The German supreme court in Karlsruhe [Bundesgerichtshof, BGH] found for the plaintiff in a case brought by the North Rhine-Westphalian consumer protection agency on behalf of natural gas customers against “intransparent price increase clauses in special contracts” of the utilities company R.W.E. Apparently “special contracts” [Sonderverträge, Sonderkundenverträge] in this case are contracts for customers who switched to their current utility from a prior utility. The court found insufficient reasons were cited for price increases on these customers’ utility bills. A ratepayer interviewed on tagesschau.de said when he asked about it R.W.E. fobbed him off by telling him their rates were raised for “responsible, suitable and well-grounded reasons” (“wir haben verantwortungsbewusst, angemessen und begründet kalkuliert”), still without citing them.
The BGH decision was based on a European Court of Justice ruling that the criteria for rate increases have to be notified to these customers when they sign their contract. It is not enough to merely notify European utility customers in advance of rate increases and give them a right to cancel their contract.
Clauses in “special gas contracts” must contain information about causes for, prerequisites for and scope of possible price increases, in a clear and understandable manner, the BGH judges said.
The German court’s decision applies retroactively for the past three years. Millions of German billpayers are now being encouraged to check their natural gas contracts’ price increase clauses for legality and apply for their money back if they don’t meet requirements. A press release about the decision from the North Rhine-Westphalian consumer protection agency said >70% of Germany’s 13.5 million gas customers are on these special contracts because they’ve switched utilities—encouraging market forces to rationalize prices for consumers!—and recommended the energy utilities provide “slender and consumer-friendly procedures” for the affected customers to ask for and receive their money back.
(Inn tronz par ENT eh PRIZE geh SHTOLT oong.)