The federal government has agreed to freeze the social tariff for gas and electricity at its current level for the time being, following a public outcry over planned increases. Last week it was announced that the social tariffs – granted to people on low incomes – would increase by 28% for gas and 22% for electricity. Organisations working with the poor were shocked at the extent of the increases, and wondered how the low-paid would manage to pay. The predicted consequences would include families going without heating, hot water and even cooking.
Consumer affairs minister Kris Peeters sat down with federal energy minister Marie-Christine Marghem to find a solution, which has now been agreed.
“We have a ministerial order ready which will reverse the announced increase,” Peeters said. “The social tariffs will therefore not be rising as planned.” The order was approved by ministers at their weekly meeting on Friday.
Peeters admitted there would be a cost, estimated at 13 million euros. “We will look into that,” he said. “The important thing is that the group of people who pay the social tariffs do not have to be confronted with such drastic increases.”
The question remains, however, as to whether the government – which is currently in caretaker mode – is allowed to implement such a freeze, which has an effect on the budget and is therefore in principle outside the minority government’s competence. According to Peeters, an exception can be made.
“This is a matter of serious urgency,” he told the VRT. “People will be unable to pay the increased tariffs, or only with great difficulty. I hope it will be understood that a caretaker government must take this measure.”
For the future, the government has asked the energy regulator Creg to review the mechanism it uses to calculate prices for gas and electricity, to prevent such sizeable increases in the future. The regulator has six months to complete the task before the next price announcement, which are made twice a year.