The federal ombudsman for energy last year received 7,055 complaints, 5% more than in 2018, 22% more than in 2017 and the highest number since 2012. The main source of complaints, accounting for about one in five, was sales techniques by staff in shops or door-to-door.
In previous years, problems with meters and bills were the main source of complaints. Now the growth in complaints about sales pressure are the most common single complaint. “Every year there’s an increase,” said ombudsman Eric Houtman. “When I started here ten years ago it was a marginal issue.”
Houtman has issued a list of suggestions for the federal government to adopt to tackle the growing number of complaints. Those include an outright ban on the door-to-door selling of energy contracts.
He also calls for more transparency in price comparisons. At present different fixed costs are included in the bills of difference suppliers, making accurate comparisons difficult. Instead, he suggests, prices should be expressed in a simple sum per kilowatt hour.
Another suggestion is the revival of a system introduced by the Di Rupo government, which linked price indexation to the rates in neighbouring countries. That system was scrapped by the government of Charles Michel in 2017.
While sales techniques made up the single largest category of complaints, the numbers actually increased by 56%. Customers in general feel the sales staff are too aggressive, and do not reveal the true costs of switching providers. The number of complaints of unwanted switching rose by 50% over the year. Complaints over payment problems increased by 25%, and over price transparency by 21%.
Of the total number of complaints received in 2019, 64.15% came from Dutch speakers, 35.83% from French speakers and 0.02% from German speakers.
Complaints to the ombudsman regarding energy problems can be made in writing only, by mail to Ombudsdienst voor Energie, Koning Albert II-laan 8 – bus 6, 1000 Brussels. By fax: 02 211 10 69. And via the online complaint form.