Le Médiateur du Groupe ENGIE (ENGIE Group Mediator)

Categories: Consumer Law
Typology: Articles
Tags: Mediation

ENGIE Group’s Mediation was set up in 1999 following consultation with consumer organisations[1]. It provides complainants with a final opportunity for resolving their complaint with ENGIE without resorting to legal action. It deals with both B2C and B2B disputes, wherever ENGIE is present (70 countries). The Group Mediator is both the operational Mediator in France (95% of his business) and the lead Mediator for other countries[2].

As his predecessors, the current Mediator was originally appointed by the Group’s President, on the basis of his experience in the energy industry and in stakeholder relations. However, ENGIE had anticipated the requirements of Article 6.3 Directive:  “To respect the spirit of the European ADR Directive, which had not yet been incorporated into French law at the time of the meeting on 6 June 2014 with the consumer organisations, the [President] put forward the name of the Group’s new Mediator to the meeting’s attendees, who gave a positive response to the proposal and allowed for the new Mediator’s appointment”[3]. The Mediator was nonetheless officially appointed by the President. Therefore, in order to formally comply with the new requirements introduced by the implementation of Directive 2013/11, he was confirmed on 11 December 2015, following a unanimous vote, by a body composed of an equal number of representatives of consumer organisations and of representatives of ENGIE. The Mediator has a term of office of 5 years, renewable but non-revocable[4]. He may not work for ENGIE for a period of at least three years after his mandate has ended. He undertakes continuous professional development specifically in the field of mediation and consumer law[5]. The Mediator also ensures that his team[6] possesses and maintains the right skills. Currently, the Mediator is the Spokesperson of the European Energy Mediators Group[7], where good practice is shared.

The Mediator clearly explains the nature of his relationship with the entities concerned, so that claimants can knowingly choose him as a third party in seeking a solution to their dispute. He agrees to consistently treat all parties in a fair manner, as per the mediation values, which are common to the Club of Public Service Mediators: listening, scrupulous respect for individuals, willingness to identify amicable solutions, fairness, impartiality, a hearing for all parties, confidentiality and transparency. The Mediation Charter recalls and elaborates on these values[8]. The Mediator is thus bound by a non-disclosure obligation and the names of the parties, the contents of the case and the facts that are brought to his knowledge in performing his duties remain confidential[9]. He communicates to each requesting party the file, i.e. any arguments and evidence advanced by the other party, and any declarations made or opinions rendered by experts[10]. Mediation may be interrupted at any time by the parties or the Mediator if any one of them believes that there is a breach of the principles of mediation[11].

Referral to the Mediator and examination of the case is free of charge for the claimant[12]. The cost falls exclusively on the company. In 2014, the Mediator had a separate[13] operating budget of 1.5 million euros to cover both its labour costs and operating expenditure[14]. Referral may be by post, e-mail[15] or online[16]. Once the case has been referred to the Mediator, any lapse in rights that may be claimed by the parties will be suspended until such time as he has delivered his solution[17]. The request must be accompanied by a copy of all necessary documents to support it. In 2014, as in 2013, two thirds of claimants sent a letter, while one third used the online form or email: despite the increasing use of email in customer relations, customers prefer formalising their request in a letter, sometimes by registered mail[18]. The Mediator acknowledges receipt of the case within 48 hours and explains to the claimant what happens next. The working languages are French and English. The mediation request will be rejected in several circumstances which mirror Article L. 152-2 Consumer Code, which implements Article 5.4 Directive[19]: where the consumer did not attempt to contact in writing ENGIE’s national customer relations service in order to discuss his complaint and resolve the matter; where the dispute is frivolous or vexatious; where the dispute is being or has previously been considered by another mediator or by a court[20]; where the consumer has not submitted his request to the Mediator within one year from the date upon which he submitted the complaint to ENGIE; and where the request falls outside the ‘jurisdiction’ of the Mediator[21].

Following the initial analysis of the claimant’s request, three outcomes are possible. Firstly, where the case is declined because the claimant did not contact customer services, the case is referred to the relevant department and monitored by the Mediation team with a personalised follow-up. If the claimant is still dissatisfied, the Mediation team will deal with the dispute. The same applies where customer services do not answer within 2 months. This monitoring approach helps to improve the relationship between the consumers and the company. Secondly, the request is purely and simply rejected, generally within 48h, in all cases within 3 weeks. Finally, the Mediator proceeds to mediation properly speaking. His aim is to propose a fair solution to the parties within three months following the receipt of the complaint (except in complex cases). The parties are free to adopt or reject it. However, unless otherwise agreed, they may not disclose it (confidentiality), even in court[22]. The claimant reserves the right to take legal action, unless the solution is accompanied by a transaction[23]. If claimants are based in France and are customers of an electricity or gas supplier bound by the Consumer Code, they may still refer their case to the National Mediator for Energy[24]. The ENGIE Mediator was accredited Consumer Mediator by the Commission d’évaluation et de contrôle de la mediation[25] on 25 February 2016[26].

