French tax authorities using AI software have found thousands of undeclared private pools, landing owners with bills totaling around 10 million euros.
The system, developed by Google and Capgemini, makes it possible to identify basins on aerial images and cross-check them with cadastral databases. Launched on an experimental basis a year ago in nine French departments, it has identified 20,356 swimming pools, the tax authorities announced on Monday, and will be extended to the entire territory.
Alterations to the property, including the addition of swimming pools, must be reported to the tax office within 90 days of completion. Since property taxes are based on the rental value of the property, improvements mean higher taxes. A typical 30 square meter swimming pool would be taxed at around €200 extra per year.
The tax office – or tax departmentas it is called – says he is now considering using the system to spot undeclared additions, extensions and verandas, including permanent pergolas.
“We are particularly targeting house extensions like verandas, but you have to be sure that the software can find buildings with a large footprint and not the kennel or the children’s playhouse,” said Antoine Magnant, the director. deputy general of public finance, at the newspaper Le Journal parisien.
However, the tax department’s technical team says it is not yet able to establish whether a rectangular shape on an aerial image is an extension or a tent, a terrace or even a tarp on the ground.
In April, it was claimed that the Google-Capgemini software had a 30% margin of error. Not only did it confuse solar panels with swimming pools, but it failed to capture taxable extensions hidden under trees or in the shade of a property. Tests are underway to perfect the technology.
“This is our second research step and will also allow us to check if a property is empty and should no longer be taxed,” Magnant added.
France is believed to have around 3.2 million private swimming pools and reported a boom even before the Covid closures of 2020 and 2021, when there was an increase in installations as more people worked at residence.
Public finance authority DGFiP said the AI scheme would now be rolled out nationwide, potentially resulting in €40 million in new taxes on private swimming pools in 2023.
The crackdown comes as French environmentalists called for a ban on private swimming pools after the summer heatwave triggered drought and water restrictions.
Julien Bayou, the national secretary of Europe-Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV), felt that the French needed “another relationship to water”. He said that with drinking water supplies under threat, it was reasonable to consider limiting water use for recreational purposes. “The challenge is not to ban swimming pools, but to guarantee our vital water needs,” he said.
EELV’s Melanie Vogel insisted the party was not in favor of a ban on swimming pools, but added: “Due to inaction on the climate, access to clean water is threatened and we must restrict its use”.