Two Rants in One Week – Électricité de France and Health Bureaucracy

It’s a while since I had a rant. This week provided two opportunities. The first concerns Électricité de France (EDF), about whose emergency call-out service I have been complimentary in the past. The second is about the bureaucracy surrounding the health system.


EDF reads our electricity meter twice a year – it used to be three times. It bills us every two months. Four out of six bills are therefore estimates.

Their estimates are usually in line with what we have consumed. However, in August, we received an eye-wateringly hefty bill. The small print said it was too late to submit our reading. But if we wished to do so for future bills, we simply had to enter it on their website or by phone between certain dates.

We didn’t want to continue subsidising EDF to the tune of several hundred euros. So I marked a date in my diary this week to supply my own reading. I signed up on the website. But the only way to submit your reading appeared to be to register for an additional service entitled Le Suivi Conso, which costs an extra €2.90 per month for the privilege. Paying an additional €36 per year on top of already large bills didn’t seem very fair and I was spitting tacks about dishonesty etc.

I checked again today and only by clicking on every possible link on the site did I find out about submitting your reading via their Service Rélevé Confiance, which is free. Oddly, this service didn’t seem to be in evidence when I tried earlier. I couldn’t find it then, anyway. French official websites are not user-friendly (and my French is reasonably good). EDF could at least say on the bill where you need to click on the website to get to this service or tell you what it’s called: it certainly isn’t obvious.

This story has a happy ending, since EDF now owe us €104. I don’t suppose we’ll actually get a refund, though. They’ll simply knock it off the bill after next. So we are still effectively subsidising them.

The dénouement: having submitted my reading on the EDF site, I received no less than eight identical emails saying it hadn’t worked and would I do it again. When I tried, it wouldn’t let me. However, I had a nice surprise when the bill arrived a few days later and it was a statement of repayment. The money was already in my bank account. So I was a little unfair. However, I take back nothing I said above about their website. 

And we’re still fed up with their ‘partner’ phoning several times a week to ask if we want to invest in solar panels. What part of ‘non’ don’t they understand?

Health Bureaucracy

In France you pay the doctor directly and your health insurance reimburses you. This normally happens electronically: the doctor enters your Carte Vitale (health card) into a machine and the sum appears later in your bank account.

After a routine visit to the gynaecologist a fortnight ago I handed over €33. She said her machine needed reprogramming, so she would give me a feuille de soins – a reimbursement form that you send to your health insurer.

Today, I received a letter from RSI/Harmonie Mutuelle, with whom we are registered. They said they couldn’t reimburse me since they were unable to read what the doctor had written. Would I please ask her to specify clearly what she had actually done? It’s in the nature of doctors’ handwriting to be illegible but hers is particularly bad. However, it didn’t occur to me that her hieroglyphics would be unintelligible to RSI.

I now have to send her the form in the post (I can’t just drop it in, since she’s 25 kilometres away), ask her to complete it legibly and return it to me. I then have to resubmit it to RSI by post. Why can’t they send it to the doctor and ask her to return it directly to them? I suppose La Poste will be satisfied since they get twice the amount of postage this way.

I daresay similar idiocies occur in the UK but I wouldn’t know now. The point is that everyone is a victim of faceless bureaucracy, even the people who work in the system. There’s no point complaining because you just encounter a wall of indifference. Rules are rules, even if they are daft.

But, hey, the sun’s out, so I’m going out to tidy up my soggy geraniums. They still have plenty of life in them: I was losing the will to live this week.

Copyright © 2013 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Greetings, I have a belated question regarding Harmonie Mutuelle. I am at the point of signing up with RSI and have to pick a mutuelle from the four they propose. Have you been happy with HM? It’s hard to get information about the four on the list. Thanks. Sherwood


  2. We’re having exactly the same issue with EDF over estimating our bill, we were paying 350 per month, heating our house purely by electricity, we installed a wood pellet boiler which instantly reduced our usage by almost 200 euros per month but EDF insist we should still pay 260 per month!!


