How to avoid growing problem of energy renovation scams in France

We summarise common scam tactics and give tips to help you avoid falling victim

A photo of a model house with ‘green’ eco-friendly symbols on it
Scams for eco-friendly home renovation soared last year, the fraud office reports
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The number of scams around eco-friendly home renovations is a growing problem in France, according to national fraud office the DGCCRF.

More than 10,000 swindles were reported to the official fraud complaints site Signal Conso last year, says consumer association UFC-Que Choisir.

DGCCRF said it was finding it difficult to keep on top of the scams. A representative said: “It is a massive phenomenon and difficult to curb because it keeps changing.

“We strengthen our checks every year but the fraudsters have a lot of imagination and work to get around them.”

UFC-Que Choisir added it can be very difficult to trace the “very well-organised” fraud networks. Victims often deal with a canvassing company first, and then with so-called ‘professionals’ who carry out the work. Very often the heads of the fraudulent companies are not based in France, it said.

The most common scam is the ‘€1 offer’ for jobs such as insulation, a change of boiler, or wider renovation.

Scammers often:

  • Hand over incomprehensible or non-conforming quotes or bills
  • Arrange ‘hidden’ credit schemes that defer payment (and so incur major charges)
  • Falsify their RGE registration credentials
  • Do not comply with legal requirements for work or consumer rights

The DGCCRF also said that it was unable to keep up with demand from private individuals who were looking to use public aid to help with their eco-friendly renovation.

Read more:France: Law against phone cold calling in place from today

How to avoid falling victim to an eco-renovation scam

The DGCCRF has issued some detailed tips to help people avoid falling victim to a scam.

1. Do not sign up to anyone that contacts you by phone

Since July 2020, it has been illegal to sell eco-friendly renovation projects over the phone. Also, be aware of companies pretending to be public organisations. They will never approach you to try and sell by phone.

If you are contacted do not let the caller go any further, and never share any details.

You are advised not to sign up or hand over any payment details on the same day as deciding to go ahead with work, even in a dedicated workshop or to a door-to-door salesperson. Take some time to consider the offer and undertake checks before proceeding.

2. Before you embark on any work, perform some checks

Before any work starts, you are advised to contact a France Rénov' advisor (the public service that can guide you in your energy renovation work).

Take advantage of its free, personalised advice. It can especially help when selecting companies and choosing quotes.

Also, check the professional’s qualifications. If you want to finance the work with a government loan or financial aid (such as MaPrimeRénov' or the zero-rate eco-loan (l’éco-prêt à taux zéro, éco PTZ), you must choose a professional with the Reconnu Garant de l’Environnement (recognised environment professional, RGE) label.

To find out if your professional is part of the network, consult the directory of RGE professionals (the ‘annuaire’, searchable on the France Rénov website here). However note that being RGE-certified does not guarantee that the company does not engage in deceptive commercial practices.

Other tips include:

- Check the quality of the websites and, more importantly, the documentation provided and read it carefully before signing

- Compare services and prices with other professionals

- Compare offers by contacting several companies, especially if you have been approached ‘out of the blue’

- Before signing, read the entire document(s) carefully

If you have signed up for energy renovation work with a door-to-door salesperson you have a legal right to change your mind within 14 days. However, this does not apply if the contract was signed in a shop.

3. If the work is being financed by a loan, be especially careful

Advice includes:

- Read the paper copy of the credit offer, which must be given by a bank (finance company), very carefully

- Be aware of any mention of deferring the repayment of the first monthly instalments. Doing so can significantly increase the total cost of the loan

- Pay attention to the certificate of completion of the work. This will confirm that the work has been carried out correctly, and marks the start of the repayment obligations

4. If the work has not gone as planned, seek help

There are several routes you can take if you are not happy with a company’s work or its response to your complaints.

- If you have a problem with an RGE company, you can report it on the website.

- Get help from an approved consumer protection association, which will be able to give you useful advice to try and resolve your dispute

If you wish to escalate the issue to public authorities, you can:

- Report the issues to the DGCCRF's online platform:SignalConso. Once you have filled in the form, and depending on the situation, you may be entitled to receive advice on the next steps you can take, and your rights as a consumer.

- Report the issues to your department’s public protection office,la direction départementale de la protection des populations (DDPP)or the public works protection office, la direction départementales de l'emploi, du travail, des solidarités et de la protection des populations (DDETSPP).

- Call on a legal mediator. They can be called on free of charge, and their main goal is to enable any disputes presented to be settled out of court. In some cases, you must have called on a mediator before starting any legal proceedings - if you decide to take that route.

- As a last resort, refer the matter to a civil court. This means the juge des contentieux de la protection(the judge responsible for protection disputes, formerly the district court judge), or thetribunal judiciaire(judicial court, a merger of the district court and the high court), depending on the amount.

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