Minister Jetten for Climate and Energy.Statue Arie Kievit

    Energy Minister Jetten promises that no one will be left out in the cold this winter, can he deliver on that?

    That will of course have to be seen. But he already has the certainty that someone in the Netherlands will not be cut off from gas and light quickly, unless someone commits fraud by illegally tapping electricity or is so confused that he poses a danger to the environment. In addition, Jetten has now agreed with energy companies that they will not take out anyone with payment problems in the coming months. In exchange for this commitment, the government offers the energy companies a guarantee that they can get money cheaply if they get into money problems due to poorly paying customers.

    What is the current closure procedure?

    Before a utility company proceeds to close due to payment default, it must have sent a reminder at least once. In this, the company must point out to the customer that he can report to debt counseling. As soon as someone has been registered with a debt counseling process, the energy provider may not proceed with disconnection.

    If an energy company does not receive a response to that reminder, it will send an ‘end of delivery letter’. But that still does not mean that the customer no longer receives gas or light. The actual disconnection only takes place after the network operator has had a conversation with the person in question. In it, the network operator checks whether debt assistance has not been engaged. Only when it is certain that this is not the case will a date be planned on which gas and light will be cut off. ‘In practice, you see that an arrangement is often still made between scheduling that appointment and the actual moment of closing,’ says the spokesperson for Netbeheer Nederland, the association of network operators.

    The network operator can also cancel a closure at the last minute if the employee establishes that there is a ‘vulnerable consumer’. For example, because a member of the household is dependent on electricity or gas for medical reasons. Finally, a household should never be closed at all if it has frozen two nights in a row.

    How often is a household actually closed?

    Remarkably, no one knows for sure. There is no overview of the number of times energy companies ask for disconnection. And the number of actual closings of defaulters by network operators is also not kept up to date.

    Netbeheer Nederland, which includes regional network operators such as Stedin, Enexis and Liander, has recently requested this from its members. This shows that 1,900 households were disconnected in the first half of this year, more than 250 connections per month. That number is higher than in 2020 and 2021, but is again approximately the same as in 2019.

    Netbeheer Nederland emphasizes that these figures provide a limited picture, because the reason for the shutdown is not kept up to date. According to the spokesperson, there are also closures due to the demolition of a building. Which in turn raises new questions, because the number of houses that are demolished every year is about ten thousand.

    In any case, it is certain that the 1,900 cases in 8 million households annually affect less than 0.05 percent of the households.

    But haven’t there been much more serious figures about lockdowns mentioned in recent months?

    Yes. For example, a debt counselor in Amsterdam recently told the NOS that about 1,700 people had to deal with a closure in the capital alone this year. But, as it turns out on enquiry, this concerns households whose energy supplier has requested closure. ‘The fact that a household is actually closed is much less common,’ says a spokesperson for the municipality. ‘The majority of those people end up with debt counseling.’

    So the situation is not so worrisome?

    The fact that households will not be cut off from electricity and gas soon does not mean that the situation is not a cause for concern. Energy companies have already announced that payment arrears are increasing. And municipalities have seen in recent months that small energy companies in particular are increasingly asking for disconnection. If this trend continues, more Dutch people will end up with debt counseling in the near future to avoid a ‘hard’ closure. Debts are very burdensome for the families involved. It causes stress that translates, among other things, into health problems and poorer school performance of children.