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Disabled couple excluded from French energy price protection

The British couple has been told they do not qualify for the freeze to gas price rises in France as they use too much energy to heat their home

Nigel Bartram has MS and needs to use a lot of gas to stay warm Pic: Nigel Bartram

A British couple living in France has been told they cannot benefit from the cap on gas price rises as they consume too much energy. 

Nigel Bartram, 69, has advanced multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, while his wife Caroline Varley, 68, previously suffered from a stroke. 

“We need the heating on constantly in cold and cooler weather because of sitting still all day, every day,” Mr Bartram said. 

They received an email from Engie in October saying they would not benefit from the government’s gas price shield when their contract comes up for renewal in January because this is reserved for households “whose consumption is less than 30,000 kWh per year”. 

Read more: Rising energy bills: France to keep price cap in 2023

Read more: Energy bills in France ‘would double in 2023 without state protection’

Mr Bartram said they consumed 38,000 kWh last year, for a 210m² house built in 2000. Only two of the four bedrooms are regularly used. 

“We replaced the boiler three years ago to economise to the maximum extent, and we recently had the heating engineer round to see if we could turn the water temperature down. 

‘There is nothing more we can do’

“He said it’s already on the most economical setting. There is nothing more we can do.” Their thermostat is set at 21.5C, only in the room they currently occupy. “That’s the lowest I can tolerate, otherwise my feet get very cold as a result of poor circulation.” 

Regulated gas prices were frozen in October 2021 to protect consumers from rising market prices, and they will be capped at a 15% rise in January. Electricity prices will rise by a capped 15% in February. 

This applies to those who are signed up to state-regulated gas tariffs, while the government states: “Those whose contracts are expiring can subscribe to a market offer with the provider of their choice – these are also eligible for the price shield.” 

The 30,000 kWh limit was not widely publicised, because it was not explicitly mentioned in the legislation that introduced the price shield. 

Engie explained to The Connexion that the 2019 Energy and Climate law, which laid the groundwork for the gradual abolition of the regulated gas tariff by July 2023, introduced this threshold. 

Only individual households consuming less than 30,000 kWh, as well as single owners of a building mainly used for habitation consuming less than 150,000 kWh, and homeowners’ associations of the same buildings, will continue benefiting from the regulated tariff until 2023. 

No exceptions for disabilities

According to Engie, this is the definition used for the price shield in 2022. They also confirmed there are no exceptions for disabilities. 

“I feel pretty cheated, because there are significant costs associated to being disabled, and this would be yet another one,” said Mr Bartram, who is originally from London but now lives in the Paris region. 

“Far from being given help, we are being punished as I don’t move.” 

Engie did, however, say that the current version of the 2023 budget would apply the price protection to households and building owners “without a consumption ceiling”. 

This could still change, as the budget has not yet been officially adopted. 

The average household in France consumes between 11,000 and 12,000 kWh of gas per year, according to the Energy Regulatory Commission, although this will vary greatly, based on the size of the property and whether gas is used for heating, cooking, and/or hot water.

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