Universal service employment cheque, France


Target Groups: 

Due to cumbersome ‘red tape’ and the extensive administrative procedures required under French law to employ a domestic worker, many households have found it easier to employ undeclared workers. Thus, the French government has introduced various incentive schemes over the last 15 years to simplify procedures for legally recruiting domestic workers and to combat undeclared work. The most recent scheme is the ‘Universal service employment cheque’ introduced in 2006.


In France, the process of hiring and paying a domestic worker on an official basis previously involved a great deal of ‘red tape’ and cumbersome bureaucracy. Indeed, the extensive administrative procedures and employment contracts that were required under French law to employ a domestic worker on a legal basis meant that many households instead opted to employ domestic workers on an undeclared basis. As a result, since the beginning of the 1990s, successive French governments have established schemes to simplify the procedures for, and subsidise the cost of, employing a domestic worker on a legal basis to undertake everyday practical tasks around the home. To tackle this problem, the French government has introduced various schemes over the past 15 years, including the Service Employment Cheque (Chèque Emploi Service, CES) in 1993, the Service Employment Voucher (Titre Emploi Service, TES) in 1996 and, replacing both of these schemes, the Universal Service Employment Cheque (Chèque Emploi Service Universel, CESU) in January 2006.

The main actors involved include the national government, households as employers, businesses, domestic workers and childminders.


One of the main objectives of both the earlier CES and TES schemes, as well as their replacement CESU scheme, is to combat undeclared work in domestic services. Moreover, they aim to provide formal employment particularly for people with few qualifications – such as cleaners – by simplifying the process for hiring and paying domestic and temporary workers, part-time workers and casual labour around the home and garden.

Specific measures

CES scheme

In 1991, the French government introduced a first policy measure to formalise these services. Tax reductions for domestic services were offered to any household employing someone in the home of the taxpayer either directly or through an association. This initiative was introduced before the CES and TES schemes. In 1993, the CES scheme was introduced for individuals employing someone for eight hours or fewer a week in their household. The scheme aimed to simplify the process of hiring, paying and making social security contributions for a domestic worker by paying their salary using a system of cheques, which could be purchased at a local bank. The employer could claim an income tax reduction of 50% of the sum spent on purchasing the cheques. Meanwhile, the employee would also benefit, because the salary paid could not be less than the national minimum wage, plus a 10% indemnity for paid leave.

TES scheme

In 1996, a similar scheme to the CES was created, namely the TES. Compared with the TES scheme, under the CES the domestic worker had to be employed through a private agency or association. Workers received a TES voucher, similar to a lunch voucher, from their employer as part of their salary, from regional or local authorities or from associations in order to pay for domestic services. As households were limited to purchasing domestic services from organisations rather than individuals, this system offered better guarantees both to workers (who would receive support from an organisation) and employers (who were guaranteed a better quality service as the organisations providing services are subject to government approval). The scheme also encouraged the organisation of the often chaotic supply system of domestic service work, in which one of the principal barriers to expansion was the difficulty of suitably matching the supply of workers with demand for services.

CESU scheme

Cheques cover domestic work and childcare outside the home

In January 2006, both the CES and TES schemes were replaced by the CESU scheme. Under the CESU, an employer first registers with the local branch of the Agencies for the Collection of Social Security and Family Allowance Contributions (Unions de recouvrement des cotisations de sécurité sociale et d’allocations familiales, URSSAF) in the CES department. This can also be done by completing an application at the bank or post office managing the employer’s account. Under this scheme, individuals can purchase cheques from their local bank and are eligible for the same tax reductions available under the old CES scheme. However, they are able to use these cheques to pay not only for domestic service work in the home but also childcare outside the home provided by any individual or organisation. For individuals employing a domestic worker directly, the CESU offers all of the same advantages as the CES in that it simplifies bureaucratic procedures and reduces employers’ costs, with employers being able to claim an income tax reduction of 50% of the sum spent on purchasing the cheques, up to a maximum of €1,830.

Tax incentives for companies

The principal novelty of the CESU is that it offers companies the possibility to make a contribution to the cost of purchasing cheques for their employees. Companies can claim a tax reduction of 25% on this expenditure. Previously, employers were only allowed to subsidise domestic service work for their employees when it was provided by agencies and associations under the TES scheme. The attempt by the French state to coerce users of domestic services to purchase them from organisations rather than individuals has therefore been abandoned, due no doubt to the limited take-up of the old TES scheme. Companies are now also able to use the scheme to contribute to their employees’ childcare costs when care is provided by a nanny or childminder.

Types of cheques issued

Under the CESU, two types of cheques are available, depending on whether the employer of the domestic worker is paying for the service personally or whether the cost of the service is being funded by a third party.

