Energy suppliers face sanctions for failing to keep customers informed
Belgium’s state secretary for consumer protection has warned that seven different energy suppliers are facing sanctions for failing to keep customers adequately informed.
Eva De Bleeker (Open VLD) was interviewed on VRT and issued a warning that some suppliers, despite repeated requests and threats of fines from the Economic Inspectorate, still do not have efficient customer service protocols in place.
De Bleeker is giving these seven suppliers one more week to come up with a solution before she takes legal action against them.
The recent energy crisis has prompted not only incomprehensible bills but also an unprecedented number of complaints against suppliers for issues beyond the soaring prices – namely unreachable customer service departments and a lack of answers to simple questions.
Belgium’s FPS Economy has registered 1,634 complaints already this year, while the energy ombudsman has received twice as many in the first eight months of the year as in the same period last year.
Despite commitments from the energy supply industry to communicate more clearly , many customers still do not know, for example, how instalment bills are calculated.
“Maybe the urgency is not there or these suppliers do not realise how insecure customers become when they receive high advance bills,” said De Bleeker.
Another criticism is that certain energy companies are unreachable by phone or do not reply to customer emails, or that some of their commercial practices are abusive, for example telephone or door-to-door sales tactics.
“How come there are no employees to answer customers' questions, but there are when it comes to finding new customers?” De Bleeker questioned.
A well-founded complaint to the Economic Inspectorate can result in a fine of up to €80,000.
De Bleeker made proposals to the energy industry weeks ago to solve problems of transparency, provisions, regularisation invoices and refunds, but many customers remain unsatisfied, in particular when it comes to transparency regarding how bills are calculated.
De Bleeker did not identify the seven suppliers in question, but said the number includes both small and large ones and emphasised her one-week deadline to provide great clarity and make customer service more efficient.
All seven suppliers have been investigated in the past two years, with five warnings issued and six fines handed out.
“My patience is running out,” De Bleeker said. “Force majeure cannot be a permanent excuse.”