Unsollicited energy supply contracts for electricity and gas continue to be a frequent consumer problem, as are unsolicited marketing calls and confusing letters announcing price modifications. Numerous traps are set for consumers in this context as well as in connection with the rejection of customers wishing to switch suppliers or the introduction of smart meters.
The Team Monitoring Energy Markets at the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband, vzbv) and the Consumer Associations pursue the common goal to identify undesirable developments and shortcomings in this area at an early stage and to use these findings to protect consumers from harm.
Currently, the team focuses on the following issues:
- Electricity and gas (for example price increases, new customer bonuses, delayed refund of credit balances for pre-paid tariffs, unwanted contracts, rejection of customers wishing to switch suppliers)
- Digital electricity meters (for example smart meters, pricing, disclosure obligations of meter operators)
- Meter-reading services (for example unclear billing)
- Heating bills (for example identifying mistakes)
- District heating (for example pricing)
- Customer communication
- Energy efficiency label
Since the end of 2017, the following shortcomings in the energy market (among others) have been identified and eliminated thanks to the team’s work:
Successful written warnings and lawsuits against suppliers:
- E.ON: vzbv has successfully sued E.ON. The company had cancelled electricity contracts with other energy suppliers on behalf of consumers without their authorisation.
- Enno energie GmbH: On the basis of information from vzbv’s Market Monitoring, vzbv successfully issued a cease and desist letter to this energy company which misled consumers by hiding the information about a substantial price increase on page two of a seemingly general letter about energy saving tips. Following the written warning issued by vzbv, the company declared that it would refrain from this misleading practice in the future.
- 365 AG: This company failed to draw up annual financial statements on time. vzbv brought a successful lawsuit against it before the Regional Court of Cologne.
- BEV: On the basis of information from vzbv’s Market Monitoring, vzbv ensured that new customer bonuses would not be withheld from consumers in the case of insolvency of the energy supplier, but would be taken into account to reduce the suppliers claims. To this end, vzbv initiated collective redress proceedings by bringing a corresponding model declaratory action in 2019. The action was successful: the Higher Regional Court of Munich found that the insolvency administrator of Bayerische Energieversorgungsgesellschaft mbH (BEV) could not withhold a promised new customer bonus from consumers on the grounds that they had not complied with a minimum supply period.