Case 2015-470

Decision n° 2015-470 QPC
Download Judgment: English French
Country: France
Region: Europe
Year: 2015
Court: Conseil constitutionnel [Constitutional Council]
Health Topics: Water, sanitation and hygiene
Human Rights: Right to water and sanitation
Tags: Drinking water, Potable water

The claimant water company alleged that France’s prohibition on allowing water providers to interrupt the provision of drinking water to users who did not pay their bills violated the constitutionally protected rights of contractual freedom and entrepreneurial freedom and the principles of equality before the law and public expenditures, especially considering that the electricity, heating, and gas providers are under such a prohibition only during the winter months.

The Court held that the prohibition on interruption of water service did not violate contractual freedom or entrepreneurial freedom. The Court reasoned that the legislator enacted the prohibition to pursue the constitutional objective of the possibility for all to benefit from adequate housing by guaranteeing access to water at all periods of the year. The Court further reasoned that no constitutional rights were infringed because water providers still had the right to recover any debts incurred by users’ unpaid bills.

Regarding equality before the law and public spending, the Court held that the fact that the prohibition does not apply equally between the water providers, on the one part, and the electricity, heating and gas providers on the other part, emanates from the objective pursued, which is to ensure the continuous provision of water to all persons. The Court also reasoned that there was no violation of equality in public spending law because, again, water providers could still recover on any debts incurred.

Accordingly, the Court dismissed all of the claims.

« Considérant, en premier lieu, qu’en interdisant aux distributeurs d’eau d’interrompre la distribution d’eau dans toute résidence principale tout au long de l’année pour non-paiement des factures, le législateur a entendu garantir l’accès à l’eau pour toute personne occupant cette résidence; qu’en ne limitant pas cette interdiction à une période de l’année, il a voulu assurer cet accès pendant l’année entière; qu’en prévoyant que cette interdiction s’impose quelle que soit la situation des personnes titulaires du contrat, il a, ainsi qu’il ressort des travaux préparatoires de la loi du 15 avril 2013 susvisée, entendu s’assurer qu’aucune personne en situation de précarité ne puisse être privée d’eau; que le législateur, en garantissant dans ces conditions l’accès à l’eau qui répond à un besoin essentiel de la personne, a ainsi poursuivi l’objectif de valeur constitutionnelle que constitue la possibilité pour toute personne de disposer d’un logement décent »

“Considering, firstly, that by prohibiting the water providers to interrupt the provision of water in any main residence at any time of the year for reasons of non-payment of bills, the legislator wished to guarantee access to water to any person occupying such residences; that by not limiting this prohibition to a certain period of the year, the legislator wished to guarantee this access throughout the year; that by providing for this prohibition to be imposed whatever the situation of the contract holder may be, it wished, as documented by the travaux préparatoires of the Law of 15 April 2013 aforementioned, to ensure that no person in an unstable situation would be deprived of water; that the legislator, by guaranteeing under these circumstances access to water, which is an essential human need, has thus pursued the constitutionally valued objective of the possibility for all to benefit from adequate housing” (Para. 7)

 

« Considérant, en second lieu, d’une part, qu’il résulte des dispositions de la section 2 du chapitre IV du titre II du livre II de la deuxième partie du code général des collectivités territoriales, que la distribution d’eau potable est un service public industriel et commercial qui relève de la compétence de la commune; que ce service public est exploité en régie directe, affermé ou concédé à des entreprises dans le cadre de délégations de service public; que l’usager de ce service public n’a pas le choix de son distributeur; que le distributeur d’eau ne peut refuser de contracter avec un usager raccordé au réseau qu’il exploite; que lorsque le service public est assuré par un délégataire, le contrat conclu entre ce dernier et l’usager l’est en application de la convention de délégation; que les règles de tarification de la distribution d’eau potable sont encadrées par la loi; qu’ainsi, les distributeurs d’eau exercent leur activité sur un marché réglementé; qu’en outre, la disposition contestée est une dérogation à l’exception d’inexécution du contrat de fourniture d’eau qui ne prive pas le fournisseur des moyens de recouvrer les créances correspondant aux factures impayées; qu’il s’ensuit que l’atteinte à la liberté contractuelle et à la liberté d’entreprendre qui résulte de l’interdiction d’interrompre la distribution d’eau n’est pas manifestement disproportionnée au regard de l’objectif poursuivi par le législateur »

“Considering, secondly, on one part, that results from the provisions of section 2 of chapter IV, title II, book II of the second part of the general code of territorial collectivities, that the distribution of drinking water is an industrial and commercial public service within the municipality’s jurisdiction; that this public service is operated directly, is leased or is conceded to companies in the context of delegations of a public service; that the user of this public service does not choose its provider; that the water provider cannot refuse to contract with a user connected to the network it operates; that when a public service is ensured by a subcontractor, the contract between him and the user is compliant with the delegation agreement; that the pricing rules for the provision of drinking water are governed by law; that thus, the water providers operate in a regulated market; that furthermore, the contested provision is a derogation of the non-execution exception of the water provision contract which does not prevent the provider from recovering the debts incurred by the unpaid bills; that as a result of the aforementioned, the infringement upon contractual freedom and entrepreneurial freedom resulting from the prohibition of interrupting the provision of water is not patently disproportionate to the objective pursued by the legislator” (Para. 8)

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