Many families risk finding it hard to make ends meet now that the energy bill is even higher, the Gezinsbond (Family Association) warns, stressing that new measures are urgently needed.
Figures from the Flemish energy regulator, VREG, show that the estimated annual electricity bill for an average family has increased to €2,155, while the average natural gas bill is now to more than €3,790. Together they amount to almost €6,000 or €500 per month for energy alone, notes the non-profit association, which defends the interests of families.
Households that barely fail to qualify for the social rate are especially at risk of falling on hard times. "These are often single-parent families, but some are also two-parent families," says Gezinsbond spokesperson Anneke Blanckaert. "We are in danger of being in a situation where people in a developed western country have to sit in a room with a coat on in the middle of winter," she warned.
Current measures taken by the government, such reducing the VAT rate or extending the social rate, are no longer enough, according to the Gezinsbond spokesperson. "We are asking for additional solutions from the politicians and from the energy suppliers," she said.
In concrete terms, the Gezindsbond is urging suppliers not to slap late-payment interest or other charges on people who miss payment deadlines. "That only exacerbates the problems," it argues.
The association has asked the government to maintain and expand the social rate, so that middle-class families can also qualify. It is also calling for an extension of the reduced VAT rate.
An additional measure suggested by the Gezinsbond is the provision of a given amount of free energy for each member of the household. "This way people can have a minimum amount of energy. It is a basic need after all," it stressed.
Finally, the Gezinsbond notes how quiet the political world has been about the rising energy prices. "Not much is moving, whereas the problems are only getting worse," the organisation said.