The number of complaints received by the Belgian Energy Ombudsman Service in 2017 continues to increase

In 2017, the Federal Service for Energy Ombudsman received a total of 5,797 complaints (5% more than in 2016 and 37% more than in 2015), of which 65.6% were complaints in Dutch, 34% in French and 0.4% in German.

According to the Ombudsman Service, this steady increase in the number of complaints since 2015 can be partly explained by the higher amounts of energy bills, but also by certain dubious market and sales practices, which are becoming more and more common.

The complaints received in 2017 were mostly related to:

  • metering problems, such as the processing and correction of meter data during the estimation or the annual statement, in the event of a malfunctioning meter, moving house or vacant home, etc. (19.1%)
  • billing issues, such delayed bills or the poor readability of the energy bills (15.8%)
  • sales and market practices of the energy suppliers (13.9%)
  • problems with the payment of the energy bills, such as the payment plans, the absence of refund, the administrative costs, the payment by direct debit, the payment of guarantees, the (threats of) termination of the energy contract, or the disconnection due to non-payment (12.4%)
  • The price transparency or the clarity of prices and applied tariffs (12.3%)
  • The other complaints concerned issues related to the supplier switching (6.4%), the quality of the services (4.7%) and certain regional skills (14.2%), such as the connections and power outages, the green electricity, public service obligations and the distribution network tariffs.

Here is a graph illustrating the evolution of the types of complaints between 2012 and 2017:

The Energy Ombudsman Service is concerned that this upward trend in (some) disputes and complaints will continue. As of January 1, 2018, a modified version of the Consumer Agreement came into force, which does not take into account the political opinions formulated by the Energy Ombudsman Service regarding several market practices, namely:

  • the invoicing of a lump sum compensation for a whole year when the customer terminates his contract in advance
  • the lack of protection for SMEs (end-users with a maximum annual consumption of 100,000 kWh of gas and 50,000 kWh of electricity) as energy consumers
  • the pursuit of certain dubious sale practices
  • In addition, since January 1, 2018, the Federal Government has terminated the safety net mechanism for variable-price energy contracts, which means that the transparency of quarterly indexing is no longer guaranteed

Finally, the Ombudsman Service continues to advocate for a uniform and understandable energy bill, so that customers (residential and businesses) can better evaluate and compare agreed and billed prices, tariffs and discounts.

The Energy Ombudsman Service will publish further information on dispute resolution, recommendations for each energy company and policy advice in its annual report, which will be submitted by May 2018 to the Federal Minister for Energy and the Parliament.