A survey by French consumer protection officials reveals that over half of the companies engaged in home energy conservation works mislead their clients.
The strong financial incentives given to French households by their government to improve the level of energy efficiency in their homes has been something of a bonanza for the building industry, with a large number of new start-ups and established companies specialising in the activity.
In the process, according to consumer standards officials, unscrupulous companies have taken advantage of the success of green energy to aggressively approach new, often vulnerable clients.
In a survey of 360 companies by the Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes (DGCCRF)
, 57 % of the companies they examined registered at least one anomaly.
The focus of the survey was on the commercial, rather than building practices, of the companies, so there is no substantive review of the quality of work undertaken. However, reports are widespread of work done to a poor standard.
The officials considered that as products and services related to the thermal renovation of buildings were complex, individuals who are approached often had a limited understanding of either what they were being offered or what they eventually received.
The position is made worse by the fearsomely complex regulatory framework in place, that makes it difficult for even practitioners to keep pace with the requirements of legislation and technical developments.
Amongst the commercial practices officials found that did not comply with the law were sales representative who signed up clients for works, in the process taking a deposit from them, without granting the obligatory cooling-off period for them to reflect on or understand the offer.
Many of the estimates provided to clients were incomprehensible even to officials, and others were imprecise.
Prospective clients were often being advised that the works could be carried out at little or no cost to themselves, due to the government financial assistance available, but this was rarely the case, as a contribution by the household was often required.
Some companies also claimed to have the appropriate level of accreditation to undertake the works, a claim that in many cases was fraudulent.
It is a position made most serious by the fact that access to the tax credits and grants is only possible by using a company that has 'Reconnu garant de l’environnement - RGE
Other companies used similar branding labels to promote their green credentials, and in the process confused their customers, but these granted no access to financial assistance, and often had no industry recognition.
Nevertheless, even RGE accreditation was not a guarantee of quality, for 50% of the companies in the survey with this status registered an anomaly.
Caution is therefore needed, whomever you engage, but you can find the official list of RGE accredited companies at trouvez-un-professionnel.
Amongst the financial assistance available are a tax credit/grant
equivalent to 30% of eligible works, general improvement grants for those on a modest income, and an interest free 'eco' loan of up to €30,000, which you can find more about at Financial Assistance for Energy Conservation Works