Once you’ve moved in, you’ll need to sign up to util­ity providers as well as make sure in­sur­ance and taxes are in place. Kate McNally re­veals how to get con­nected to all the es­sen­tial ser­vices

Living France - - Contents -

Cover story Con­nect­ing your French home to the es­sen­tial ser­vices

Al­most as soon as you take the first sip of cham­pagne to cel­e­brate the suc­cess­ful pur­chase of your new home in France, you will need to start think­ing about put­ting your house in order. In­sur­ance, wa­ter, heat­ing, tele­phone… there’s a lot to set in mo­tion, and you will of course re­quire plenty of pho­to­copies, and even more pa­tience.

Let’s take a look at the most im­por­tant things to put in place – the ones that make the dif­fer­ence be­tween a house and a home.


For home­own­ers in France, it’s not oblig­a­tory to have house in­sur­ance un­less you live in a co-owned prop­erty. How­ever, it is ad­vis­able if you want to be cov­ered for any po­ten­tial dam­age. There are sev­eral in­sur­ance com­pa­nies of­fer­ing as­sur­ance habi­ta­tion, and in most cases it also in­cludes a civil re­spon­si­bil­ity in­sur­ance ( as­sur­ance de re­spon­s­abil­ité civile) that cov­ers the home­owner, spouse/part­ner and chil­dren, as well as an in­sur­ance for your chil­dren re­quired by schools ( as­sur­ance sco­laire). So, all in all, it’s worth get­ting.

In con­trast, ten­ants in rented prop­erty are re­quired by law to take out home in­sur­ance in order to be able to cover any po­ten­tial dam­ages to the prop­erty.


As a house owner, you will re­ceive an an­nual de­mand to pay taxe fon­cière, ef­fec­tively sim­i­lar to the old UK sys­tem of pay­ing house rates. You don’t need to reg­is­ter; the no­taire will no­tify the lo­cal au­thor­ity when you buy a house and you will be li­able for this tax from the fol­low­ing year (as of 1 Jan­uary). In some cases, you may be asked by the house seller to con­trib­ute to the cur­rent year’s tax. The de­mand is sent ei­ther by post or by email, usu­ally to­wards the end of the year. You can ask to pay over three months, or set up a monthly pay­ment in ad­vance if you want to avoid a hefty bill just be­fore or after Christ­mas!

Next up is the taxe d’habi­ta­tion, paid by the per­son or per­sons liv­ing in the house. This tax is cal­cu­lated ac­cord­ing to the size of the house, ameni­ties, house­hold rev­enues and the num­ber of chil­dren; it also in­cludes a statu­tory au­dio-vis­ual fee. Monies col­lected are used to fund lo­cal ser­vices such as schools, so­cial ser­vices and sports fa­cil­i­ties – in this way it is sim­i­lar to the UK’s coun­cil tax.

Again, the bill is sent di­rect by post or email in the au­tumn. There is a 10% in­crease for late pay­ment of both th­ese taxes, so keep an eye on the ‘pay by’ date.


In gen­eral, it doesn’t get much more crit­i­cal than elec­tric­ity. Heat­ing, charg­ing mo­bile de­vices, mak­ing a cup of tea – so many of life’s rudi­men­tary ne­ces­si­ties re­quire an elec­tric cur­rent.

As usual, it pays to do your home­work on the providers to see which of­fer the best price for your needs. The French elec­tric­ity mar­ket was opened up to com­pe­ti­tion in 2007 (pre­vi­ously na­tional com­pany EDF held the monopoly), and there are cur­rently nine other com­pa­nies to choose from. EDF is now a listed com­pany – though the French state re­mains the pri­mary share­holder – and con­tin­ues to hold the lion’s share of cus­tomers, with around 90% stick­ing with the devil they know to date. Their de­ci­sion could be down to loy­alty, lazi­ness or con­ser­vatism, be­cause in fact many of the new­com­ers un­der­cut both EDF’s statereg­u­lated tar­iffs and its op­tional prices. (EDF is the only com­pany al­lowed to of­fer a reg­u­lated fixed price, tarif ré­gle­menté.) Many of the other providers use the reg­u­lated tar­iff as a bench­mark for changes to their own vari­able rate, but also to high­light the dif­fer­ence in their own prices, which they are free to set.

Although EDF is keep­ing com­peti­tors at bay for the mo­ment, the tide is def­i­nitely turn­ing. Engie (for­merly known as state gas sup­plier GDF Suez) has made sig­nif­i­cant in­roads, no doubt man­ag­ing to woo a num­ber of ex­ist­ing gas cus­tomers over to a to­tal en­ergy pack­age. (It’s ba­si­cally tit for tat, as EDF has sim­i­larly ven­tured into the gas side of the en­ergy mar­ket.) Sim­i­larly, Di­rect Én­ergie, has in­fil­trated the open French en­ergy mar­ket, both in elec­tric­ity and gas, se­duc­ing cus­tomers with cheaper prices, at­trac­tive con­tract terms, plus dis­counts for in­tro­duc­ing friends to their ser­vice.

