Electricity bills: Engie and other firms criticised for bad practice

Underestimated monthly invoices and illegal late billing are among ‘recurring’ issues, says mediator

The mediator reported several ‘bad practices’ in some of the leading energy suppliers

Four energy companies in France including Engie have been accused of recurring bad practices by the national energy ombudsman.

In the ombudsman’s annual activity report, Olivier Challon-Belval, le Médiateur national de l’énergie, said he was giving a “red card” to ENI, OHM Energie, Engie, and Wekiwi.

It is the second year running that Wekiwi has been given this status by the mediator.

“These are recurring bad practices,” Mr Challon-Belval told FranceInfo on May 14. “This has already been happening since last year. Wekiwi is the supplier that attracts the highest number of mediator complaints.”

Read also: French energy suppliers criticised for ‘problematic’ pricing practices 

Monthly bills underestimated

He said that Wekiwi often underestimates monthly bill costs to appease clients, which causes confrontation later when the real cost emerges. Clients are then unexpectedly hit with much higher bills based on their predicted consumption.

“They [Wekiwi] forget to mention that these are just provisional monthly bills,” he said.

Increase in disputes

The year 2023 saw a sharp increase of disputes due to price changes: up to 75% in individual disputes, and 72% for professionals and energy housing groups. 

“In general, it was a lack of information on the part of consumers, who had not understood that prices had risen sharply, and who had not been properly warned by their suppliers,” said Mr Challon-Belval. 

Energy suppliers “have a duty of loyalty to their consumers, and in particular to provide them with clear, comprehensible information” on prices, he said.

Action on recommendations

Every year, the mediation body issues on average 8,500 recommendations. Of these, “90% are followed up by suppliers”, he said.

Distribution network operator Enedis - which notably instals and manages the Linky smart electricity meters - was given a ‘red card’ because of its reported lack of action following the ombudsman’s recommendations. 

“I noticed that the follow-up to my recommendations had deteriorated considerably over the past year,” he said. “When I see them in meetings, it's always complicated. They always have arguments and do a lot of ‘legalism’ [legal wrangling trying to justify their actions].”

“Unfortunately, [Enedis] has not yet managed to transform itself culturally to treat its users like real clients,” the mediator said.

Read also: Six tips for comparing energy suppliers in France to lower bills

Illegal bills

Enedis is also accused of illegally issuing ‘catch up’ bills to consumers.

He said that Enedis is the “only operator that stubbornly refuses to apply the provisions of article L. 224-11 of the French Consumer Code”. This code states that energy companies cannot bill their customers for consumption that is more than 14 months old. 

Yet, Mr Challon-Belval said he had seen Enedis attempting to ‘catch up’ with some households for consumption that dates back to more than two years ago (29 months in one case), and said that this practice had increased by 64% in one year. 

This is even worse, the mediator said, because the delays in catching up are due to Enedis, not the consumer.

Enedis has also been accused of being slow to connect new customers, meaning that clients are often left ‘in limbo’ as they transition between suppliers, so they must pay much higher rates in between contracts. This leaves them with large bills (sometimes charged at more than double the contract rate) once they are finally connected, at no fault of their own.

In its defence, Enedis has said that it is working with the ombudsman to address the issues, and “continuing discussions…in particular to improve the accuracy of our responses and the quality of case handling”.