Since 2018, energy market operators and anti-poverty organisations have been jointly calling for a simplified energy bill for the benefit of consumers. And now it’s happened! From 1 January 2022, suppliers will be asked to send their customers a simplified bill that fits on two sides of an A4 sheet of paper. But what will it include?

Many Belgian consumers do not understand their energy bill

For several million citizens – 41% to be precise –, energy bills continue to be obscure and difficult to understand. Yes, almost half of Belgian consumers, and often those in deprived situations, feel that they do not understand their energy bill properly or fully. Why? Because it contains too much information and that information is too complex.

When you analyse a gas or electricity bill in detail, you quickly realise that the language used is not simplified, which makes it inaccessible for some people. As a result, many Belgians do not know what rate they pay, the differences between instalment bills, adjustment bills and final bills, or even whether they have access to a specific rate such as the social rate.

>> Further reading:  The essential guide for understanding your energy bill!

What is included in the Royal Decree that aims to establish a simplified energy bill for end customers?

Last April, the Chamber’s Energy Commission supported a project aimed at simplifying energy bills for residential customers and SMEs. This Royal Decree is due to take effect from 1 January 2022.

Drawing in particular on a 2018 publication produced by the anti-poverty platform of the King Baudouin Foundation, the Energy Commission decided that:

  • The simplified bill must not exceed two sides of an A4 sheet of paper;
  • The essential information for the consumer will appear on the first page (amount to pay and deadline). All the additional information will be on the reverse and still in a simplified form;
  • The consumer will be free to choose how their bill is sent. So, if they wish to receive it as a hard copy, the energy suppliers will have to respect their choice without question;
  • If more inquisitive or knowledgeable customers want to receive further information on their energy bill, they can find it in their digital client space. This information must appear clearly on their simplified bill.

This Royal Decree, which was approved unanimously by the Chamber, will come into effect on 1 January 2022 to enable the various energy market operators (suppliers, distribution and transmission network operators, regulators, etc.) to introduce all the actions and changes needed for its successful implementation.

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The simplified energy bill, which was discussed by the King Baudouin Foundation back in 2018.

As mentioned above, the Royal Decree comes in response to the 2018 publication produced by the anti-poverty platform of the King Baudouin Foundation.

The working group responsible for producing this publication aimed at simplifying and understanding energy bills put forward 15 recommendations for achieving this goal:

  1. Group the information into separate sections;
  2. Group the most important information on the first page;
  3. Avoid the fully digital solution preferred by the suppliers so as not to exclude deprived consumers who do not always have access to such tools;
  4. Issue a single bill for gas AND electricity;
  5. Simplify the various cost items;
  6. Detail the payments to be made and, where appropriate, the current debt situation;
  7. Group together the assistance information (customer service, telephone, etc.);
  8. Group together the information that facilitates price comparison between suppliers;
  9. Attach a pre-completed bank transfer form;
  10. Clearly state whether the social rate is applicable;
  11. Indicate whether the indexes mentioned on the bill are actual or estimated;
  12. Indicate the contract details: contract name, price charged, metering method (single-rate or dual-rate meter;
  13. Indicate the amount of the future instalment bills;
  14. State the penalties in the event of late payment or non-payment of bills;
  15. Standardise the content of the bill.

So, after more than two years, these recommendations have been heard and acknowledged by the government.

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Implementing the Decree on 1 January 2022 – too short a time frame?

On 6 July 2021, the Special Advisory Committee on Consumption approved the opinion, entitled “Towards a simplified and clarified energy bill”, that satisfied the requirements of the Royal Decree.

Although the Committee fully supports this project, it has some doubts over the feasibility of implementing it from 1 January 2022, particularly as far as the rules relating to SMEs are concerned. When it comes to energy, small and medium-sized enterprises have more significant and more specific requirements than residential customers.

The opinion also highlights a desire to implement this Decree simultaneously in the three Regions of the country for greater cohesion and convenience.

To ensure the feasibility of the Decree, the Committee asks the government to perform some tests to establish whether two pages (or two sides of one page) is sufficient to convey all the necessary information for understanding an energy bill properly. To do this, they should use more complex consumer profiles, such as SMEs and consumers who receive the prosumer rate and the feed-in tariff.

Consumactors: will they soon play a key role?

In parallel with this Royal Decree, the federal government recently approved a European Directive aimed at simplifying the energy transition. As a result of this decision, consumers could become prominent, major players in the energy sector.

The first change arising from this Directive relates to the procedures for switching supplier. This process will be accelerated, as the notice period will change from one month to three weeks. By 2026, this period will be just 24 hours.

In addition, the mass introduction of smart meters and dynamic pricing contracts will reinforce the central role of the consumer in the energy sector and in their free choice of supplier.

Did you know? Dynamic pricing contracts, which, at the moment, are permitted only in Flanders through Engie, are contracts in which the energy is billed based on the fluctuations in the wholesale market. This means that electricity is billed by the hour according to the price charged to the supplier. With this new pricing method, customers who pay close attention to their consumption can make savings of up to 15%.

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