For the former group, banking CESU (CESU bancaire) are available from banks, which can be used by individuals or employees to pay domestic workers in the home or to pay an intermediary (or service company) that employs an employee working in the home. A book of 20 cheques is issued with 20 declaration forms (volets sociaux) and a set of pre-addressed envelopes for return to URSSAF’s CESU centre. When an individual employer pays a worker using a CESU cheque, the next page in the cheque book is then a declaration form called the ‘volet social’ – on this form, the employer must enter the name, address and social security number of the person being paid, the date and the number of hours worked, as well as the wage paid. The employer must then send the volet social to URSSAF’s CESU centre using one of the self-addressed envelopes provided. This enables URSSAF to calculate all payroll records, deductions and social charges. The same cheque book can be used for several employees.

For the latter group, prepaid CESU (CESU préfinancé) are issued, similar to the old TES vouchers, by companies, associations, pension providers, or regional or local authorities. These can be used to pay for the full range of services falling under the auspices of the scheme. For example, for a job valued at €20, the employer can contribute €10 and of the remaining €10 due to be paid by the individual household, 50% can be recovered in the form of a tax credit. For employers, meanwhile, the benefits of CESU préfinancé are that they offer an exemption from social security contributions up to a value of €1,830 per employee each year and employers can claim tax credits to cover up to 25% of the management of the CESU. CESU préfinancé cheque books are available from Sodexho, Domiserve, Cheque Domicile, Accor Services France and la Banque Postale.

Evaluation and outcome

Achievement of objectives

The CESU scheme is a targeted response to the fact that the regulations and legislation required in order to employ domestic workers on a legal basis resulted in many people employing undeclared workers and also hampered the development of the sector as a whole. The scheme targets household services in which undeclared work was thought to be rife and where potential demand was significant. It also simplifies the formalisation procedures in order to convert undeclared work into declared work and create new jobs on a legal basis.

Few studies have been conducted that evaluate whether these schemes have reduced the amount of undeclared work in the provision of domestic services. One of the few studies to have addressed the issue is an analysis of the CES scheme through the monitoring of tax returns alongside information contained in the household expenditure survey from 1989–2005 (Marbot, 2008). The study concludes that two thirds of the increase in the number of households using the CES over the period 1996–2005 is explained by households formalising previously informal arrangements. Moreover, it reveals that the proportion of informal domestic service provision within the sector as a whole has fallen from 50% in 1996 to about 30% in 2005.

Obstacles and problems

Despite the apparent simplification of previous procedures to employ domestic workers on a legal basis, CESU and especially some of the new variants of the scheme, such as CESU préfinancé, remain relatively cumbersome measures that appear to be subjected to more ‘red tape’ as the schemes develop and grow. Indeed, a 2006 survey conducted by the French Institute of Public Opinion (Institut français d’opinion publique, IFOP) finds that the process of employing a domestic worker in France still takes an average of 14 hours of a person’s time in, not least due to the difficulty of finding somebody to do the work. In other words, a supply-side problem still exists. This is mainly because, in the domestic services sector in France, the provision of services is fragmented with few organised businesses operating in this sector. Furthermore, the impact of tax relief on payments to domestic workers has had a relatively limited effect in France, as only the top 50% of earners pay any income tax at all. However, to address this issue, in 2008, tax deductions were replaced by tax credits available to economically active households (excluding people who are retired) regardless of whether they are liable to pay income tax or not.

Lessons learnt

It is clear that the CESU and the previous variants of the scheme have been successful in increasing formal employment in the domestic services sector in France, both by creating new jobs and formalising previously informal arrangements. However, it is not clear whether this is a policy that would be transferable to other countries, particularly those in which procedures and costs of hiring employees are not as onerous as in France.

Impact indicators

Number of people involved

By the end of 1995, just one year after the introduction of the CES scheme, there were 250,000 permanent registered users of the scheme, 160,000 of whom were new customers of domestic services (Finger, 1997). Moreover, according to Labruyere (1997), after one year of experimentation throughout 1995, the scheme was used by nearly 25% of household employers of domestic workers and at the same time contributed to their increasing number. However, by May 1996, according to Finger (1997), the CES had created only about 40,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs – this is the finding, if the number of jobs is divided by the normal working week of 39 hours at the time. As Table 1 shows, the number of households using the CES increased from 469,000 in 1998 to 765,411 in 2002. This proportion of households using the scheme increased further to 950,000 households between 2002 and 2003 (Adjerad, 2005).

Table 1: Development of CESU, 1998–2002


No. of employers

Employers aged over 70 years

No. of employees

Hours worked

FTE employees































Source: Adjerad, S., 2003

With regard to the TES, in 2002, six years after the scheme’s introduction, a total of 1.25 million TES vouchers had been used (Table 2). The uptake of the scheme has been generally viewed as disappointing. Regardless of whether the CES or TES schemes were used, according to Adjerad (2005), 1.6 million households employed a domestic service worker in 2003.

Table 2: Development of TES, 1999–2002


No. of vouchers sold

Value of vouchers sold (€)

Average voucher value (€)

















Source: Adjerad, S., 2003

These figures may appear impressive. However, in 2003, some 23 million households were counted, which means that only 6.9% of all households employed a domestic service worker in that year.

