Belgium’s Federal Energy Ombudsman has launched an investigation into dozens of complaints against energy supplier Eneco, which is accused of enticing customers into signing more expensive contracts.
Customers say they’re being told they’ll have to pay four times as much as they currently do, despite fixed rates, De Morgen reports.
“In June 2020, my contract with energy supplier Eneco was renewed for three years, with a fixed rate,” said customer Hilde Huylebroeck (57) from Bruges. “Until 2 June 2023, I would get fixed prices for electricity and gas, despite the energy crisis currently raging.”
“However, a fortnight ago I suddenly received an e-mail stating that ‘due to a change in the regulations, my product will soon cease to exist’. As of March, I would be automatically transferred to a new, variable formula, whose rates are three times higher than those in my current contract. If I still wanted to keep a fixed rate, the prices would become even four times more expensive than what I am paying now.”
Complaints pour in
Huylebroeck’s complaint is one of many.
“The complaints started coming in at the end of last week,” said Eric Houtman, federal ombudsman for energy. “There are dozens, and more are coming in every day.”
All of them concern customers with long-term energy contracts or open-ended contracts that include a price guarantee of several years. In each case, the fixed tariffs date from before the explosive increase in gas and electricity prices.
In its communications, Eneco refers to “changing regulations,” meaning the law on dormant energy contracts that came into force on 1 January this year, which is specifically intended to protect consumers against overpriced energy contracts that keep being extended.
“This law obliges energy suppliers to inform customers of the expiry date two months before the end of their contract and to make them a new offer. Or – in the case of an open-ended contract – two months before the termination or transfer,” Houtman explained.
— Eneco Belgium (@EnecoBE) January 7, 2022
Translation: Following reports in @HLN_BE and @demorgen: Eneco will certainly not break current contracts with a written price guarantee.
Eneco response to complaints
Eneco initially claimed that “a technical or human error” is behind the price changes, but following news coverage, they issued a statement saying they were only trying to inform customers of the increases they can expect in the future for planning purposes.
“The energy market is under pressure and we have seen many price increases in recent months. Anyone who takes out a new contract now will notice this immediately. The sharp rise in energy prices is therefore also worrying many families, who are seeing their monthly advances double or triple,” they said.
“Whereas until the summer it was clear that a fixed tariff was a good choice and could provide peace of mind, this is no longer the most obvious choice. To proactively assist our customers, in December we proposed to these customers to switch to an active tariff formula with a variable price.”
Nevertheless, the energy ombudsman took issue with the wording of the communication Eneco sent to customers.
“We are still investigating all the complaints,” Houtman said, calling the proposals Eneco is sending “problematic.”
“In the complaints I receive, there is usually a three-year price guarantee. The supplier must respect this period. Additionally, according to the law, the supplier must ask the consumer’s consent, and that doesn’t happen. Eneco’s e-mails explicitly state that the customer ‘does not have to do anything’. Those two things are problematic and not legal, in my opinion.”
Customers can file a complaint with the energy ombudsman at the official website.