Finance

When will you be cut off if you can’t pay the energy bill?

Good news: in the winter months you are extra protected if you get into trouble paying the energy bill. Your gas or electricity connection may not be closed if it is longer than two days of freezing in the period from October 1 to April 1.

A warning

And even when it’s not freezing, consumers are well protected by law. Suppliers of gas and electricity, such as Vattenfall and Eneco, are not allowed to just cancel the contract. They must send a warning at least once to customers who do not comply with their side of the contract: paying for the energy supplied.

Hidden energy poverty

‘Energy poverty’ is a major problem in the Netherlands. More than half a million households, about 7 percent of the total, are in trouble due to the combination of high heating costs, poor insulation and a low income, according to recent research by TNO.

The researchers estimate that the financial need of some 140,000 of these families is so high that there is hidden energy poverty. In these families, the stove is forced to go down a few degrees to save on costs.

The energy companies do more than just that one warning, let the two companies know. Vattenfall texts, emails, calls, texts and visits consumers to try to avoid disconnections. As a result, there is about four to five months between the first warning and a possible closure, spokesman Anouk IJfs said.

Debt counseling offer

At Eneco, contracts are only terminated through the courts, Rianne de Voogt adds to her colleague at the competitor. “We have a duty of care and energy is a basic need, so we are as careful as possible with it,” says De Voogt.

Consumers also receive an offer of debt assistance. Energy may not be cut off for consumers entering such a process. If this offer is ignored, the supplier may terminate the contract.

Payment arrangement

An ‘end of delivery’ letter must be sent about this. The consumer is then given another ten days to make a payment arrangement. If this succeeds, the closure is also off the track.

If it fails, the grid operator will shut down the energy. This happens very rarely, by the way. Vattenfall, one of the largest energy suppliers in our country, has an average of 2,500 disconnections per year, equivalent to 0.125 percent of the 2 million customers, IJfs said.

800 households

In total, grid operators have closed 800 households this year due to non-payment, according to figures from Netbeheer Nederland. That is much less than normal because network operators decided to be cautious due to the corona crisis with closing consumers with payment arrears, explains spokesperson Lieselot Meelker of Netbeheer Nederland.

In the 800 closures mentioned, those due to fraud, cannabis growers or because a house is being demolished are not included, Meelker adds.

Very safety net

“There is a whole safety net,” said Tjitte Mastenbroek of the supervisory authority of the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). “But in the end you have to pay. So you can’t say: I can never be closed.”

There is also good news for consumers where this is happening. They can ‘just’ report to another supplier. “There is no blacklist or anything,” says Roel Kaljee of the Energy Netherlands trade association.

However, energy companies do do a credit check. And consumers who score poorly there must pay a deposit. This is often three to four months in advance.

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