A Warning with a happy ending

We are writing concerning the recent experience we have had with a major supplier of bottled gas in France. We have had a 500 litre gas cisterne (tank) in the garden for the last 11 years. This tank remained the property of the gas company who held a deposit of 762 euros. Three years ago we changed our method of heating from gas to aerothermie (heat pump) supplementing a wood burner, making the gas tank redundant.

We phoned the gas company to ask how we should go about having it removed and recovering our deposit. The 'client service department' ( there is a certain irony in this) told us that all we needed to do was to send this request to the Paris head office by registered post, explaining the reason why the tank was no longer required. This we duly did.

After a delay of five weeks with no response from the company we again phoned the 'client service department'. They apologised for the delay and said they would write to us straightaway.

We were horrified to receive a letter that demanded 814 euros to remove the tank. Naturally we telephoned the 'client service department', and asked why. We were told that this was because we had demanded removal of the tank on a day other than the day of the beginning of the contract. We should refer to our terms and conditions for an explanation.

And how you may ask how to find the correct day, we too found this little puzzling. This is not the day on which the contract is signed that would be too simple, in fact we have two contracts the second one replacing the first one. Nor is it the day on which the second contract was signed. In fact it refers to the day when the first delivery of gas is made after the current contract is signed. Well hidden in extremely small print in article 10 of contract two.

We explained this to the client service department and said how sorry we were that we had made an error and could the date be changed to the exact date to finish the contract. This way no charges would be accrued. Their answer was simple. NO! We expressed dissatisfaction and explained that we have received this information from their very own 'client service department'. NO! Not satisfied we then explained this in great detail to three further client service executives going up the ladder. Reply came there none. Not their problem. READ THE CONTRACT. Client service departments are not there to help clients, what a foolish notion!

Next tactic, write all the above and send it to the 'client service director' by registered post.

At a friend's suggestion we also contacted the consumer group Que Choisir, who agreed to act on our behalf. Their telephone contact with the gas company followed very much the same lines as our own, until the point when the local representative suggested that the gas company's attitude would make an extremely good press article for the consumer group. Attitudes began to thaw a little and we left the Que Choisir offices a little more confident.

A happy ending, we have today received a letter from the gas company saying that the deposit will be returned and no charge will be made to collect the tank. Of course this means the exact day, not a day early, not a day late, of the opening of the last contract as detailed so clearly in their terms and conditions.

We hope that our experience may be of some use in helping others not to fall into the same trap as ourselves,and the strongly felt the suggestion that joining the group of Que Choisir at only twenty-nine euros a year is an investment well worth making.

Glad to hear you got a satisfactory solution.