A couple who installed solar panels to help the environment say they have not worked since being fitted in 2015 – and they have been “a nightmare”.
Keith and Linda Stevens have now received a shock visit from bailiffs chasing €20,000 for the panels, which were fitted by Groupe Solaire de France.
The installation was never finished because the firm went into liquidation weeks later.
Since then, the panels have remained on the roof without sending any electricity to the grid or to the house, but BNP Paribas Personal Finance bank has nevertheless been chasing the couple for payment.
Mr Stevens, of Loubès-Bernac in Lot-et-Garonne, said: “They say because I signed a note to say the panels had been put on the roof, they unblocked funds to the company, even though my understanding was that the money would only be paid once installation was complete.
“The workers who put up the panels said I had to sign to say the panels were on the roof, and did not say anything about the connection, so I did.
“So far, all my attempts to explain the situation to the bank and in the court have been in vain, because they say I signed the paper.
“We thought it was a good idea to get the panels and we would be doing our bit for the environment, but it has turned into a nightmare.”
Lawyers engaged by the Stevenses have now applied for a two-year halt to proceedings so the matter can be resolved.
The bank involved, Banque Solfea, was a joint venture between BNP Paribas and energy giant Engie, and was closely involved with Groupe Solaire de France, which left hundreds of people in the lurch when it went into liquidation in 2015.
Solfea stopped operating, and its debts and assets were taken over by BNP Paribas Personal Finance.
It has been involved in numerous court cases over its links to Groupe Solaire de France.
The decision to chase the Stevenses seems to run counter to a 2019 ruling in France’s highest court, the Cour de cassation, which say banks should not pay out until all work on a solar installation, including joining to the grid, is complete.
BNP Paribas Personal Finance said it could not comment in detail on the case, but pointed out that it had won a number of court judgments ordering the Stevenses to pay the sum before sending in the bailiffs.
Mr Stevens said his lawyers in Toulouse were not aware of the 2019 Cour de cassation ruling, which was reported in The Connexion after being highlighted by French consumer group UFC Que-Choisir, until he found a copy of the article and showed it to them.
“In the meantime, the ugly panels just sit there,” he said.
“I have asked other firms to give an estimate to see if they can be connected to the grid but they do not want to be responsible for something they did not fit themselves and where they do not have guarantees on the materials.
“Plus, they are asking for thousands of euros. I do not have the knowledge to connect them myself.”
He says the only communication he has received from EDF, which was paid €2,000 for a box, is regular letters stating no electricity has been produced and that they cannot get involved in the case.