In Flanders, 200,000 families are entitled to a social rate for their gas and electricity. “But the corona crisis will temporarily double that number to 400,000 people,” says Flemish Ombudsman Bart Weekers. All these families are entitled to two 150 euro coupons each year for the purchase of an energy-efficient washing machine or refrigerator. “But my research shows that the process of applying for those coupons is too cumbersome and time-consuming for many people,” said the ombudsman.
Waiting period of 4 weeks
The discount voucher can only be used for the purchase of an energy-efficient refrigerator or washing machine. And that is the first problem, according to the ombudsman. “Usually those appliances break down unexpectedly. You want to be able to replace them quickly, but weeks often pass before you have your receipt in your hands”, says Bart Weekers.
It is grid operator Fluvius who issues the coupons. “So you have to be able to prove to them that you are entitled to it. For that you have to send them documents. You can e-mail them or send them by post.” Fluvius himself says that they try to complete the files within two weeks. “But because of all the steps that you as a consumer have to go through to get the correct documents to Fluvius, it often takes four weeks before you actually receive the voucher.”
The receipts are sent by registered mail, which is not always ideal either. “For many people, a registered letter often means bad news, so it also happens that people do not pick up the receipt at the post office because they fear that the registered letter is just another reminder.”
Exchange does not always work
Figures from Fluvius show that in 2020 almost 15,000 people applied for a discount coupon, but barely half of those coupons were used. According to Weekers, there are two explanations for this. “On the one hand, people sometimes cannot wait. They do request the voucher, but because the procedure takes so long, they end up buying the device themselves without a discount.”
But Weekers also sees a problem with the stores that accept the coupon. “Not all electrical stores accept the voucher and some only want to settle the discount afterwards. The vouchers are also not valid in thrift stores and in web shops.”
Suggestions from the Ombudsman
The ombudsman has some suggestions to increase the success of the coupons:
- Simplify the application procedure: “Fluvius could obtain a list of everyone with a social rate through the authorities of this country. Then people would not have to prove themselves that they are entitled to the discount.”
- Make sure that the voucher is accepted in more places.
- Inform families about the existence of the coupon. “Less than 10% of the rightholders apply for it, often because they do not know that the initiative exists.”
Fluvius is willing to make adjustments
Network operator Fluvius takes the ombudsman’s criticism and suggestions to heart. But spokesperson Björn Verdoodt also has a few comments. For example, he does not agree that it is Fluvius’ fault that the application for a voucher can sometimes take a long time.
“It is the federal government that sets the regulations for issuing the vouchers. And right now you are required to provide a number of documents proving that you are entitled to a social rate. have not yet, we cannot send the voucher either. ”
If your file is complete and you submit an application, it always goes fast, according to Verdoodt. “At the moment we are processing applications for complete files within a week. You will therefore receive the voucher quickly by registered mail.”
Fluvius certainly wants to answer the question to simplify the procedure, but according to Verdoodt that is not so obvious. “The suggestions of the ombudsman to obtain a list of all families entitled to the social rate through the authorities of this country is not possible in practice. We are bound by strict privacy rules as a result of European privacy legislation. The data those in the federal database should not be shared with us just like that. ”
Electric stores shouldn’t be too difficult
Fluvius also responds to the criticism that some shops are difficult when people want to use their coupons. “We sometimes also hear complaints about this. They mainly come from the shops themselves because they want to receive their reimbursement from us quickly. That is not always going smoothly because the procedure has not yet been fully digitized. But we are currently around the table with the chains and also with the external company that arranges the payments to make things right. So that will be all right. ”
Request a voucher in advance?
The Inspector also suggests the tip to request the coupons in advance so that you can use them when necessary. According to Verdoodt, this is a good idea, but only if your devices are already of a certain age. “In principle, you can request two vouchers for each year. But if you simply do that without having to replace your devices, it makes little sense. It also creates extra administrative hassle for us and that work may be at the expense of people who need the coupon really fast. ”