Recent figures on the CESU reinforce the continuing popularity of this type of measure. Five months after the launch of the CESU, the 2006 IFOP survey revealed that 79% of French people had heard of the scheme, 93% approved of such service cheques and 29% had asked their employer if they could receive service cheques. Moreover, in the first quarter of 2006, some 36,000 FTE domestic jobs had been created, and 531,000 employees had been remunerated in CESU vouchers in the year to February 2006, compared with 495,000 employees in the year to February 2005. Moreover, the number of businesses using the CESU had tripled between February 2005 and 2006 and 1.2 million CESU cheques had been sold, each with a face value of €14, amounting to a total value of €16 million in the first quarter of 2006. In 2007, meanwhile, 760,000 employees benefited from the CESU scheme compared with 531,000 employees in 2006. On average, these workers received €330 annually in CESU cheques. By 2007, 50,000 enterprises had distributed CESU préfinancé cheques.

It would be wrong, however, to assume that the CESU is now the dominant way of delivering domestic services and that all paid domestic work takes place through this policy measure. Not only do just some 7% of households use the CESU to pay for domestic work, but in 2003 those using the CES scheme purchased on average of 57 hours per quarter of domestic service work of all types. In other words, they purchased four hours of domestic work a week. Those not using the CES scheme, however, purchased on average of 90 hours per quarter of domestic service work, or seven hours a week (Adjerad, 2005).

Estimated costs

No contemporary studies have focused on the costs for the French government of operating the CESU scheme. One of the few studies to evaluate the cost of this scheme was carried out during the scheme’s inception phase. Finger (1997) estimates that, by May 1996, the CES had created 40,000 full-time equivalent jobs (if the number of jobs is divided by the normal working week of 39 hours at the time) at a loss of about €91.5 million in taxes. Even the €65.5 million increase in social security contributions as a result of the scheme could not compensate for the public deficit of some €1,200 for each job created. Similar figures have not been produced in more recent years. Neither has the cost of reducing undeclared work in the domestic services sphere as a result of this scheme been estimated.

Estimated benefits

It tentatively appears that the impact of the CESU and its earlier variants on reducing undeclared work in the domestic services sphere has been impressive. An estimated 20% of people originally employed illegally in domestic services have become officially employed as a result of the scheme (Le Feuvre, 2000). Indeed, by 2002, 53% of all formal employers of domestic workers used the CES scheme (Adjerad, 2003), which implies that this scheme is perhaps helping to formalise domestic work that previously took place in the informal economy. As already explained, Marbot (2008) finds that two thirds of the increase in the number of households using the CES over the period 1996–2005 is due to households formalising previously informal arrangements. Informal activities in domestic services have declined to around 30% in 2005.


This scheme appears to be transferable not only across European Union Member States but also across different sectors of the economy. Until now, service vouchers have tended to be confined to everyday household services and caring tasks. They might well be transferable, however, across other sectors, such as the construction sector in general, and the home improvement and maintenance sector more specifically.

At the time of writing, the French government had decided to use this scheme as a means to achieve objectives different to those originally envisaged. In 2009, the government announced that it would use this measure to help rejuvenate the French economy in light of the global economic crisis by offering €200 worth of CESU vouchers to 1.5 million households. These vouchers are valid for use until 31 January 2010, and are intended to stimulate economic activity during the current downturn.


Further information

Adjerad, S., ‘Dynamisme du secteur des emplois familiaux en 2002’, Premières Informations, Vol. 51, No. 1, 2003, pp. 1–4.

Adjerad, S., ‘Le secteur des emplois familiaux en 2003: la croissance de l’activité se poursuit’, Premières Informations, Vol. 12, No. 4, 2005, pp. 1–6.

Finger, D., Service cheques in Europe: A model for Germany?, Berlin, Social Science Research Centre Berlin (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin, WZB), 1997.

Guimiot, A. and Adjerad, S., Le Titre Emploi Service: en mal de success, Paris, DARES Premiers, 2003.

Labruyere, C., Services for persons at home: issues of professionalisation, Paris, Centre d’Études et de Recherches sur les Qualifications (Céreq), 1997.

Le Feuvre, N., Employment, family and community activities: A new balance for men and women- summary of the French national report, Dublin, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, 2000, available online at: /ef/publications/report-summary/2000/undefined/employment-family-and-community-activities-a-new-balance-for-women-and-men-summary-of-the-french.

Majnoni D’Igtinano, B., Egalité entre homes et femmes: aspects économiques, Paris, La Documentation Française, 1999.

Marbot, C., ‘En France, qui recourt aux services à domicile?’, France: Portrait Social, Paris, 2008, pp. 143–162.

Windebank, J., ‘Demand-side incentives to combat the underground economy: some lessons from France and Belgium’, International Journal of Economic Development, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2004, pp. 54–75.

Windebank, J., ‘Outsourcing women’s domestic labour: the chèque emploi-service universel in France’, Journal of European Social Policy, Vol. 17, No. 3, 2007, pp. 257–270.

Windebank, J., ‘The chèque emploi-service, titre emploi-service and the chèque emploi-service universel in France: the commodification of domestic work as a route to gender equality?’, Modern and Contemporary France, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2006, pp. 189–203.

Colin C. Williams and Jan Windebank, University of Sheffield

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