EVEN THE French find the Caf holiday voucher system confusing. When I remarked to the charming man at our local CAF office that “there are many British residents who don’t use their holiday vouchers because they don’t understand how the system works,” he replied: “there are many French who don’t use their holiday vouchers because they can’t understand how the system works”.
Although the system is supposed to have been streamlined and simplified, the allowances and rules can still vary from area to area, even within the same departément.
However, if you are entitled to vouchers, officially L’aide aux vacances familiales (AVF) or aides aux temps libres but commonly known as “bons vacances” or “bons CAF” - it is worth trying to use them as there are some great holidays to be had.
The idea behind bons vacances is that no family should be prevented from enjoying a holiday by financial constraints. However, as you sometimes have to pay up front and reclaim the subsidy later and the fact that the grant may not cover the full cost of the holiday, means that they may not help if you are completely broke.
Holiday vouchers are sent out automatically by the CAF in January/February to families who get child benefits and whose income entitles them to a subsidised holiday. Vouchers are valid until the end of the year. According to your income and the number of children you have, the CAF works out your “quotient familiale”. Depending on how short this falls of the annual platform, you will receive vouchers entitling you to varying reductions on the price of a holiday.
Different departments have different rules on how and where these reductions can be used which is what makes it impossible to give a hard and fast set of rules. In some areas, for example, you may only hire a private gîte if you have 3 children or more. Depending on both your local CAF and your holiday destination, you can sometimes send your vouchers with your holiday reservation and just pay the difference. In other cases you pay up front and are reimbursed after the holiday – in which case make sure you put your claim in promptly as there is often a time limit.
Generally, holidays have to be for a minimum of 5 consecutive days and vouchers can only be used for state approved holiday set-ups such as holiday villages, campsites, children's holiday camps etc. rather than for hotels or private gîtes, so check when booking that your campsite or holiday village is “agrée vacaf” .
Or book your holiday through a company which works with the CAF, e.g. VVF or VTF, which will make it clear how much you will pay according to your quotient familiale.
If you have any questions, your local Caf office should also be able to help you.
http://www.vacaf.org to search for holiday destinations which are Vacaf approved
http://www.caf.fr for general info (in French) on the holiday voucher system
Two companies which work closely with the Caf are: