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Germans are crying in call centers – they can’t pay their electricity bills

Germans, angry at rising energy bills, have started calling utility companies in droves to express their frustration with the situation, Reuters reports, BTA reports.

Employees at E.ON and other energy providers’ customer service centers are forced to deal with an avalanche of calls every day from people demanding to know why their bills have suddenly jumped or wanting to be explained to them how to manage to pay them.

“Calls from desperate customers to our call centers are increasing,” says Ingbert Liebing, head of the German Association of Local Utilities (VKU).

“The desperation of some clients makes them aggressive. Others call with a crying voice and need psychological support,” says Liebing.

As energy prices in Europe rise as Russia cuts natural gas supplies following sanctions imposed over its military invasion of Ukraine, German energy suppliers are passing on some of the increased costs to consumers. They are rising due to the need to offset limited Russian supplies by buying more expensive blue fuel from other sources, Reuters notes.

And households that have long-term energy supply contracts will be “hit” by the new tax that natural gas users in Germany will be forced to pay from October 1. It was introduced to help companies supplying natural gas. They are languishing due to the surge in prices of the blue fuel they import, writes Reuters.

The utility company E.ON, with its approximately 14 million customers, is the largest energy supplier in Germany. It announced that it has increased the capacity of its customer service centers to handle the growing number of calls from consumers, many of whom expect their bills to continue to rise.

“Many people, in general, underestimate the scale of the energy crisis and the associated price hikes,” E.ON Energie Germany CEO Philip Thon told Reuters.

E.ON’s management declined to speak to Reuters with customer service staff, citing insufficient staffing.

“There are no available employees, and we need every one of them to take the calls. If an employee is not at work, we will not be able to answer all of our customers’ calls,” said a company spokesperson.

Households in Germany are usually bound by long-term contracts in which the price of energy is fixed for the period of their validity. However, many supplier companies already increase the rates of some customers depending on the type of contracts they have with them.

Communicating with customers about rising prices is a challenge for utility companies, says Kerstin Andree, managing director of the Federal Business Association of Energy and Water Companies.

“To a large extent, everyone admits that the utility companies are not the cause of the current situation, but they also hold them responsible for it, because it is through these companies that the bad “news” reaches consumers,” Andree adds. She claims that many affected customers often take out their anger on companies’ call center employees or share their concerns about future price developments.

Earlier this month, the German government announced a package of measures worth 65 billion euros to support consumers and businesses due to rising inflation. The authorities in Berlin plan to grant financial assistance to households to cover the cost of a “baseline” amount of electricity, as needed to meet basic household needs.

Against this background, almost 40 percent of people in Germany assume that they will be unable or will find it very difficult to pay their electricity and gas bills in the coming winter, according to the results of a survey by the German public broadcaster ARD ).

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