Households whose energy supply is provided by alternative French suppliers have been shocked by a sudden rise in their bills.
Customers whose bills are linked to the tarif réglementé du gaz naturel and/or d’électricité state-regulated tariffs should not currently be seeing a rise in their energy costs, as the government has capped price increases.
This is the case for customers of the historic national suppliers EDF and Engie but also of alternative firms whose rates are indexed on this regulated tariff.
However, some suppliers have decided to detach themselves from the tarif réglementé and base their rates on market prices, without consulting their customers.
Romain, who lives in Ardèche, began a contract with Planète OUI in 2019. He told BFM Business that “everything went quite well” for the first two years, but in January, the company went into receivership.
A few weeks later, Romain received a closing bill from the supplier, demanding €1,887.14 for the period between November and February.
“I was shocked - that’s a month’s wages,” he said.
Planète OUI’s tariffs had been indexed on the tarif réglementé, but it appears that the company decided to move to market rates, which were much higher because of recent inflation.
“No one warned us. If they had, I would have changed supplier straightaway. They rejected the price cap,” Romain said.
Le 7 avril chez @EDFetMoi puis après avoir quitté@mint_eco ces derniers décident de nous facturer du 7 avril au 23 avril ! Qu'est-ce que c'est que ce bidouillage ? @med_energie ATTENTION ! pic.twitter.com/jdeNiSLlwq— . (@VigneDe) April 27, 2022
A move to Mint Energie
Montpellier-based company Mint Energies took on Planète OUI’s 120,000 clients, and Romain’s quoted bills were predicted to rise to €700 per month from May, a 483% increase on his previous rate.
Another customer claimed on social media that their bills had suddenly risen from €70 to €609 per month.
He and other customers were told of this rise by a letter blaming the “current conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the impact of this tragic context on electricity and gas tariffs.”
François Carlier, the director-general of consumer group Consommation, logement et cadre de vie (CLCV), told La Dépêche: “Before the energy crisis began, Mint was a ‘discount’ operator, proposing tariffs around 10% cheaper than the regulated rate.
“To save money, it does not buy supply in advance and does not build up stocks so this operator is very dependent on market fluctuations.
“When there was a surge in September, tariffs multiplied by three or four in the open market and those who were not covered found themselves in a very problematic situation.
“They started to increase their prices by around 25%, but very soon realised that this would not be enough.”
Are companies allowed to move contracts off regulated tariff rates?
It is not illegal for energy suppliers to move from regulated tariffs to market rates as long as their clients are informed by email or letter at least one month in advance.
Mint Energies appears to have done this, but also acknowledged that some quoted rate rises were linked to “errors”.
“For some [customers], the baseline consumption rates were not correct,” the company told La Dépêche. “These people have been contacted and offered refunds or compensation.”
Mr Carlier criticised the fact that the company need only send their customers an email to notify them of rising prices.
He argued that the message could get lost in someone’s inbox, especially as “the subject is often very vague. For example, ‘Your tariff is changing’ to announce a 25% increase.
“If you choose one of these operators, the moral is to make sure you open emails from them,” he said.
Romain has gathered together a group of 150 ex-Planète Oui customers to take the issue to Planète OUI’s holding company BCM Energy.
“We are not only fighting against the rise in our tariffs, but also to rescue people who are experiencing financial hardship and in a situation of precarity with regards to energy.”
Not the only supplier to do this
A similar situation arose for customers of Électricité de Strasbourg (ÉS), who were told that the company was unable to apply the government’s price cap, and would therefore have to index prices on market rates. If ÉS customers were unhappy with this, they would struggle to move to another supplier, as ÉS has a monopoly over the city region.
This situation led Strasbourg’s mayor Jeanne Barseghian to appeal to Prime Minister Jean Castex to oblige ÉS to “translate the measures announced by the government into a commercial effort concerning all of its gas supply offers.”
What should I do to prevent surprise price surges?
CLCV has lodged formal complaints against four energy suppliers including Mint, over “processes which have been particularly harmful to their clients.”
Mr Carlier also argued that when a supplier moves from a regulated tariff to market rates, “it is not a change in the contract,” but should be “a new contract.”
He advised consumers to stick to the regulated electricity tariff and to large, well-established providers to ensure “contractual security”.
The regulated gas tariff is being phased out in July 2023 and so is no longer available to new customers, but it is still advisable to opt for bigger companies, which remain the most stable choice.