On 25 July 2019, French deputies and senators agreed on a text aimed at gradually eliminating the “passoires thermiques” (literally, the “thermal sieves”), i.e. the housing that is very poorly insulated (classified as “F” or “G”). Housing conditions are one of the primary cause of energy poverty, and the main focus of NGOs and activists in France.
In France, according to the Energy Poverty Observatory, 15% of inhabitants report having suffered from the cold for at least 24 hours during the winter of 2017. 11.6% of French people spend more than 8% of their income to pay their energy bill for housing and are among the poorest.
The many available tools to retrofit housing have not yet been able to reduce energy poverty
The French approach to energy poverty mainly focuses on the quality and energy performance of the dwelling, although many generous redistributive measures are in place (solidarity income (RSA) or housing subsidies (APL)); as well as targeted programmes to combat energy poverty (Chèque Energie). The extensive network of well-coordinated actors, the RAPPEL, along with the Energy Poverty Observatory, lead the battle against energy poverty.
Regarding retrofitting and improving the quality of the dwelling, the primary tool since 2017 is the national housing agency, ANAH’s Living Better Serenity programme. More than 50 thousand households renovated their homes through this programme. It aims to improve the thermal performance of private housing by providing dedicated support to energy-poor occupants. It translates into works subsidies, an additional grant (Prime Habiter Mieux), and a Zero Rate Loan (Eco-Loan Habiter Mieux). Although not explicitly designed for households affected by fuel poverty, some energy suppliers (EDF, Engie, Direct Energie) can also offer significant loans for renovation work.
But the measures in place are not enough. NGOs, led by the RAPPEL network, often point out that the implementing decree defining the minimum energy performance criterion to be met for housing to be qualified as “decent” is insufficient and too vague. In their opinion, renting thermal sieves should be outlawed and homeowners encouraged to carry out energy efficiency work, as stipulated in the Energy Transition Act in 2015.
The provisions of the 2019 Energy-Climate Act
The final draft text proposes the implementation of an incentive scheme in several stages:
- From 1 January 2020, some energy renovation aid schemes will be reviewed (conversion of the energy transition tax credit into a bonus for low-income households, the opening of the programme for landlords, etc.).
- From 1 January 2021, owners of leaky homes will only be able to adjust rents in strained areas if they carry out work to reach at least the energy class E. The same applies to the request for a contribution from tenants to carry out energy-saving work that the landlord must undertake to reach energy class E (Article 3 Ter).
- As of 1 January 2023, a minimum energy performance criteria must be respected for all housing units for them to be qualified as “decent”. As from 1 January, 2028, a dwelling energy consumption must not exceed the E threshold of 330 kilowatt-hours per square metre per year of primary energy (labels F and G of the energy performance diagnosis). This obligation does not apply in the event of technical, architectural or cost constraints disproportionate to the value of the property.
- From 1 January 2022, sellers of a leaky home (“F” or “G” energy class) will have to provide, in addition to the energy performance diagnosis, a complete energy audit of the property. This energy audit must include a comprehensive work programme, an estimate of the cost of the work and financial assistance to finance the work (Article 3f). From that date, real estate professionals will also be called upon to promote the energy renovation of properties that pass through their hands. All real estate advertisements will have to include the energy performance of the property, the estimate of energy costs (heating and domestic hot water), as well as the obligation as from 1 January 2028 to respect the energy performance standard for all the dwellings (Class E). Real estate professionals who do not comply with these obligations are liable to financial penalties (Article 3f).
- From 2028 onwards, when selling or renting a residential property whose energy consumption exceeds the E threshold, owners will be required to the “mention non-compliance with this obligation in the advertisements relating to the sale or rental” (in the property advertisement, and the sale or lease contract, for example = certificate of non-compliance of the property). The other implications of failing to comply with the work obligation will be defined by the Parliament in 2023, as part of the five-year energy programme created by the Energy-Climate Act.
NGOs deplore the lack of ambition of the final text
The Senate’s examination of the draft law had led to the adoption, against the opinion of the rapporteur and the government, of an amendment incorporating into the criteria for “decency” of housing, from 2023 onwards, a final energy consumption ceiling with a maximum threshold of 330 kWh of primary energy consumption per square metre and per year. However, this amendment is not included in the final version of the text after it has been submitted to the Joint Committee.
NGOs regret that the content of the draft final text is not binding and that its impact is therefore limited. As the Rénovons! initiative recalls President Emmanuel Macron’s program was clear: “The rental of energy sieves will be prohibited as of 2025“. However, the Government seems to try to avoid actually implementing this provision.
Finally, it should be noted that Act No. 89-462 of 6 July 1989 on improving rental relations has been amended: for housing to be decent, it must not exceed a maximum threshold of final energy consumption per square metre per year. A decree will define this threshold no later than 1 January 2023, i.e. after the next presidential elections…
Sources and further reading:
Effy, 30 July 2019: Rénovation énergétique : Que faut-il retenir de la loi énergie-climat ?
RAPPEL, 29 July 2019: Rénovation des passoires thermiques : version finale du projet de loi relatif à l’énergie et au climat