Energy companies note that customer payment problems are increasing. There are also bigger concerns about the future due to the (very) low monthly payments that consumers choose.
The number of people in arrears has increased rapidly at the energy company, Vatenfall. Thousands of customers have missed payments for at least two consecutive months. The company says the average amount owed also grew by ten percent.
“The main issue is the amount owed,” says Martin Neff, Director of Just-in-Time Payments at Vattenfall. “It used to be dozens, now we’re hundreds of euros behind. Herein lies the concern.”
“We’re also sure that’s going to get even more,” Neff says. “Energy rates went up and kept going up. Every month more people join with their perpetual contract expiring: then a more expensive and flexible contract is replaced.”
The monthly amount is too low
About 200,000 customers also have a “potential problem” because their monthly amount is too low. There’s a good chance that at the end of the year, when the final settlement comes, they’ll be surprised by a financial setback. “Because you just have to be able to push that.”
It is difficult to compare the number of clients in the same period last year and their monthly rate was very low. “It’s like comparing apples to oranges, because the winters are so cold at the time.”
Eneco and Essent are also seeing a slow increase in payment issues. “It is common that there is no available balance with direct debit customers. The number of payment reminders we are sending is increasing,” says an Eneco spokesperson.
She says it is still too early to talk about serious payment problems. “But we expect this to happen. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you can’t turn on the heating in the house. It’s a very unpleasant situation for a lot of people.”
Not more, but higher debt
Essent also says it doesn’t see any rapid growth in the number of customers with payment problems. “We’re seeing that people who were already behind have more debt now. The value is going up. And that also makes sense, rates have gone up.”
“We like to help people at an early stage to prevent bigger financial problems. We provide advice and payment arrangements for that, and we refer people to relief agencies,” says Eneco.
Despite growing concerns about their customers’ finances, the consequences for their financial stability remain limited, say the Netherlands’ three largest energy providers.
For example, Essent says it has no consequences for its stability. Eneco refers to the precautions that the company takes. “We can catch him.”
Vattenfall agrees. “The fact that more customers are not paying their bills has no consequences for our financial stability.”
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