Following the explosion of energy prices last year, more and more Belgians are failing to meet payments for their energy bills, leading them to defer and spread out payments, according to Belgian newspaper L’Echo.
Despite support from the government, including reductions on VAT for gas, prices have remained at record levels.
Instability in the global energy market, aggravated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has pushed household energy bills skywards.
The annual electricity and gas bills for an average household in Flanders rose to all-time highs in April, up to €1,708 according to the Flemish energy regulator Vreg.
According to energy giant TotalEnergies, requests for payment plans increased 80% between December and March. This total value of payment plans has equally lept by 50% this year.
A trend confirmed by the Belgian Federation of Electricity and Gas Companies (Febeg) who could not provide statistics, but stated that they had noted a marked increase in energy payment plans.
French utility company Engie told Belga news agency that requests “have more than doubled compared to the payment plans of the last two years, both in numbers and amount.” Likewise, Octa+ says that in just one year, the number of payment plans nearly tripled and for increasingly larger payment amounts.
Other energy companies, such as Dutch company Eneco, have witnessed a much smaller increase in demand for payment plans. Energy company Mega says that while demand was indeed increasing, it “only concerns 1% of our clientele.”
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The statistics suggest that Belgians are struggling with their rapidly spiralling bills. To this end, the Federal Energy Ombudsman has called for an extension on the deadline for paying energy bills.
The Ombudsman received a record number of complaints last year in relation to rising energy prices, and proposes increasing the grace period on bill payments to 30 calendar days.