“My service is flooded every day with messages, questions, and complaints,” says Energy Sector Ombudsman Eric Hotmann at De Inspecteur. “We can no longer keep up. Since the beginning of the energy crisis in the fall, the number of complaints has increased staggeringly. And the deluge continues.”
The Ombudsman also makes a number of recommendations in his annual report. We summarize the most important here.
1. Increased payment term to 30 days
“The current 15-day period is unsustainable in the current crisis situation,” Hottmann says. “People have a lot of questions about their bill, but they don’t get an answer within 15 days. By extending the payment period to 30 days, we hope to give suppliers the opportunity to answer questions effectively.”
The ombudsman sees an additional advantage in the longer repayment period. “Most people only get paid once a month. If you have 30 days to pay the bill, that also goes with the tempo of paying customers.”
In any case, Houtman notes, nearly every term is bypassed in the energy sector. “The time period for answering questions is five working days, and the time for responding to billing complaints is ten working days.”
The Secretary of State for Consumer Protection, Eva de Bleecker (Open VLD), does not think a longer repayment period is the right solution. “We have to be careful with that. A financially weaker consumer may suffer as a result. If the payment term becomes too long, debts may build up because people don’t pay on time.”
2. Additional costs (also) add up quickly
Eric Hotmann also believes that additional costs should be considered.
“Anyone who objects to an invoice will not receive a response from the supplier. However, the invoice will arrive with a reminder fee of 7.5 euros. If you do not pay this amount, you will receive a notice of default of 15 euros. Those who have a needs payment plan also pay to set up those the plan “.
3. Free Installment Plan
In its annual report, the Ombudsman advocates reducing these additional costs as much as possible.
“We notice that there are suppliers that charge to set up the payment plan,” says Houtman. “We suggest making it free.” And he also wants to be the first reminder at no extra cost, just like in the telecommunications sector.
4. No more individual dispute resolution
The energy ombudsman himself is also under great pressure due to the energy crisis.
If you have a complaint, you can still report it to the ombudsman service. However, the ombudsman service does not deal with individual disputes in this regard. “The number of complaints was simply too much,” says Houtman. “We received nearly 37 percent more in the 2021 operating year than the previous year.”
Currently the Ombudsman service mainly performs the signaling function. “When a complaint relates to a business practice that is still being encountered by other consumers, we try to find a common solution for affected customers. We do this through a general, non-mandatory recommendation of the power company involved. But we cannot mediate for each individual consumer.”
Biggest Complaint: Poor customer service
Also in the annual report: The result achieved by the “inspector” months ago, energy suppliers are difficult to reach. “Difficulty in accessing customer service is by far the most common complaint,” says Houtman. “And that doesn’t surprise me.” “It all starts with customer service. If you have a question about your bill or contract and can’t ask for customer service, you already have a complaint before you can raise the issue.”
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