasi-governmental pensions organisation, the Caisse Interprofessionelle des Professions Libérales. It's part of the French social security system.
If this was a private business that had to find its own clients, as night follows day it would now be out of business. Unfortunately, some self-employed professionals including architects and ski instructors are legally obliged to pay pension contributions to La CIPAV, and therefore cannot escape the soul-sucking awfulness of dealing with this appalling organisation.
On a Survive France forum thread, one contributor says, 'My personal opinion of the CIPAV is not printable on a forum like this.'
I would say very nearly the same thing, except that after a year and a half of unhelpful letters from the CIPAV, total failure to provide the most basic account balance statement, promising phone calls followed by inaction and broken promises, and an inability to carry out even the most basic functions of the job, I am going to say what I think of them and what other people have said about them.
Contacting the CIPAV - diary
I've been trying to get some answers from the CIPAV since November 2018 - answers about the total of contributions they have called for, what they have done with the sums I've paid, and why the those two amounts don't add up.
I've paid them €1,636.25 more than the total of contributions they have called. I've asked them for a statement of account, but they can't or won't provide one.
They just put a number on their website, and say 'that's how much you've got to pay'. They refuse to explain it. They probably can't.
In my mind I've written off some of my over-payment, and I'm trying to keep it simple so that even CIPAV can't make it confusing.
They were asking me to pay €708.75. I paid €708.75. On their web page, they showed my payment, but they were still asking me to pay €708.75. They had failed to apply my payment to reduce the amount they said I owed them. Then they put a late payment fee on top, so the total "due" became €718.33.
Phone call 4th May 2020
I called CIPAV yet again, to ask them to apply my payment to reduce the total "due", and to take off the late payment fee which is not justified as I had already paid.
The lady tried to explain the late payment fee by saying 'you had to pay by 29th February 2020.' I told her that - as CIPAV's own website shows - I paid on 28th January 2020.
I even had to explain to her that 28th January is earlier than 29th February.
She told me that my payment was en instance, and had not been applied to the total "due'. I know that. I want them to apply my payment so as to reduce the balance to zero. I want them to do their job. It is one of the most basic tasks possible for a pensions company.
She said she would send a message to whoever it is to ask them to do this.
That's what they said last time I phoned. And the time before.
I'll leave it a week then call them again. What a monumental waste of time.
Checking account 22nd May 2020
I had asked my accountants to chase this up, but I haven't heard anything from them so I looked at my CIPAV account again today. The balance remains the same (left hand side of the screen) and the amount I paid, which hasn't been applied to the balance, still shows (right hand side of the screen).
They've also replied to my request to cancel the late payment fee. They say they won't and I have to pay the amount they are demanding for 2017, and if I don't they will take proceedings against me. I've already paid it, before they applied the late payment fee, and their own website shows that. But there doesn't seem to be any way to get that through to them.
I can't even pay the amount again - when I click on the payment button on their website, I get an error message.
Payment 26th May 2020
I ended up paying the sum CIPAV were demanding for a second time. I tried a different browser and was able to pay €718.33 via their website.
Positive: it put my CIPAV balance to zero.
Negative: I've now paid that particular contribution twice, and I'd like one of the payments back.
15th June 2020
Another look at my CIPAV files. There have been some developments:
- I recently received a letter dated 21st May 2020 from CIPAV, refusing to reimburse the late payment fee they applied until I pay the contribution they are demanding. I paid it on 27th January 2020, as my account on their website confirms. How do you deal with people who write letters containing demonstrably false information?
- They replied on their secure message system to my request that they refund my double payment. They used a standard form of words saying that the answer is either in an attachment to their email (there is no attachment) or in a document they have placed in the 'My Documents' section of my account (but they haven't put any documents there. How do you deal with people who reply in a dishonest way?
- I received a letter from CIPAV dated 9th June 2020 saying they want to refund me €184.34, with no explanation of how it is calculated. I have overpaid a total of €2,354.58, so it doesn't seem like a good deal.
My accountants have sent a registered letter to the CIPAV asking for explanations, so we'll see if there's any result from that.
The Cours des Comptes
The Cours des comptes published a coruscating report in 2014, describing CIPAV's chaotic practices and deplorable service. Two directors were later convicted of offences related to the award of an IT contract to a favoured contractor at a price of €50 million.
There's a separate independent website, cipav.info, dedicated to providing information for 'the victims of the CIPAV.'
France TV has a report on CIPAV from 12th May 2016, which explains that above all, CIPAV is a nightmare for its adherents. They receive incomprehensible and unjustified demands. A school teacher received a demand for €200,000 followed by lawyers' letters, even though he wasn't even an adherent of the CIPAV.
Geneviève Decrop of SOS Cipav explains that adherents receive a letter telling them to pay one amount, and then a week later the amount has changed. CIPAV responds by sending threatening letters then the bailiffs.
CIPAV: providing a statement of account
My experience with CIPAV is that they demand that I pay far more than the actual contributions they have called for.
They have told me the amount of the contributions and I know what I have paid. Unfortunately, my CIPAV web account just shows a figure to pay, and it bears no relation to the amount of contributions called and the sums already paid.
At the time of writing, I've paid €1,636.25 too much, but they are demanding another €718.33.
I've asked them for a statement of account, showing the amount of the contributions, the amount of my payments, and the difference between the two figures. I've asked them again and again and again, but they never provide it.
Is it that they can't do it? It really is a very basic task that a pension organisation should be able to carry out.
I have even wondered if it could be fraud. That would be very serious,
because it would be state-backed fraud. I can't prove it's deliberate
and therefore fraudulent, so I'm not alleging fraud. I can say that
there are similarities to the way scammers and fraudsters operate: never
give any information, but keep asking for more money, backed by threats
and using fear to get people to pay.
CIPAV: contacting them by phone
You can contact CIPAV by phone, and you get through to what I assume is some kind of call centre.
Often (not always) the person you speak to is very nice and helpful, and completely understands the point you are making, and says they will sort it out. When you put the phone down, you think they are going to sort everything out but the problem is never, ever, ever, ever resolved. So you go round and round in circles.
If you leave it with them, they do nothing to resolve the problem, then they start imposing more late payment penalties, and eventually threatening the bailiffs. So even though it is their mistake, and you've already raised it with them, apparently it is still your responsibility to keep telling them about it or you'll end up with the bailiffs at your door.
CIPAV: making payments
Payments have to be electronic now, not by cheque. The system doesn't work, in my experience.
I pay by 'Eurovirement' to their account, and put all the correct references, and email them to tell them I've paid, and attach a copy of the paperwork from the transfer.
The result is that on my CIPAV web account, the payment made appears on the right hand side of the screen, and the balance to pay appears on the left hand side of the screen, but they fail to deduct the payment from the balance, so the balance stays the same. Then it gets bigger, as they add late payment fees.
It makes you lose the will to live.
CIPAV: late payment fees and bailiffs
The late payment fees keep being added, then CIPAV threaten the bailiffs. Even though you've paid all the money they've demanded, and far more than the amount of the contributions called, there's nothing you can do.
CIPAV is an organisation that is totally broken. Nobody should be obliged to deal with them, because their actions cause stress, anger and worry, and they are taking money from people that simply isn't owed to them. Is there a word to describe taking other people's money when you have no legal right to do so?
The French state knows all this, but apparently nothing can be done about it.