First step: to determine if the dispute is admissible by the ombudsman
All forms of home energies are covered: electricity, natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in a tank or in a cylinder, fuel oil, fuelwood, and district heating networks.
All individual consumers may refer to the ombudsman, as well as artisans, shopkeepers and liberal professions, non-profit organisations, small city councils, as well as small businesses (SMEs of less than 10 employees and €2M turnover) and condominiums/commonholds.
Type of dispute
The national energy ombudsman may intervene in all disputes arising from contracts entered into with an energy company.
The ombudsman’s remit concerns:
- contracts relative to the supply of energy and to associated services (e.g.: maintenance of a tank, advice on energy savings… ),
- contracts to connect to Enedis’ (formerly known as ERDF) network, to GRDF’s network, as well as to an LPG or district heating network.
The ombudsman’s remit does not cover disputes concerning:
- The formation of contract, which explains why the ombudsman cannot deal with issues such as doorstep and distance selling, or other kinds of aggressive business practices.
Read on Energie-Info: What are my rights in case of solicitation and distance selling?
- The production of electricity: photovoltaic, wind-generated…
Cases in which a dispute may be subject to mediation:
- The consumer previously attempted to solve his/her dispute with the company and sent it a written complaint within a period of two months to one year before turning to the national energy ombudsman;
- The request does not appear to be abusive or unfounded;
- The consumer does not report the case to be simultaneously examined by another ombudsman;
- The dispute has not been already examined, or is not being currently examined, by a court of law;
- The dispute is within the remit of the ombudsman (see below) .
Admissibility of cases
The analysis determining if a case is admissible is carried out within 48 hours after the file is received.
The national energy ombudsman only processes cases that are admissible for mediation. The complainant is informed by a written notice if his/her case is admissible, how the process will take place and the estimated duration of the proceedings. He/she is also informed that he/she may withdraw from the mediation process at any time.
In order to request the national energy ombudsman’s help, the complainant must do so in French. Thereafter, communication relative to the mediation will only be in French.
If the dispute is not admissible, the consumer is informed of it within a maximum period of 3 weeks.
When a case is not admissible, the ombudsman provides the complainant with general information on where he/she can turn to to solve the dispute. Furthermore, when a consumer’s initial written complaint has received no answer from the company, the national energy ombudsman forwards the unanswered complaint to the company.
When it comes to disputes that are not admissible to a mediation because there was no prior complaint or because the request is too early or too late, the complainant and the relevant operators are notified that the dispute may become admissible within a period of two months to one year after the complaint is sent.
The mediation process
Communication with operators and consumers is essentially made through telephone and email.
Consumers and operators are associated to the whole dispute process to find a mediation solution.
Operators send their observations, together with all documents needed to assess the facts: consumption history, communications with the customer, customer account status, etc.
If the parties ask for it, part or all of these documents are made available to them by the ombudsman.
The expected delay for operators to send their observations is set by the ombudsman, at a maximum of three weeks depending on the complexity of the request.
The amicable agreement
The ombudsman may encourage operators to submit a solution proposal within a period set by the ombudsman.
If the solution is deemed fair and is approved by all parties, the ombudsman issues an ‘amicable agreement’, by which he takes note of the fact that the dispute has ended.
The solution recommendation
If no amicable agreement can be devised between the parties, the ombudsman issues a written recommendation, aimed at solving the dispute. It is communicated to all the parties involved.
This recommendation is not binding, but operators have an obligation to inform the ombudsman, within one month, as to whether they will implement the proposed solution or not.
Note that the company may choose to follow the ombudsman’s recommandation, even if the complainant does not find the solution satisfactory.
In any case, the ombudsman endeavours to obtain the complainant’s opinion about the proposed mediation solution.
Complainants are systematically informed by mail of the legal recourse available to them if they are not satisfied with the mediation.
Under article R.122-1 of the energy code and article R. 612-5 of the consumer code, the time-limit set for the national energy ombudsman to issue a recommendation is 90 days from the date at which the ombudsman notifies the complainant that his/her case is admissible. For the simpler cases however, the ombudsman endeavours to devise a solution within two months. For the more complex disputes, the ombudsman informs the complainant that processing delays will be extended.