Price brakes for energy should soon relieve millions of people – but only for part of the consumption. The government therefore wants to prevent providers from taking advantage of the moment for rip-offs. But that doesn’t solve all the problems for consumers.
With the gas and electricity price brake, excessive tariff increases for customers are to be put a stop to. In addition, price increases are to be banned until the end of 2023 – unless suppliers can prove “that the increase is objectively justified,” according to draft laws of the federal government that have been introduced in the Bundestag. “It is still possible that suppliers will increase prices in the future, but they have to justify this to the Federal Cartel Office,” said the FDP energy expert Michael Kruse to the news channel n-tv.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs explained on Saturday that the abuse control should prevent price increases that cannot be justified by rising procurement costs. Not every increase is automatically illegal, but increases that are “abusive and unjustified”.
The gas and electricity price brake planned by the traffic light coalition is intended to cushion the sharp rise in costs for households and companies. A certain consumption volume is to be subsidized by the state, but current, high market prices continue to apply. “We want to prevent free-rider effects that encourage utility companies to pay higher tariffs,” Kruse told the “Bild” newspaper. The brakes should take effect from March 2023, but retrospective relief from January is planned.
Many households are currently receiving letters with tariff increases for 2023. That has often happened at the end of the year, explained a spokesman for the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The reason is legal deadlines: If price increases are to come at the beginning of January, they would have to be announced four to six weeks in advance. As far as the amount is concerned, actual procurement costs could be passed on, but not further abusive increases.
It should therefore be prevented that future price increases could take place simply because “the state bears the costs anyway via the price cap”. That would be abusive and should be avoided, the spokesman said. According to the ministry, customers generally have to fulfill their contractual obligations. In the event of differences of opinion as to whether a claim is justified, consumers can turn to the consumer advice centers or seek other legal advice.
For you as a consumer, this means that if your energy provider announces a price increase after the energy price brake has come into force, this could be illegal. According to figures from the comparison portal “Check24″, 457 gas suppliers are planning an average increase of 56 percent at the turn of the year. 3.6 million households are affected. Among the electricity suppliers, 636 want to raise their prices by an average of 60 percent. The increase would affect 7.5 million households. “The planned increases are not in proportion to the price development on the stock exchange. We advise consumers to lodge an objection,” emphasizes Leonora Holling, head of the Association of Energy Consumers, in the “Bild”. Consumers are even allowed to withhold payments.
However, the electricity price stop sign has a catch – it does not have an immediate effect. “The Federal Cartel Office should check the price increase. That will take some time,” said Kruse on n-tv. “That means there won’t always be an immediate reaction.” He advises looking for a cheaper supplier.
The planned ban on abuse of the price brakes is aimed at the work prices – i.e. the cents per kilowatt hour, which are reflected in the annual accounts depending on consumption. “The energy price multiplied by your annual consumption is added to the basic price and thus results in your billing amount on the annual bill,” says the Federal Network Agency in a basic explanation.
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