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Bleak houses: Families struggle to foot France's soaring energy bills

by Reuters
Tuesday, 26 October 2021 08:00 GMT

A woman comes out of a bakery behind fuel pumps at a petrol station in the village of Langon near Rennes, France, October 21, 2021. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

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One in four French people said they are struggling this year to pay their gas or electricity bills, as prices surge due in part to low gas stocks and a jump in demand post-lockdown

PARIS, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Jacques Kadio has already cut his grocery bill, refuels his car less and turns the heating off when his children are at school, but still the spiralling cost of electricity is squeezing his household budget to the point of going broke.

The father of five, who has been out of work since quitting his job as a security guard a month ago after retraining as an IT technician, now faces monthly power bills nearly three times higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic, says a social worker who helps him manage the paperwork.

"We can't keep doing this," Kadio said. "We're doing what we can to handle these bills but as they go up it's getting catastrophic."

Wholesale energy prices in Europe have surged due partly to low gas stocks and a jump in post-lockdown demand, prompting governments to try to protect businesses and consumers from a bleak winter.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex last Thursday announced that lower-income households would receive 100 euros ($116) from the government to help mitigate the rising costs, after already extending an energy grant to more households.

Leslie Lemee, a social worker at SOLIHA - the housing network that helps the Kadios with their bills - said the family received a government grant, though this covers only a fraction of the costs.

One in four French people said they are struggling this year to pay their gas or electricity bills, according to a survey from the country's national energy mediator, up from less than a fifth in 2020.

The survey found that 20% of households had endured a cold home for at least 24 hours, up from just 14% last year.

"In France people are being very, very careful about their heating," said Frederique Feriaud, a director at the national mediator.

She added that many people lived in badly-insulated homes, piling up heating costs even as their rooms stayed cold.

The Kadios' social worker said their situation was among several exacerbated by factors such as poor insulation and more time spent at home due to lockdowns, remote working and job losses.

"I don't know what to do anymore," said Kadio. "Today I'm a bit overwhelmed."

($1 = 0.8593 euros)

(Reporting by Sarah Morland and Noemie Olive in Paris; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)