Belgium's Energy Ombudsman Service, in charge of mediating citizens' energy concerns, announced on Tuesday that they had received 27,000 complaints in 2022, smashing the previous year's record of 9,000 reports. De Standaard reported that most of this year's complaints were related to rising energy prices.
Eric Houtman, a mediator at the federal service, told the Flemish outlet that the ongoing energy crisis accounted for 18.6% of the total complaints received last year. "The higher and more volatile energy prices" became throughout 2022, "the more customers questioned their bills and contractual conditions," Houtman explained.
The other complaints mostly concerned issues regarding households' electric meters (16.2%), billing problems (15.5%), commercial practices and contract terms (14.2%) and customers struggling to switch suppliers (11.5%).
The two shocks of 2022
Among the incidents that received the most complaints in 2022, Houtman drew attention to two episodes in particular.
Firstly, the launch of Atrias in November – the platform that collects consumers' energy data to distribute to suppliers and operators – led to a raft of complaints. The system was designed to give a clearer overview of energy use on a domestic and business level but caused very little inconvenience to households and companies, at most delaying their bills by two weeks.
However, the Energy Ombudsman Service received reports of customers "having to wait months for their energy bills or for their change of supplier to be processed."
The second shock to consumers came when energy supplier Eneco converted their fixed contracts to variable ones – an episode that sparked significant controversy.
As some households looked for respite from exorbitant bills by switching to fixed energy contracts, most suppliers stopped offering these with Eneco abruptly terminating fixed-price contracts without warning its customers. This led the Energy Ombudsman Service to "name and shame" Eneco on their website.
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The vast majority of the complaints came from Dutch-speakers – 80% of reports were made in Dutch. In Houtman's view, this can be attributed to a lack of a regional ombudsman service in Flanders.
For comparison, the Walloon and Brussels energy regulators both have their own ombudsman service in their respective regions.