How do you prove you’re very much alive and kicking when every single system in your country seems to think you’re dead?

A recent feature in the Guardian newspaper highlighted what happened to Frenchwoman Jeanne Pouchain who spent years needing to tell banks, institutions, and official bodies she hadn’t died. The trouble had started in 2016 when her passport application was denied.

At the time, Ms Pouchain assumed it was a mistake and that she’d forgotten some important piece of paperwork. However, this turned out not to be the case. When she later attended a doctor’s appointment, the computer rejected her carte vitale, the green card that accesses the French public health system.

Business account in the red

Again, Ms Pouchain thought this was a mistake, and the reason why she then needed to pay in full at the pharmacy for her diabetes medication. But then when she received her bank statement, she discovered her business account was in the red, even though she’d paid in plenty of cheques.

She went to the bank, one she had been with for 27 years, and the director told her she didn’t seem to exist, and there was no explanation. He had no records of a Jeanne Pouchain and no accounts in that name, as they had all been closed. He gave her an envelope full of cheques that should have been paid in but told her there was nothing else he could do.

If you hold any unclaimed assets such as pensions savings plans, shareholdings and property, we can trace the owners. Typically assets remain unclaimed because the owners have moved, passed away, cannot be traced or are unresponsive when correspondence is sent to their last known address.

Over the next few months, other things happened. Ms Pouchain carried on working and driving and applied once more for a passport ensuring that she submitted all the correct documents, but the application was returned, marked ‘refused’ without any explanation.

Bailiffs’ appearance

At the end of 2017, bailiffs turned up at her door with a recorded delivery letter addressed to her husband, which she signed. That document turned out to be an announcement of her own death.

The letter said that a lawyer in a court case about her cleaning business had told the court that she had died, aged 53, in February 2016. The claim had been allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged, even though no death certificate had been presented at the time.

Ms Pouchain attended her doctor, who gave her a certificate saying she was still alive, which she took to the local government offices to report the irregularity. The offices said they could not deal with the matter.

Battle to prove life

Since then, she has spent three and a half years in a battle to prove to the French authorities that she is alive. Being administratively dead, means she has no access to the public health system, and no medication for her diabetes and thyroid condition unless she pays for them privately. Her driving licence has been cancelled, and she can’t travel because he has no passport or carte d’identité.

During the Covid lockdowns, she couldn’t go anywhere as people were fined if they didn’t carry their identify cards with them, and she can’t apply for jobs and will not receive a pension unless the issue is resolved. She has even had difficult getting the Covid vaccine.

The court declaration of death was the result of long and complicated proceedings against Ms Pouchain relating to her cleaning business and an industrial tribunal, where the ex-employee had Ms Pouchain declared dead to try to get money out of her heirs, her husband her son.

A hearing is due to take place at the end of August, where Ms Pouchain’s lawyer hopes to have his client “administratively resurrected”.

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