If you have ever lived in France or know anyone that does, you will probably have heard many complaints of how the French just loooove their bureaucracy. I have friends, both French and English who constantly moan about the poor customer service and ‘jobs-worth’ attitude of most French officials. Everything has to be done in triplicate at least, numerous forms for everything and everything printed and filed on paper, even when done on the computer! So my heart sank when I looked at my EDF electricity account online. Over three months after we moved into the mill and there was still no record of our electricity contract. I was going to have to deal with the bureaucracy.
As part of their service our estate agent had advertised that they would take care of all the utility companies during the move. Although perfectly happy to do it myself, I thought ‘Why not if they are offering?’ Big Mistake. In November I received an estimated electricity bill for the old house. We were in France that weekend so I rang up EDF and pointed out that we had moved. The lady was very helpful and promised to close the account and send a facture de résiliation, final account. This duly arrived, and as I had given her our new address and first meter reading for the mill, I had assumed that all was well. Big Mistake Number 2.
Ok. Another phone call to EDF – except that now I was back in England and they only give a Freephone contact number, which you can’t ring from England. A long hunt through their website proved fruitless so a quick Google brought up quite a few forum posts from Brits who had been having the same problem. Armed with a direct line number that someone had kindly provided, I rang up and after about 20 minutes of lift music, Lydia answered.
I explained the problem and my surprise that our new account had not been created when I called last time. Lydia looked at her computer records and said ‘Ah yes, I can see why this hasn’t happened. The previous owner has not notified us that he was leaving, so we couldn’t set you up as the new account holder.’ Not only had he not told them he was long gone, but ‘Oh Mon Dieu! He owes us rather a lot of money!’ Was I surprised?
Lydia decided that it would be a good idea to have a good, bill-paying customer set up on the account instead, so she asked if I was OK for half an hour or so, as it would take a while to go through the process. Did I have a choice?
I spent the next 30 minutes listening to Lydia’s one sided conversation with her computer and supplying the occasional piece of information. ‘ And now I click here…and then I need to …oh, why isn’t that working?’ After consulting her colleague we all discovered that the reason it wasn’t working was because a Disconnection Order had been placed on the property. Great! We were due to go out to France in in a few days’ time, it was February and they were experiencing sub-zero temperatures and there would be no electricity.
Lydia was worried for us. It took her two phone calls and a lot more lift music before she returned, relieved. ‘ I have managed to cancel the disconnection so now we can set up your account.’
Another 30 minutes and I was the proud owner of a new EDF contract. Furthermore I had discovered that the existing supply to the mill was a 20Amp, 12KVA three phase supply. From her many questions about the floor area, number of rooms, usage, white goods and number of residents, Lydia had calculated that we actually needed a 30Amp, 18KVA supply. (This would prove to be very valuable information). Lydia had arranged for an Enedis (The French electricity network company) electrician to come out the day we arrived, to upgrade the meter.
France is a little different from most countries in that you don’t just use the electricity you need and pay the bill accordingly. Each household has a puissance or level of supply limit, set on its meter. If you draw more than your limit the electric cuts out. Having owned a house in France for 13 years we were well aware that this was the case. In the summer we were fine but in the winter if we had all the electric radiators on, plus the oven and then tried to boil the kettle the power cut out. We had never tried to raise our puissance in our old holiday home, as it kept costs down. The higher your puissance, the higher the monthly standing charge. Now that we had the mill and were intending to spend a lot more time there, we decided it would be a good idea to get it right – especially as once set, you can’t change it for another 12 months.
As we finished the call, I thanked Lydia whole-heartedly for her help and above-and-beyond service. I was just so relieved that we would have power when we arrived! This was obviously something that Lydia was not used to hearing and she was audibly moved.
Looking back on all our dealings with ‘the system’ over the last few months I realised that everyone I have dealt with has put themselves out to help and has been absolutely lovely – Have I just been lucky and found the single kind person in each organisation, or is it just the bureaucratic process that they have to adhere to that makes the French system so difficult sometimes?