Aiming to prevent costly and inconvenient disconnections, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) Against Fuel Poverty provides information and legal assistance to those struggling to pay electricity bills.
Germany has the second-highest household electricity price in the European Union (following Denmark), which leaves 2.5% of German households struggling to pay their utility bills. To make matters worse for such families, German energy providers are permitted to cut electricity once customers have just EUR 100 owing, although some further criteria must be considered. Those missing a few payments could be left in the dark.
NRW Against Fuel Poverty both works with and advocates for residents threatened by fuel poverty. Through extensive public relations work and in-person services, consumers can access information on topics such as reducing energy consumption, budgeting and eligibility for available subsidies or other assistance. Verbraucherzentrale NRW also provides legal services when necessary.
For homes with energy bills already in arrears, NRW Against Fuel Poverty works closely with the provider to prevent power cuts. If possible, the organization also gets in touch with social service authorities to explore other potential solutions. The aim is to find customised solutions that work for consumers and are acceptable for energy providers. Often this means creating payment plans the customer feels confident they can keep up with, or negotiating an agreement to restore electricity connections, reduce the risk of future defaults and secure permanent energy supply.
Since October 2012, some 5 500 households have benefitted from the agency’s assistance. Monitoring shows that this holistic approach pays is effective: to date, 80% of threatened power cuts were prevented and more than 60% of existing disconnections were restored quickly.
NRW Against Fuel Poverty also lobbies at different levels of government on behalf of those at risk of fuel poverty. This aspect of their work aims to improve the legal and economic situation of particularly vulnerable consumers.
Stephanie Kosbab of Verbraucherzentrale NRW is among 15 finalists in the Tackle Fuel Poverty Initiative launched by the Schneider Electric Foundation, the Ashoka Foundation, and Enel Group. Check out her video interview to learn more.