the UFC-Que Choisir seizes the Competition Authority “to put an end to the big bazaar” •

With the approach of winter, the UFC-Que Choisir warns of the surge in prices “with obscure justifications” for propane in tanks (+ 17% since 2017) affecting many households, generally rural. Worried about the small number of players in this market, the UFC-Que Choisir seizes this Wednesday, October 28, 2020 the Competition Authority to investigate the real causes of this inflation suffered by consumers.

Around 600,000 homes today use tank propane (LPG) for heating, hot water or even cooking. This method of supplying energy generally results from the inability to take out a gas subscription due to the absence of natural gas distribution networks which affects 23% of the population, present in 27,000 municipalities, often rural.

However, this situation has a major economic impact for consumers, according to Que Choisir. She notes that propane remains an energy more than twice as expensive as natural gas (respectively € 14.73 and € 6.75 per 100 kWh2). “This lack of natural gas alternative results in propane users being captive”. Electricity is priced even higher (€ 17.58 for 100 kWh) and fuel oil, admittedly cheaper (€ 8.07 for 100 kWh), is on the way out since the installation or renewal of tanks will be prohibited. from 2022. As for heat pumps, despite the existing aid, the cost of the installation still borne by consumers often remains dissuasive (10,000 €).

“The overwhelming numbers of overheating bills”

While the electricity and gas markets are now partly regulated (notably via regulated tariffs), the propane market is fully liberalized. “Propaniers thus have complete freedom to set their prices, and to dictate price increases … with suspicious arguments”, denounces the association of consumers.

This is how, for example, Butagaz, announced in February 2020 an upcoming increase, on 1er the following March, the price of propane from 1,714 euros to 1,834 euros (+ 7%) per tonne, explained, according to the supplier, by the fact that “the price of energy raw materials has continued to increase, in particular due to global geopolitical instability”. However, market figures invalidate this explanation. From the beginning of September 2019 to the beginning of February 2020, the price of a barrel of oil fell by 7.6%, while that of natural gas gave up 19.4% during the same period. In addition, due to the economic crisis linked to Covid-19, the world prices of these raw materials have collapsed, without the prices invoiced to individuals, however, having fallen.

“If looking at the situation in France we are sorry, the comparison with our German neighbors does not make it possible to console ourselves: while from the beginning of 2017 to mid-2020 prices in Germany fell by 23% at the same time. in France grew by 17%. Today, prices are more than twice as high in France as in Germany “, emphasizes What to Choose.

A truly competitive market or a deplorable grand bazaar?

According to the association, “How can we be surprised at these French prices, when since 2015 there are only 4 national propane carriers, of which the three main ones (Antargaz, Butagaz, Primagaz) have a market share of around 90%. Worse. , as there is no obligation for propane companies to deliver to consumers throughout the country, a consumer may very well be dealing with a de facto monopoly in his living area. “

More broadly, the practices of propane companies on the development of tariffs question the functioning of the market. Indeed, the prices displayed are sometimes fictitious since by following the recommendations of the General Directorate for Competition, Consumption and the Repression of Fraud (DGCCRF), consumers may be able to negotiate a significant discount directly with their customers. provider. “If it is deplorable that in order to heat themselves at a decent price, consumers have to go through negotiations with carpet merchants, this practice not only leaves the impression that the base price is artificially high, but that in addition it can only be conclusive for consumers who are genuinely in a position to compete “, according to UFC Que Choisir.

Eight years ago, the UFC-Que Choisir seized the Competition Authority for its opinion, which then issued recommendations leading to the Hamon Law (2014) improving the contractual practices of propane sellers. “In view of the current situation, these measures deserve to be completed.”

Deeming unacceptable the rise in the price of propane hitting consumers head-on, the UFC-Que Choisir therefore seizes this Wednesday at the Competition Authority for it to examine “the real extent of competition in the propane market and that it proposes, if need be, any legal evolution allowing the establishment of a real competitive market.”

In addition, given the complexity of the propane (LPG) market, the UFC-Que Choisir is publishing this Wednesday on its website, in free access, Frequently Asked Questions to answer the main questions consumers may have.

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