As citizens across Europe face spiralling energy bills, customers are increasingly asking energy suppliers for payment plans, De Tijd reported, with plans that are already in place insufficient to cope with the soaring prices.
Despite the government’s newly-announced measures to shield Belgians from the worst of Europe’s energy crisis, bills are bound to continue rising as they often still lag behind the current prices.
Hellen Smeets, the spokesperson for energy market leader Engie Electrabel, said that the number of repayment plans has increased by more than half in recent weeks. "This is due to the recent rate increases, but also to the Covid crisis and the floods this summer," she said.
The average annual bill for gas and electricity has doubled from €1,800 – €1,900 last year to €3,500 – €3,800 now, energy supplier Mega said. "We fear that prices will remain high until the end of 2023," spokesperson Elsie Van Linthout added.
Many energy suppliers have been advising customers to adjust their payment plans for months, anticipating that prices would soar.
Rising customer concerns
The energy crisis has understandably been a high concern for many and energy suppliers have seen a rise in questions about high invoices and the variable rate. In fact, suppliers have been so overwhelmed with questions that some have adjusted their customer support methods.
Claire Müller, who is responsible for customer relations at Total Energies, suggests that customers use the chat function to get a quick answer. Luminus on the other hand temporarily discontinued their email and online contact forms to focus exclusively on telephone conversations.
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Pressure on Europe to find solutions
Belgium has pledged to continue "pressuring Europe to develop a structural approach to rising energy prices," Prime Minister Alexander de Croo stated in a press conference on Tuesday. "Structural solutions can only be taken at European level, as was the case with vaccines."
"The current price does not reflect reality in practice," Energy Minister Tinne Van der Straeten said.
De Croo agreed that the rising prices are not representative, calling it an irrational reaction from the markets. The Belgian premier set his sights on the "superprofits" of energy suppliers and suggested using the excess profits to help those struggling with energy costs, as well as establishing a ceiling price.
The European Commission was tasked with drawing up a plan by the end of the month to ensure the supply and accessibility of energy at an affordable price next winter, taking into account the break with Russian energy markets.
The Commission was also called on to formulate concrete proposals to bring down energy prices for households and businesses.