Where does fuel poverty exist?

In France, a spike in 'feeling' cold at home

In France, the National Observatory of Energy Poverty (l'observatoire national de la précarité énergétique  or ONPE) considers three indicators to calculate the number of households in fuel poverty and to analyse their profiles.

  • The energy cost threshold (TEE) (le taux d'effort énergétique) refers to the portion of energy expenses in the total household budget. If it is higher than 10%, the household is considered to be in fuel poverty, as the energy cost is a burden.
  • The cold perceived (FR_3D) reflects whether the inhabitants 'feel' cold.
  • The challenge of having a low income / high costs (LI/HC) equation (bas revenus/dépenses élevées ou BRDE), which is based on the model applied in the United Kingdom. In France, this includes all households having a net income of less than 60% of the national average (considered the general poverty level) after all housing costs (except energy) have been deducted, but having energy costs in line with the higher national median.   

The most recent data from the ONPE reflect a two-pronged study involving in-person interviews with 5 405 households and a diagnostic of energy performance (Diagnostics de Performance Energétique or DPE) of 2 389 dwellings, which calculates the theoretical energy efficiency of a dwelling. The study focused on individuals in the bottom three income deciles (i.e. the 30% of the entire population having the lowest incomes).  

The study showed that 7.5% of households (1.8 million) spent more than 10% of income on energy bills and 7.43% reported the sensation of being cold. France assesses the LI/HC indicator to reflect two circumstances. The first is based solely on household energy expenses divided over square metres (m2) of space, which gives a figure of 8.8% of households being vulnerable. The second assesses household energy expenditure divided over consumption units (i.e. the number and type of people consuming energy), giving a higher rate (12.9% or 3.2 million households) of fuel poverty.

Taken individually, the indicators suggest the rate of fuel poverty in France is moderate against other countries in Europe. But the OPNE recognises that many households experience more than one indicator; thus, to get a more accurate picture, it overlaps the indicators (in a manner that avoids double counting). This analysis shows an 'envelope' of 5.1 million French households (19.5%) or 12.5 million individuals (20.25%) being in fuel poverty. The average energy 'gap' per household – i.e. the amount it would take to lift them out of vulnerability – is between EUR 530 and EUR 770 in a given year, for a national sum of EUR 1.4 billion to EUR 2 billion.

What does the analysis reveal?

Specific characteristics emerge regarding the households most strongly linked to each indicator. In the TEE segment, most are small households (1-2 people) who are slightly older (47% over 60 years) and almost half (47%) are retired, but they are split equally between being owners or renters. Vulnerable groups are predominant, including students and people who are unemployed and spend much of their time at home. While the size of their dwellings is close to average, their energy bills are above average. 

The LI/HC group assessed by m2 are slightly above average households (2.45 persons against the French average of 2.34), but are younger than the national average (49 against 54). Their employment rate, however, is slightly below the national average and vulnerable groups are overrepresented (20% are unemployed, 11% stay at home, and 6% are single-parent families). Women and foreignersor people who have acquired French citizenship are over-represented against the larger population. Their spaces are rather small (67 m² against 93 m² on average) and over 70% are renters while 30% live in social housing. Their energy bills are above the national average in both absolute terms and in relation to m2. The BRDE_UC households have characteristics between the two first groups.

The characteristics of the FR_3D households are similar to those of the BRDE_m², except they are younger (by three years on average and having 10% fewer retirees), and there are more people who stay at home (23%). Additionally, most are renters (85%), often living in the social housing. Compared with national averages, women and foreigners or persons who have acquired French nationality are again significantly over-represented. These households have lower energy bills (EUR 1 150 against EUR 1 500 and EUR 1 700 on average for households in the BDRE_m² category), but still find the bills to be a burden.

The next challenge

Looking ahead, the Réseau pour la transition énergétique (CLER) is keen to capture and strongly push forward to eradicate fuel poverty in cases that slip through the system (in French, one might say les passoires énergétiques, which evokes a strainer or colander).  This will require a mix of measures: some that are obligatory, others prompted by public incentives and assistance, particularly in the area of renovations.

Importantly, these efforts are now underpinned by an amendment to broader French legislation towards an energy transition in favour of green growth. In particular, Article 12 of la Loi n° 2015-992 du 17 août 2015 amends Article 6 of la Loi 89-462 of 6 July 1989 and la Loi 86-1290 of 23 December 1986 to improve the tenancy relationships, such that the tenant health must now be supported through compliance to minimum energy performance standards (MEPS), according to a phased implementation schedule (no time frame was set, but should be in place by June 2016).

Equally important is to better inform both homeowners and owners of rental properties, so they understand the mechanisms and tools available to support energy efficiency renovations. For rental property owners, it is also important to emphasize their responsibilities as landlords – especially the law voted into effect in August 2015, which will soon render as 'unrentable' apartments that consume too much energy (i.e. those having energy labels of F or G). 

EnAct is grateful to Marie Moisan, CLER, for her assistance in preparing this content.