The massive spike in the cost of energy, notably gas and electricity prices, is forcing more Belgians to turn to CPAS for support. The social welfare service has received an uptake in residents appealing for social assistance in order to pay their energy bills, Belgian broadcaster RTBF reports.
“There is an increase in requests but the worst is still ahead of us. Winter is not here yet. There is a whole series of people who have not yet received their regularisation invoice and who are perplexed by the complexity of their file,” Luc Vandormael, president of CPAS for Waremme and the CPAS Federation of Wallonia, told RTBF.
According to the welfare officials, there is an increasing sense of panic among the Walloon residents who are coming to CPAS to appeal for support.
In other areas of Wallonia, CPAS services paint the same picture. In Aywaille, where 148 people receive social assistance, there have already been around ten additional requests for social assistance compared to last year. In smaller, rural communities the increase in requests for support is reduced, however the number of students claiming benefits has risen.
It is notably the Belgian middle-class who are increasingly turning to CPAS for support. In Liège, there are typically 1,500 requests for energy-related assistance per year. Now, there are already 460 more.
This support typically includes helping Belgians to pay their energy payment plans or to pay outstanding bills. Energy provider TotalEnergies has recorded more than double the typical number of requests for energy payment plans in recent months.
Noting the growing severity of the issue in Wallonia alone, Vandormael will soon bring his case before the Consultative Committee.
“Previously, you could say that the clients of CPAS were, roughly speaking, benefit recipients, and the working poor…Now, we see that the middle class is paying the price,” the president said.
Both in March and May of this year, a growing number of households have struggled to afford their energy bills. More than twice as many people in Belgium are now facing problems as a result of rapidly increasing electricity and gas prices.
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A series of proposals has been put forward to tackle the growing problem, including price caps, taxing energy giants’ excess profits, and widening the social tariff. CPAS, in the municipality of Anderlecht, has begun to negotiate energy prices with providers on behalf of social aid recipients.
Vandormael would like to extend the social tariff to the middle classes and extend existing social tariffs for an additional year.
“People are just above, in terms of income, the ceilings to benefit from aid. For the middle classes this is the case. Why not think about some form of social tariff. Helping the middle class with access to an intermediate social tariff seems to me like a good proposal,” he said.