Home renovation scams are becoming increasingly common in France, particularly as the government increases and extends schemes for eco-friendly projects. Here is how to avoid getting stung.
Why are scams increasing?
The government has said it will pledge €5 billion towards the MaPrimeRénov scheme to help householders make eco-friendly renovations to their properties in 2024.
This added budget and the expected uptick in people looking for project quotes, means that scammers have stepped up their efforts to defraud homeowners.
“The rise in fraud is a scourge that can limit the effectiveness of public grants,” Romain Villain, Managing Director of Heero, a company specialising in renovation financing solutions, told Capital.
However, he said that the risk of scams should not “deter individuals from using [government schemes], or from carrying out energy renovation work”, as long as people are aware of the risks and know how to spot a scam if they see one.
1. Choose an approved energy auditor
Before carrying out any work on your property, it is recommended that you get a full energy and environmental assessment done. This will show you exactly where improvements can be made.
Make sure you choose a diagnostician who has the Reconnu garant de l'environnement (RGE) label. You can find a list of approved professionals on the france-renov.gouv.fr website. The assessment should cost around €500-€1,000.
Opting for someone - even if they appear professional - who is not on the list opens you up to fraud and hard selling.
Some unscrupulous diagnosticians may pretend to be auditors, with the sole purpose of selling you expensive equipment after the assessment. They may even find ‘faults’ with your property that ‘require’ their equipment - of course! - to fix; such as a heat pump manufacturer finding that your property has a problem that only their heat pump can resolve.
For obvious reasons, this is to be avoided.
2. Protect your MaPrimeRénov details
You are advised never to give your MaPrimeRénov' account access codes to a company or allow anyone to carry out the formalities of applying for the money on your behalf.
“Apply for renovation assistance personally, so that the grants are paid directly into your bank account,” advises Mr Villain at Heero.
This can help avoid scammers who offer to do the ‘difficult application work’ for their clients, and apply on your behalf, before pocketing the money. They may even do the work, and some can even show accreditation from the Agence nationale de l'habitat (ANAH), but you never see your share of the grant.
By the time you realise, the ‘company’ who applied for you may have been dissolved by the scammer, making it impossible to get your money back.
Similarly, consumer association 60 Millions de Consommateurs highlighted a case in which a woman was approached by a company who said she would only need to pay €3,000 for the installation of a heat pump, and that she needed to open a loan in advance for the work to begin. The company said that she could pay off the loan in full when her MaPrimeRénov money came through.
"But the money never arrived," she said. "Yet, I still have to keep on paying back the loan. After researching online, I discovered that the company was a sham." Instead, the company had pocketed her grant to pay for the work initially, installed the heat pump haphazardly, and then disappeared.
Residents are also warned to be alert to the conditions of other types of loans such as écoprêt à taux zéro.
This loan is conditional upon the eco-friendly work being completed, and you will only begin to pay the loan back after the delivery of services. However, Corinne Lamoussière-Pouvreau, legal specialist at the Institut national de la consommation (INC), said: "But stay aware. Some consumers are sometimes pressured into signing a document in which they say that the work has already been done. This means that your building company will be able to pocket the bank's funds in advance, even if no work has started at your property."
Always manage your MaPrimeRénov' application, account, and funds yourself.
3. Check the building work carefully
The renovation work done in your property must match and comply with the criteria set by ANAH to ensure that you receive the correct MaPrimeRénov' grants.
The contractors must be aware of the necessary criteria, such as a certain number of windows, or the minimum thickness of insulation. If the work does not comply, you may not receive your grant, and you will have to pay for the entirety of the work.
If needed, you can ask for an advisor from Mon Accompagnateur Rénov to check that the work is compliant before your builder leaves to ensure that they are doing a quality job - and that you will receive your money as planned.
The government is aware that scams are likely to increase next year. As a result, it has said that it will double the number of staff working on energy renovation reports at the fraud office in 2024 (the Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes, DGCCRF).
The government and fraud office have also worked to implement an ‘anti-scam filter’ on any website that appears to be malicious or fraudulent when it comes to home renovation.
The government is also set to improve and tighten checks on applications for comprehensive, expensive renovations, to avoid the worst scams.