There are also com­pa­nies po­si­tion­ing them­selves in the green en­ergy camp – no­tably Planète Oui, En­er­coop and én­ergem – also ei­ther of­fer­ing cheaper prices or sim­i­lar prices but with a com­mit­ment to in­vest­ment in re­new­able en­er­gies. Th­ese play­ers are pop­u­lar with ecol­o­gists and oth­ers con­cerned with pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment.

Don’t worry too much if you choose the wrong provider and dis­cover you could have a better deal else­where, as you can change from one provider to an­other, with­out penalty, at any time.


It’s pretty much the same sit­u­a­tion for gas. The open mar­ket is now well es­tab­lished and you should shop around for the best deal. Engie, to­gether with fel­low his­toric gas sup­plier ELD (a col­lec­tion of lo­cal gas providers), has lost mar­ket share to the new or ‘al­ter­na­tive’ providers, as they are called in France, led by Di­rect Én­ergie and Ital­ian gas gi­ant Eni.

Prices in­clude a cost for net­work main­te­nance (this tar­iff is set by the gov­ern­ment) and a cost for the gas con­sumed (set by the provider). Only Engie is au­tho­rised to of­fer the state-reg­u­lated tar­iff; all other providers set their own prices.

Cus­tomers for both gas and elec­tric­ity can opt for a fixed price or vari­able price (the lat­ter changes in line with the tarif reglé­menté). It is worth not­ing that both (i.e. also the fixed price) are sub­ject to changes in the tax ap­plied. Again, cus­tomers are free to switch providers at any time, even if they have a fixed con­tract in place.


The mairie, or a lo­cal col­lec­tive, is re­spon­si­ble for both fresh wa­ter sup­ply and sani­ti­sa­tion ser­vices in each com­mu­nity, and ei­ther they fi­nance and man­age this them­selves or, as is more of­ten the case, they con­tract it out to the pri­vate sec­tor. Ei­ther way, you, as the end user, don’t have a choice of sup­plier.

So, when you move into your house, ask at the mairie who is re­spon­si­ble for the wa­ter sup­ply, and set up a con­tract in your name ei­ther with the mairie or their cho­sen pri­vate wa­ter sup­plier. Ve­o­lia (the for­mer na­tional wa­ter sup­plier), SUEZ, Saur and SOGEDO are the four largest wa­ter providers in France.

The lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­ity de­cides the price of wa­ter in your com­mu­nity, even if the ser­vice is con­tracted out. In this case, some mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties sim­ply ap­prove the tar­iffs sug­gested by the providers, while oth­ers bar­gain ef­fec­tively for lower prices. Bills are di­vided into three costs – wa­ter dis­tri­bu­tion, sani­ti­sa­tion ser­vices and taxes. In gen­eral, wa­ter sup­ply is me­tered, with the av­er­age an­nual bill tot­ting up to around €460 for a con­sump­tion of 120m3 (ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tut Na­tional de la Con­som­ma­tion).

If you’ve bought a house in a very ru­ral area, you may not be con­nected to the com­mune’s wa­ter net­work. In this case, make a re­quest to be con­nected as France is com­mit­ted to hook­ing up the ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. That said, it’s a good idea to check the sit­u­a­tion be­fore pur­chase, be­cause the au­thor­i­ties are also keen to en­sure all homes have a sewage sys­tem that meets en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards, and the cost of mod­ernising your sep­tic tank, should it in­sist, could set you back a few thou­sand eu­ros.


Or­ange (for­merly France Télé­com) owns the na­tional tele­phone grid and dom­i­nates the fixed-line tele­phone mar­ket in France. The com­pany an­nounced plans early last year to phase out the orig­i­nal fixed-line net­work over the next 10 years, in sim­i­lar fash­ion to the phas­ing out of ana­logue tele­vi­sion. So, around a third of fixed-line users – those who don’t ac­cess the line via a Live­box – will have to move across to (and sub­scribe to) an in­ter­net­based tele­phone ser­vice.

Although Or­ange is the main player, it has three strong com­peti­tors who sim­i­larly of­fer cus­tomers the pick of fixed, mo­bile, in­ter­net and TV pack­ages. Free has made sig­nif­i­cant in-roads, with an ag­gres­sive cut-price mar­ket­ing strat­egy. SFR is the sec­ond largest op­er­a­tor in France, with Bouygues Tele­com com­plet­ing the line-up.

To de­cide which op­er­a­tor is best for you, you’ll need to go on­line to com­pare their var­i­ous pack­ages ( for­faits). Ba­si­cally it works the same way as in the UK. Work out your us­age (or de­sired us­age) for each of the ser­vices in­cluded and choose a pack­age. While you may be locked into a con­tract for a fixed pe­riod pre­vent­ing you from switch­ing op­er­a­tors be­fore the con­tract ex­pires, you can nor­mally change from one pack­age to an­other when you like. So keep an eye on your bills to be sure there isn’t a dif­fer­ent op­tion better suited to your needs.

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