The rise in electricity and gas prices has led to a record number of complaints to the nationwide arbitration board this year energy guided. The number of requests for arbitration rose to 15,250 in the first ten months of 2022. This is almost twice as many as in the entire previous year. “It’s the year with the highest number of applications that we’ve had so far,” says Thomas Kunde. The managing director of the arbitration board expects around 18,000 arbitration requests for the entire current year – more than ever before in the history of the institution.
The energy arbitration board has been in existence since 2011. Its aim is to find an “out of court and amicable” solution to disputes between consumers and energy companies. Only consumers who need electricity or electricity can apply for arbitration gas use privately. They’ve made good use of it over the past few months. background are the significantly increased prices for electricity and natural gas. “Energy suppliers are faced with higher purchase prices,” says Kunde. They therefore attempted to pass the cost increases on to consumers through higher prices. They don’t always do it correctly. “Where this is not the case, the number of complaints increases,” says Kunde.
The most common problem: dubious price increases
In fact, complaints about price increases are the most common reason for complaints: by the end of October, 3,350 requests for arbitration had been received. This often involves cases in which the tariffs were raised despite the price guarantee. According to the arbitration board, there were almost 3,000 complaints about “other claims for damages” by consumers. These are often cases in which an energy company simply stops delivering. Customers then have to look for a new provider. Because of the increased prices, however, it is usually significantly more expensive. Consumers are therefore demanding compensation from the previous supplier.
The consumer advice centers have also noticed that customers are currently having trouble with the energy companies much more often than before. “There, the complaints about energy suppliers have increased significantly,” reports Jutta Gurkmann, Head of Consumer Policy at the Federal Association of Consumer Centers (VZBV). In the first half of 2022, a good 28,000 complaints were received by the consumer advice centers. The number of complaints electricity have tripled compared to the same period last year, and even sevenfold for gas, according to the VZBV.
Here, too, consumers are most annoyed by dubious price increases. In addition, there would be contracts that were foisted on, discounts that were too high or unjustified terminations. “Some energy providers are trying to make a profit from the energy price crisis,” says Gurkmann. “The VZBV is therefore also taking legal action against such violations.” In the first half of 2022 alone, ten warnings were issued and lawsuits were filed in three cases. Besides, there is three model declaratory actions against energy companies, in which consumers can participate. Gurkmann calls for more control of energy companies from politicians – especially by the Federal Network Agency: “Without strong, independent supervision of the energy market, it doesn’t work.”
A few companies cause a lot of trouble
According to the energy arbitration board, the large number of problems affect comparatively few companies: “There are some companies that attract a particularly large number of complaints,” says Managing Director Kunde. In the past few months, so-called energy discounters in particular have had to deal with layoffs, drastic price increases and horrendous discounts anger among customers caused.
However, arbitration can also help in such cases. In four out of five arbitration procedures, the dispute is resolved, says Thomas Kunde: “Conciliation is therefore basically suitable for anyone who has problems with their energy supplier.” However, before customers submit a request for conciliation, they must complain to the company concerned. The latter then has four weeks to comment or to solve the problem. If that doesn’t work, consumers can contact the energy arbitration board in writing.
The process is free of charge for you. “But you have to invest a little time,” says Kunde. On average, arbitration proceedings last about three months. If there is an agreement at the end, it is binding for both parties – similar to a civil law settlement. If arbitration is unsuccessful, consumers can still go to court. “In any case,” says Thomas Kunde, “conciliation gives you the chance to get an objective legal assessment of the problem in question.”