During winter, your energy supplier can suspend your contract in some cases. Hence, the winter truce doesn’t concern all consumers. What about you?
Finding yourself without electricity or natural gas is a dangerous situation, especially when temperatures drop. However, more and more households live in fear of this happening as they struggle to pay their energy bills. One solution to the problem is to consume less gas or electricity, but often that’s not enough.
What does the law say in Belgium? Are suppliers allowed to cut off their customers’ electricity or gas supplies in the winter? Energyprice reviews the rights and obligations on both sides.
Being without natural gas or electricity is a very tricky situation, especially when temperatures drop. However, more and more households are concerned about this, owing to problems paying their energy bills. To avoid this, one solution consists of using less gas or electricity. But often, this isn’t enough.
What does the law say in Belgium? Do suppliers have the right to cut off their customers’ gas or electricity supply during winter? Energyprice.be explains everyone’s rights and obligations.
A winter truce is a period during which it is illegal to evict a tenant who cannot pay the rent. Although this is established in French law, the same does not apply in Belgium. In our country, evictions are allowed in both public and private sectors at any time of the year. The only obligation is the requirement for a court judgement and a month’s notice for the tenant to leave the property.
However, if you live in social housing in Wallonia or Brussels, you are protected against evictions during winter. In the capital, a winter moratorium introduced in 2000 makes evictions illegal between 1 December and 28 February. In Wallonia, a similar ruling from 2013 prohibits this kind of measure between 1 November and 15 March. However, the household has to accept guidance from the CPAS social welfare service.
There still remains one solution for tenants not in social housing. A justice of the peace can decide to postpone the eviction based on a variety of circumstances including family situation, weather conditions and the possibilities for rehousing.
If you live in Wallonia and you are declared in default of payment, you will receive a visit from your distribution system operator (DSO). The purpose of this is to install a budget meter.
If you refuse to have a budget meter installed, your energy supplier can ask your DSO to cut off your electricity or gas supply at any time of year, whether you are a protected customer or not. Your supply contract then ends automatically. You have to sign up to a new contract with a different supplier to keep your energy meter open. Failing this, the cost of reopening a meter is payable by you.
Note that if you move house, you have to transfer your energy contract or take out a new one for your new address. Otherwise, the situation is described as a problematic move. With no contract, you run the risk of being cut off, even in winter and even if you are a protected customer.
Want to find out more about budget meters or how to change your energy package when moving house? Call our advisers free on 0800 37 369!
Depending on your personal circumstances, you may benefit from a degree of protection for your energy supply during winter.
According to a Wallonia government order, if your contract is terminated or expires between 1 November and 15 March, you are temporarily supplied with energy by your DSO throughout this period. They will supply energy at the maximum prices set and approved by the CREG, the federal energy market regulator. Note that these prices are generally higher than average conventional prices.
Your DSO also has to inform you 15 days before the end of the period when shut-offs are not allowed that you need to sign an electricity and/or gas supply contract within 60 business days after the deadline date. If you do not do so, your energy supply is suspended.
As a protected customer, you benefit from a budget meter. If you fail to pay and you can no longer top up your card, you are entitled to a minimum electricity supply (power limited to 1,300 watts) from your energy supplier. This applies all year round for six months from the date when the power limit takes effect, and cannot be withdrawn during winter.
Under certain conditions, the CPAS social welfare service can increase the minimum supply to 2,600 watts. They are then liable for half the customer’s bills. If you also struggle to pay your gas bill during the winter, you can ask your DSO for supply cards rather than a minimum supply. This means you can continue to use gas.
If you have been using this minimum supply for six months but have not paid the bills you have received, your supplier informs your DSO of the situation and you are declared a persistent non-payer. A special procedure then takes place so that you continue to be supplied with energy by your DSO. But as long as you haven’t paid your bills, you remain limited to the minimum guaranteed supply. Subsequently, if you make no effort to resolve your situation, your DSO sends you notice to pay, and if you fail to respond the case is referred to the local cut-off notice committee. Your DSO can then request a power shutdown on the basis of clear bad faith.
Brussels residents cannot have their electricity or gas shut off between 1 October and 31 March. However, a justice of the peace can still decide to end your contract with your energy supplier. If this happens, you will be supplied with electricity and/or gas by Sibelga, the Brussels system operator, with or without a power limiter (the Brussels region’s equivalent of a budget meter). Of course, you remain liable for paying the bills for this supply.
You need to have found a new supplier by the time the winter period is over. Otherwise, Sibelga will close your energy meters and you will have to pay a considerable sum (nearly €100 per meter) to reopen them.
Don’t know how to choose an energy supplier? Our advisers will be happy to help over the phone on 0800 37 369 or by email, suggesting suppliers suited to your needs and expectations. For example, they can tell you which electricity and gas supplier is cheapest in Brussels.
Did you know? If the weather is harsh, the Brussels government can extend the winter truce.
[Updated 04/05/2020] This was also the case in spring 2020. On 19 March 2020, in view of the complicated situation caused by the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), the Brussels energy regulator Brugel announced that it was, exceptionally, extending the winter period up to and including 30 April 2020 for Brussels consumers.
In Flanders, private customers can only have their electricity or gas supply withdrawn between 1 December and 1 March if no opinion from the LAC, the local notice committee established in each municipality, is required. This means that the DSO can only stop the supply in the following cases:
If an LAC opinion is required, the energy supply cannot be withdrawn between 1 December and 1 March. But be aware that if a cut-off was decided before the winter period began, it might not be cancelled after 1 December.
Finally, note that the regional minister can adjust the start and end dates of the winter truce depending on the weather.
Have you had your electricity cut off for non-payment in winter? Do you dispute your supplier’s reasons for terminating your contract and believe the response is excessive? Contact the company to try to find an amicable solution. If this doesn’t give satisfaction, you can apply to the federal energy mediator free of charge. The mediator will analyse your complaint, and if it considers it valid it will begin negotiations between you and the company to find a satisfactory solution.
Want to know more about what happens next? Don’t hesitate to call our team on 0800 37 369, from Monday to Friday between 9 am and 12.30 pm or 1.30 and 5.30 pm.