EDF to end power cuts to cash-strapped households over unpaid bills

Glowing filament of an electric light bulb to illustrate a story about French electicity supplier EDF
Photo: Anthony Indraus / Unsplash
French households struggling to pay their electricity bills will, in future, face a reduction in supply rather than a total cut, EDF has said.

The energy supplier has committed to supplying the equivalent of 1,000 watts to customers who have fallen behind on their bills – enough to permit ‘essential use’ for lighting, water heaters or washing machines, internet usage,  phone charging, and refrigeration, but not enough to heat a home.

The operator said it had made the decision because of soaring energy prices. It follows government efforts to ease pressure on personal finances by issuing a €100 energy cheque to lower-income households.

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“We are committed to supporting our customers in situations of unpaid bills by putting an end to the cutting of electricity supply,” announced Marc Benayoun, one of the group’s executive directors, on Friday 12 November, in an interview with Le Parisien.

EDF’s decision is currently moot. France’s annual trêve hivernale, which started on November 1st and runs to April 1st, bars energy suppliers from cutting supplies to any household. 

Unlike water companies, which have been banned from cutting or reducing water supplies to a property no matter the financial situation of its customers since February 2014, energy suppliers can still cut services to customers who have not paid their bill outside the trêve period. 

EDF’s policy will take effect from next April. Other electricity suppliers in France have not yet said if they will follow the state-owned company’s lead.

The planned supply reduction “will apply in all cases, unless there is a physical or technical impossibility to limit the strength of the power supply,” EDF said in a statement. 

It added that it already favoured limiting power to customers who had fallen behind on their payments to seeking to cut it entirely. This policy has reduced the number of cuts by a third in five years, it said.

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“We realised that we were getting almost as good results, in terms of regularising situations and repaying debts, using other means. And in particular the limitation of power,” Benayoun explained.

But each year, “between 200,000 and 300,000 households are deprived of electricity because they could not afford to pay,” national energy mediator, Olivier Challan-Belval, who had been calling on EDF to adopt reduction policies as standard, told France Info. “Today, electricity has really become a good that we can not do without.

“It is not acceptable, in a country like France, that households can find themselves in such a situation of precariousness and poverty,” he added.

Manuel Domergue, of the charitable Abbé Pierre Foundation, welcomed the news. “Millions of households in difficulty will no longer live with this sword of Damocles over their heads!” he said on Twitter.

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