In 2014, the Mediator received 4301 requests (mostly from individual customers) in France[27], due to[28] a widespread reference to mediation in the customer relations channels (contracts, invoices, websites...) of entities that did not always advertise it, and a simplification of the customer journey, so that the Mediator is contacted more quickly when customers are not satisfied[29]. 4102 requests were forwarded to customer services, and 199 handled by the Mediator[30]. Out of those 199 cases, 15 were declined for mediation because[31]: the complainant refused to abide by the mediation values (unwillingness to compromise in any way whatsoever, to provide supporting evidence, or to respect individuals); after receiving their complaint, customers cannot be reached to confirm their desire to enter into mediation, despite extensive attempts to contact them; the customer referred his case to both the National Mediator for Energy and the ENGIE Mediator, and ultimately chose the former; and the customer referred his case to the ENGIE Mediator before the consumer service responded to his complaint (within 2 months). Out of the 184 cases proceeding further, 155 cases closed and 29 were in progress. The 155 cases consisted in 9 aborted ones, 1 pending a response and 145 cases with a customer response (133 accepted the solution and 12 refused it)[32]. Mediation aborted where the customer stopped abiding by the values of mediation, or failed to provide the required evidence, despite the Mediator’s extensive attempts to contact him[33]. When the solution was refused, the dispute was not necessarily referred to the courts (only one such case, with the findings of the court decision in the same spirit as those of the mediation process). The “fact that a claimant refuses a solution does not necessarily mean that the solution was not in his favour”[34]. When the parties agreed on the solution put forward by the Mediator, they complied with it in 99% of cases[35]. The two exceptions involved claimants who reneged on their initial agreement to settle their debt, despite the payment terms granted by the supplier. ENGIE complied with every solution put forward by its Mediator.

65% of mediation cases were handled in less than two months, 98% in less than three months[36]. The added month was due to the involvement of an external specialist (e.g. thermographic inspections), or issues with the customer, including the need to involve a social worker.

Finally, the annual report is an opportunity for the Mediator to draw inspiration from his work to issue recommendations to improve ENGIE’s processes and the contractual framework[37]. Throughout the year, he liaises with the different divisions concerned to prevent or minimise commonly occurring complaints. He thus contributes to client satisfaction in the interest of the company.

(Altalex, 20 June 2016. Article by Emmanuel Guinchard)

______________

[1] On ENGIE Mediation, see the Mediator’s webpage, the latest annual report (the 2014 Report, released on 30th June 2015, all references to pages without any further indication refer to the report) and the new ENGIE Group Mediation Charter of 19 February 2016.

[2] Regarding the latter, the aim in 2015 was to share good practices and implement standardised processes, knowing that there does not seem to exist mediators in all countries since the report mentions “mediators (or similar professionals)” (p. 8-9).

[3] p. 9. The Mediator meets consumer organisations around 3 times a year, lately in February 2016 (LE MÉDIATEUR DU GROUPE ENGIE RENCONTRE LES ASSOCIATIONS DE CONSOMMATEURS).

[4] Article 1.2.1 Charter.

[5] See for example the certificate for a 7 hours training in January 2016.

[6] The exclusively dedicated Mediation team features 12 people, from various backgrounds (including legal and customer services), in addition to the Mediator (p. 17).

[7] European Energy Mediators Group. For a recent event where the ENGIE Mediator represented the association, click here.

[8] See also p. 10-11, for example on listening.

[9] Article 1.2.4 Charter.

[10] Article 1.2.5 Charter.

[11] Article 3.3 Charter, p. 7.

[12] Article 3.4 Charter.

[13] p. 8-9. Adde Article 1.2.3 Charter.

[14] p. 17. In 2015, his budget was increased in line with his activity and his strategic plan (LA MEDIATION DU GROUPE ENGIE), although we will not know by how much until the 2015 Report is released.

[17] Article 4.1 Charter.

[18] p. 19.

[19] In part: see infra.

[20] Unless both parties specifically agree (Article 4.2 Charter on lawsuits, which adds that if any party files a lawsuit against the other party, mediation will terminate).

[21] On which see Article 2 Charter.

[22] Article 4.3 Charter.

[23] Article 3.5 Charter.

[24] On the convention between the National Mediator for Energy and the ENGIE Mediator, see infra.

[25] On this Commission, see infra.

[27] p. 18. For an overview of mediation elsewhere, see p. 40 and ff.

[28] p. 20.

[29] It includes a fast-track scheme for consumers likely to be considered vulnerable: see p. 30.

[30] The trend is that of a lower number of requests, but an increase in the number of disputes handled by the Mediator.

[31] p. 24.

[32] p. 20.

[33] p. 23.                         

[34] p. 25.

[35] p. 24.

[36] p. 25.

[37] p. 28 and ff.

 

Share on: Share this article on Facebook Share this article on Linkedin Share this article on Twitter Share this article on GooglePlus