    • Bad luck. I suggest you go and take a look at their website and try to find the Service Rélevé Confiance, which is what we are now on. However, if you’re already paying monthly by direct debit you might find it difficult to change to this. Good luck!


  3. These frustrations with bureaucracy are such a dreadful waste of time. All that waiting while awful music plays and the message is repeated endlessly and websites I can’t make head or tail of. Thanks for the advice about Service Rélevé Confiance and for the various ideas of how to get rid of those awful cold callers.
    I wish you luck in resolving your headaches soon.


    • Having got home from a few days’ walking in the Cantal, I received no less than 8 identical automatic emails from EDF to say that my attempt to submit my reading onsite had failed. Trying again did no good. So EDF is definitely not in my good books.


  4. Well, I found EDF to be amazing, after a life in Italy; in FR, I read my meter and within three days the overpaid amount was in my bank account. Here, in Italy, we have been overcharged by the water people by nearly €300 and there is no instant repayment … hopefully it will be knocked off future bills, while years ago in England, the bank phoned me up to say I didn’t have enough money in my bank account to pay the electricity bill which I found out to be £4000 … luckily a mistake!
    I think you’ve been a bit unlucky, which is a shame.


    • Interesting that you got an instant refund in France. I got the impression that they didn’t do this. And the dénouement to all this is that I had an email from EDF today saying that my attempt to submit my reading on their site had failed and would I try again. When I tried again, the site wouldn’t accept it so I will have to try phoning. Desperately frustrating.


  5. Several years ago we signed up for a direct-debit monthly payment based on our electricity consumption in previous years. We pay a set amount every month. In October, EDF reads our meter and either gives us a refund or charges us extra. We occasionally read the meter to make sure that we’re not headed for a surprise. We are very happy with this system and I strongly recommend it to everyone.


    • Thanks for this helpful advice. Since I am rather allergic to direct-debits, I will stick with sending them our own reading but others might want to consider it. We read our meter once a week to capture any anomalies.


  6. Oh, yes, those bills every two months come around awfully fast – we have three separate bills every time (for three separate buildings), and the early summer estimate is always ENORMOUS! My heart is in my mouth every time I open one… Rant away, Vanessa!


  7. We signed up for Service Rélevé Confiance because EDF always underestimated our mid-year consumption, and by the time they caught up the price has increased (1st August) and we’d then be charged the higher rate for electricity we’d used before the increase! It wasn’t easy to find our way round their web site, I agree, and it took 6 months before the regular letters came specifying by when we had to key in our meter readings. But it works well now. BTW, I read recently that when the solar panel salesmen ask if you’re the proprietor, if you say ” pour le moment, mais elle est à vendre, la maison” they end the call very quickly.


    • It’s hugely preferable to be able to supply one’s own reading. In previous years, EDF’s estimate were reasonably accurate but this year they were way over the top. I’d rather just pay the correct amount than too much or too little.

      Thanks for the advice about the solar panel sales people. They also state that you must be under 65 (presumably because otherwise you’ll peg out before you finish paying for the things). I always say I’m over 65!


  8. Oh dear, not good experiences. I dread these things happening, knowing that despite all sorts of efforts, my French is not really up to arguing with faceless bureaucracy. I did have a good experience with a French Dr last week though…he was brilliant, and hilarious, always hepful when you’re not feeling brilliant. I hope you manage to get things sorted.


    • Glad to hear your experience with your doctor was good but sorry you’re not feeling 100%. I’ve now got onto the correct service for giving my own reading but it took a lot of effort and frustration before I did.


  9. Poor you. These encounters with inefficient companies and bungling bureaucrats leave one extrememly stressed-out and frustrated. Both EDF and our gas supplier overestimate how much we’ll use year after year. You think they might have learned by now, but no!
    Hang in there and enjoy the sunshine.


    • Problems with bureaucracy are like buses – they tend to come along all at once. Perhaps you should try this Service Rélevé Confiance. At least that way you can provide your own reading.


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