Software trained to spot undeclared swimming pools has resulted in an additional €10 million of tax revenue for the French authorities.
Okay, let's dive in!
A machine-learning tool deployed across nine French regions during a trial in October 2021 helped authorities uncover 20,356 undeclared private pools and levy additional taxes on applicable households.
Under French law, pools must be declared part of a property's taxable value.
As such, pools can increase the value of a property – and hike the individual tax homeowners pay.
According to Le Parisien newspaper, which first reported the news, a 30-square-metre pool is taxed at €200 (£170) a year.
Google and French consulting firm Capgemini have developed an application that uses machine learning to scan publicly available aerial images of properties for indications that a swimming pool is present.
The most obvious indication is a blue rectangle in the back garden!
After identifying the pool's location, its address is confirmed and cross-checked against national tax and property registries.
In April 2022, The Guardian reported that the software had a 30% error rate. It would often mistake solar panels for pools or miss existing pools if they were heavily shadowed or partially covered by trees.
Plans To Expand Surveillance
The French Treasury said it would expand a tool across the country that it expects will bring in around €40m (£34m) in new taxes on private pools in 2023, exceeding the £24m cost of developing and deploying the software.
The tool could eventually detect undeclared home extensions and patios that are also considered when calculating French property taxes.
"We are particularly targeting house extensions like verandas, but we have to be sure that the software can find buildings with a large footprint and not the dog kennel or the children's playhouse," said the deputy director general of public finances, Antoine Magnant to Le Parisien.
He added, "This is our second research stage and will also allow us to verify if a property is empty and should no longer be taxed."
According to the Federation of Professional Builders (FPP), France has the largest market in Europe for private swimming pools, with an estimated three million in existence.
This is partly due to a boom in construction during the Covid-19 lockdowns and recent heat waves.
However, the issue has been contentious this year because of the drought in France, which has led to rivers drying up and restrictions on water usage. One MP for the French Green party has called for a ban on new private pools.
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