Many more customers had trouble paying energy bills in 2022
The major energy suppliers Vattenfall and Eneco have seen a significant increase in the number of customers struggling to pay their energy bills over the past year. Over the whole of 2022, the number of people with payment arrears at Vattenfall was 20 to 30 percent higher. Eneco saw about 10 percent more customers unable to pay their bills. Over the past few months, the number of payment problems stabilized somewhat, possibly helped by government compensation.
At Vattenfall, the most significant increase in the number of payment arrangements was right at the beginning of the year. Energy prices then rose rapidly, especially after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. “In the second quarter, there was a decrease in payment arrangements again. In the fourth quarter, we saw an increase in the amount of arrears due to the increase in installment amounts,” a spokesperson said.
Unlike at Vattenfall, Eneco only noticed more payment problems later in the year. “After the summer, the number of payment arrears slowly started to creep up, but now the picture is the same as a few weeks ago,” said a spokesperson. A few percent of customers experienced payment problems. “That shows many people are able to pay their bills.”
At Essent, payment arrears were lower last year than in 2021, when rates and inflation were much lower. The supplier can’t say how that is possible. In December, the number of payment arrears increased slightly. The average amount of a payment arrangement remained stable, despite higher rates. “On the other hand, we see a positive increase in the payment behavior of customers,” a spokesperson said, referring to the possible influence of energy compensation.
The way in which government supports households with high energy prices changed on January 1. Households now pay lower rates up to a certain energy usage. They pay the actual rate if they use more than 1,200 cubic meters of gas and 2,900 kilowatt hours of electricity. It is still hard to say what influence this price cap will have. Essent and Vattenfall couldn’t comment yet. The Eneco spokesperson said the picture at the company has not yet changed due to the price cap.
Suppliers and the government are trying to prevent households from building up large debts as much as possible. There are various measures for this, including an emergency fund to temporarily help people with their payments. Due to a government measure, households are also less likely to get cut off from gas until at least April. As long as customers stay in contact with their supplier, the supplier won’t cut them off during the cold months.
Reporting by ANP