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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Il fait froid mais EDF ne gèle pas les factures

by Isabelle Gluck

Electricity Company Not Freezing Bills Despite Cold Weather

Translated Thursday 10 January 2013, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Derek Hanson

In 2012, 580,000 households had their electricity or gas cut or restricted because of unpaid bills.

It’s freezing, as you might well expect in late December. On the other hand, what is much less expected is the implacable policy pursued by both the state-owned electric company and gas company towards those households which have fallen victim to the economic crisis and are having a hard time paying their bills. This, in any case, is what is shown by the figures revealed on Dec. 18 by the national energy mediator. According to him, nearly 580,000 households had their electricity or gas cut or restricted because of unpaid bills in 2012. This is a frightening figure which has led him to demand the establishment of an across-the-board winter truce to protect the poorest households.

Indeed, over 400,000 households were hit by sanctions ranging from reduction of the energy furnished to 1,000 watts, to the electricity being cut off, to the contract being cancelled by the energy provider. “Now, with 1,000 watts, you can just barely turn on a few lamps and a refrigerator. As soon as you add a hot plate, a washing machine, or even an iron, the fuse blows,” emphasized Bruno Léchevin, the general delegate to the mediator. Gas service to 180,000 households was cut in 2012.

These figures are an increase on the previous year, during which there were an estimated 500,000 cuts and restrictions, although this year’s more precise estimates make a comparison difficult, according to the general delegate to the mediator. “There hasn’t necessarily been an increase in the number of cuts,” he said. “What is certain is that just in the first ten months of 2012 there were more cancelled contracts than in the whole of 2011.”

In the extremely worrying economic situation, and at a time when some customers whose contracts were cancelled are having a hard time finding a different provider, he proposes setting up a “last-resort provider.” This is one measure among others put forward by the mediator, who also came out in favor of an across-the-board winter truce on electricity and gas cuts. This would be a mechanism similar to the one in force with regard to evictions from housing. “The winter truce should concern all consumers. Today, it only exists for people who are eligible to receive aid from the housing solidarity fund, that is to say a few hundred thousand people,” Bruno Léchevin explained. For their part, the beneficiaries of social electricity and gas rates are accorded a commitment from the providers that lies outside all conventional legal contexts, but the providers’ promises are not always respected, he said.

In energy matters, as in other domains, it would seem that commitments are only binding on those to whom they are made…

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